by Dale Wayne Slusser

Albemarle Park Clubhouse: An Edwardian Amenity

The period from 1894 to 1915, which coincided with the development of Albemarle Park in Asheville, NC, was one in which workers in the United States began to have more leisure time than their predecessors. One reason for this was that industrial employers began to decrease working hours and institute a Saturday half-day holiday, which gave workers more free time for leisure activities.[1] In conjunction with the rise of “leisure time”, the popularity of sports as leisure activities grew as people began to see the importance of exercise to health. While initially only the wealthy could partake of most sporting events, the opening of publicly available gymnasiums, courts, and fields allowed the working and middle classes to participate also. Athletic clubs such as the New York Athletic Club were organized, and the YMCAs began to institute sports programs.[2]

The rise in “leisure-time” also saw the rise of the “resort hotel” with its array of “amenities”.  A hotel amenity is defined as, “something of a premium nature provided in addition to the room and its basics when renting a room at a hotel, motel, or other place of lodging.”[3]  Many resort hotels began to offer various recreational activities, such as golf, tennis, and other popular sports as amenities.[4]  And so, in an effort to provide more “amenities” for his guests at Albemarle Park, it is not surprising that Thomas Wadley Raoul, decided in 1902, to build a clubhouse, to function as a recreational center for his guests.

In March of 1902, it was publicly announced that a “casino” was to be erected on the Albemarle Grounds on Charlotte street.   In the Victorian and Edwardian era, a casino usually did not include gaming or gambling, but mainly functioned as an athletic complex and recreation center, the most notable one being the Newport Casino, built in 1880 on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island.

According to the announcement of the new casino, it was reported, “the building will stand directly east of the tennis court, the basement walls forming a backstop for the court. The width of the house will be somewhat more than of the court, the main portion of the club house extending from one side of the present cleared space to the other.  On the south, a long extension will be built running parallel with the court, making the building an “L”.”[5]  Entrance to the club house would be from Cherokee Drive, from within the Albemarle Park grounds (NOT from Charlotte Street), and as such the building was designed “with the quaint architecture of the Manor and the cottages of Albemarle Park, rough cast and wood forming the [exterior] finish.”[6]

The interior of the building included a spacious lounging room, directly inside of the double entrance doors. The lounging room had a large wide window with a window seat, as well as a “big fireplace with an ornamental brick mantel”.[7]  Adjacent to the lounging room was a billiards and pool room and dressing room. Down one step from the billiards room was a small bowling alley. To the west in the “L” was a “wide-covered porch” used both for outdoor lounging and “as an admirable grandstand” for watching tennis matches on the courts below.[8]  The basement included a furnace room and locker rooms.

Albemarle Park Clubhouse: An Edwardian Amenity

The clubhouse was completed in June and the “Albemarle Club” officially organized on June 19, with Thomas Wadley Raoul being elected as president of the new club.  In addition, J. A. Burckel was elected secretary of the club, along with a board of governors.[9] “The first bowling done at the new Albemarle club-house was enjoyed yesterday”, was reported on June 6th.[10] The first tennis tournament at the new club-house was begun on July 2, 1902, with refreshments being served to the guests through “the well known courtesy of the Manor management”.[11]

The Albemarle Club House continued to be used as a recreation center for Albemarle Park, even after the Raouls sold the Manor and Park to Edwin W. Grove in 1920. In 1944 a group of investors, Roy B. Booth, Zeb V. Robinson, and Harry Blomberg formed The Manor Properties, Inc.[12] and purchased the Manor and accompanying grounds, including the clubhouse. Four years later, in 1948, the property was sold to the Manor Hotel Corporation.  But then in 1950, the clubhouse was sold separately to Rueben Robertson, president and chairman of the board of the Champion Paper & Fibre Company.

Robertson had purchased the building for his son, Dr. Logan T. Robertson. Dr. Robertson hired architect William Waldo Dodge to transform the club house into a “Medical Arts” clinic for general diagnostic and medical treatment, as well as to serve as a 24-hour emergency clinic.[13]

In 1954, Logan Robertson became the major stockholder in a new Corporation named “DiSer” -for diversified services. The aptly named corporation operated hotels, secretarial and air travel services auto sales, rental, and health services. At that time Dr. Robertson sold the Medical Arts Building to the DiSer Corporation, reportedly to free Dr. Robertson from “business administration” and allow him to concentrate on his specialty, occupational health.[14]  In 1955, DiSer also purchased the Manor and grounds from the Manor Hotel Corporation.

The Albemarle Park Clubhouse, from 1956 on, has functioned as a professional services office building. As early as 1956, the city Planning and Zoning Commission recognized the building’s actual use, and rezoned the building to “Neighborhood Trading Area” instead of “Institutional”, as they had originally proposed because they had first “thought the building was limited to physician’s offices and clinical purposes”.[15] The building and property were purchased by the current owner, R. L. Bailey, in 1971 and has continued to be operated as a professional services office building.

Despite it’s being heavily remodeled in the 1950’s, the building still retains its original exterior configuration and even some of its details, such as the original entrance porch (although it’s been filled in).   Unfortunately, this historic building is not part of the National Register of Historic Places nor does it have a Local Historic District designation, making it an “unprotected” property subject to any potential demolition threat or major remodeling that may result in loss of its historic architectural features.

Photo credits:

All photos from: North Carolina Collection, North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, NC.

[1]“America At Leisure”- https://www.loc.gov/collections/america-at-work-and-leisure-1894-to-1915/articles-and-essays/america-at-leisure/

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotel_amenity#Exercise

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Club House In Albemarle Park”, Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, NC, March 12, 1902.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Albemarle Club”, Asheville Daily Gazette, Asheville, NC, June 20, 1902.

[10] “Around Town”, Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, NC, June 6, 1902.

[11] “A Sixteen Game Set Opens Tournament”, Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, NC, July 8, 1902.

[12] Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, NC, July 12, 1944.

[13] Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, NC, November 19, 1950.

[14]Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, NC, July 31, 1955

[15] Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, NC September 19, 1956