Controversial Vance Monument: Tumblin' Tumblin' Down - TribPapers

Controversial Vance Monument: Tumblin’ Tumblin’ Down

Shrouded Vance Memorial (2020) in Downtown Asheville. Photograph by Anthony Abraira.

Asheville – Asheville City Council is expected to approve a change order for the demolition of the Vance Monument. The courts have now dismissed challenges that have suspended the dismantling and left a stone stump at the heart of downtown since 2021. Assistant City Manager Ben Woody said $109,200, on top of the original contract amount of $114,150, should cover costs of remobilizing, storage, and inflation.

The obelisk had, for years, been an easily identifiable gathering space for tourists and protesters alike. Built in 1898, it was a tribute to Zebulon Vance, a local figure who served as governor for three terms. He was also a US congressman and senator. Vance was so esteemed that the local Democratic Party named its annual signature dinner after him and another former governor, Charles Aycock.

During the Black Lives Matter movement, however, it came to the public’s attention that Vance had held slaves, and Aycock was a leader in the White Supremacy Campaign. The dinner was quickly renamed while a vocal contingency, mostly Caucasians claiming to be the voice for the voiceless, told how the monument had been oppressive to people of color. A symbol of racism, it continued to subjugate those without white privilege who had to walk under its shadow.

Several people of color who spoke during the controversy indicated they could care less. It seemed they were more concerned about the city wasting money by tearing down a monument and putting another one up when they could simply follow the Democrats’ lead and rename the obelisk. Others were concerned about revising history and thereby losing lessons learned hard.

It was, however, the Society for the Historical Preservation of the 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops that sued. They had entered into an agreement with the city and raised $140,000 to purchase and restore the monument and then donate it back to the city upon completion. They claimed the city’s dismantling of the monument constituted a breach of contract.

The case was dismissed, but they succeeded in getting the courts to order the suspension of demolition activity until an appeal could be heard. The demolition continued, however, to clear rights of way and ensure public safety. The society lost the appeal, so they took the case to the NC Supreme Court. On March 22, this court ruled that the group did indeed have standing but that their arguments drifted too far from their original claim to reverse the previous decisions on the monument’s removal.

A second demolition request coming up is for the single-family home at 158 South French Broad. The staff report gave an estimated cost of $28,000, which would be recovered through a lien on the property. Woody said the city had been trying to get the owner to repair the damages, but the owner was unresponsive. The city had spent a lot of time just trying to find the heir, who did not know he was the owner.

Woody explained that people had been entering the house and starting fires, and fire damage now rendered the place hazardous to squatters as well as emergency responders. With prodding from Councilwoman Maggie Ullman, he said the house was also the scene for at least one serious assault. Councilwoman Sheneika Smith said, “There should be no more discussion about it. Get it done.” Having grown up next door, she said it has been a problem for decades.

Thirdly, demolition will soon begin on the landmark Haynes Building on A-B Tech’s Enka Campus. The 50-year-old building was used by the BASF plant, and it was part of a significant donation of land and buildings to the college in 2000.

Western Carolina University had been offering satellite classes there until they moved the programs to Biltmore Park Town Square, and A-B Tech relocated its Emergency Sciences courses to Woodfin. In later years, the building had been used for continuing education classes, and it housed offices of the local Small Business Administration. With half of the building vacant, though, it was operating at a loss of $450,000 a year, which was not sustainable with the budgets the state and county were approving for the college. With the costs of refurbishment greater than the costs of demolition, it was vacated in 2015.

In March, after several rumors and apparent false starts, the Buncombe County Commissioners finally approved a $648,990 contract with D.H. Griffin for what is expected to be a six-month demolition. According to a memorandum of understanding entered into by Buncombe County and A-B Tech, expenses for demolition would be covered by the quarter-cent sales tax levied for capital projects at A-B Tech.