The old S&W Cafeteria building at 56 Patton Ave. in downtown Asheville is now an upscale restaurant called S&W Steak & Wine. In a town that seems filled with Art Deco architecture, this building is a gem, its façade covered in blue and gold geometric patterns.
The building was designed by Douglas Ellington and opened in 1929. Unfortunately, it’s tough to get a clear photo of the front, as it sits right at a T intersection. I took my chances by running out into the street for a moment:
The commemorative plaque across the street:
See more photos and read more information here and here, and check out current photos of the interior here.
These are my favorite kind of posts. I love hearing bout histories of buildings, what they are now, and admiring the craftsmanship that went into creating them. It’s neat to remember that back in the day there was often a lot of foot traffic so the store front was an opportunity to engage with pedestrians. In modern times when it seems only giant corporations construct new buildings in city cores, I find it fun to think back to the time of urban industrial expansion when it appears that small local and regional businesses were the ones doing most of the expanding and could afford to put up a new building.
Looking at the design of these old buildings is fun because you don’t really change the exterior of a building unless you really have to. The designs that the original owner who built the place sometimes put specific stonework or art related to his or her business. These things carry on through the ages, maintaining the original message from the long deceased owner of the original business. I remember in Chicago I saw this really pretty 2-story building that had stone murals of the various art themes that the original building owner – an art museum – likely collected. It even had a title of the building signifying that it used to be an art museum. Now it’s something completely different but if you look close enough you can find the evidence.
I also really like the meme that the old financial institutions used to perpetrate. The banks all seemed to have put their name and date etched into the header over the entrance to their stone building to signify to their customers that the financial institution is permanent and here to stay. “Put your money here! It is safe, secure, and we are committed to your city!” I see this all over the midwest in towns that were built during the industrial expansion of the 1800s – 1920s. It’s quite fascinating to me, especially in Cincinnati where many banks were formed, bought out, and now ultimately have been assimilated into the PNC, Fifth Third, and Chases of the region. Now, 150 years later, the building is home to a law firm (in some villages still thriving), a restaurant (in villages that have been swallowed by the city proper), or maybe even nothing at all. I’ve found at least a handful of old Fifth Third corner shops that sit vacant.
Thanks again for having such a great blog and great job at keeping up the consistent quality. By the way, you may find this as funny as I did. A couple months ago, when the Essex Studios and Great American Sign Museum were doing an open house, my wife and I had dinner with a friend of hers from work and his friend, and as it turns out they’re mutual friends of yours! It’s a small world. Take care!
I also wanted to add that it’s neat that the S&W building is still operating as a food-related business. I wonder if there were any other businesses in between the Cafeteria’s days and the current restaurant.
Now I’m intrigued. Who do we know in common?
I’m all for creative reuse of old buildings; the only time it bothers me is when, for instance, a John Varvatos boutique opened in the former CBGB and utilized some of the old interior [check it out here]. Ugh, if the club had to close, I think I would have preferred a bank or chain drugstore taking over that space and just completely gutting it.
Other than that, I always find it interesting to see evidence of original businesses or unusual reuse for old structures. Are you familiar with Camilo José Vergara? He’s a photographer, or maybe ethnophotographer is more accurate and, among other projects, he did a series of photographs of old bank buildings in Detroit, which are now churches, grocery stores, whatever. It was fascinating, because the banks often occupied important corners of retail districts, and these are usually still prominent spots and often distinguished buildings.
Anyway, thank you for your kind words. Maintaining this blog encourages me to keep my eyes peeled for interesting things, which in turn makes me more appreciative of all the interesting stuff around me. On Monday I’m starting a weekly series of looking back through the archives and pulling together some of my favorite posts from the past four years. There’s a lot of eye candy hidden in this little corner of the Interweb!
This is my favorite building in Asheville.
Hi there! Thank you for introducing me to Camilo Vergara. I’m definitely going to check him out, that project of his sounds exactly like what I’m interested in. I like your term “enthophotographer”.
Your point about prominent retail corners having distinguished buildings is interesting because that’s exactly what I’ve found but haven’t exactly put it into words like that. I love taking alternate routes on my bike, cutting through the old residential neighborhoods between eastern Cincy and Clifton, and finding the barber shops and drug stores that are located in the tiny pockets of commercial buildings that rest on street corners between neighborhoods. They’re still used but I imagine 80 years ago there was much more ‘pedestrian’ traffic.
Our mutual friend is Jeremy. He works with my wife 🙂
Vergara’s had a few photography books published. Detroit’s been a recurring subject for him [but not in that “ruin porn” way that’s been fashionable lately].
I love the way a lot of old corner buildings handle those corners — the door on a diagonal, or steps that go all the way around.
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