The Jackson Building

The First Skyscraper in Western NC


After a devastating flood of the French Broad River on July 16, 1916 and US entry into WWI Asheville’s population boomed  to about 28,504, and annual visitors to the area was estimated at 250,000 by 1920. Lynwood B. Jackson, a real estate mogul who cashed in on the city’s 1920s building spree, commissioned architect Ronald Green to design an office building on the former site of W.O. Wolfe’s tombstone shop. Jackson’s intent was not so much to collect rents (although the building was fully leased before it was completed in 1923) as it was to create an icon with which to advertise his business ventures. L. B. Jackson built  the 13-story Neo-Gothic style skyscraper in 1924, the first skyscraper in western North Carolina. It was also the tallest skyscraper in all of North Carolina at that time! Popularity of the area and building was evident in the fully rented building before it was completed. The local newspaper celebrated its construction: "New Skyscraper is Totally Fireproof Declares Merchant" ran the headline in the Asheville Time on Sunday July 6, 1924.

Asheville Buildings 2-HD ‎(720p)‎.m4v


 The building was built on a 27’x 60’ lot thought to be too small to build a skyscraper.  The lack of space on the lot leaves many visitors to remark that the building itself looks too thin.  In fact, the Jackson building holds the world record for the tallest building on the smallest lot.  

View, Jackson Building, Asheville, North Carolina

Jackson only gave architect Ronald Green two instructions.  He was first to build the tallest building in town, a feat achieved in the 13 story steel frame.  Secondly Green was, “to go nuts at the top”  Green’s creative eye led him to revive Gothic architectural forms, mainly at the top of the building.  Gothic architecture is associated with the Medieval Europe and got its name after the Renaissance as an epithet to the “barbarism” of the Middle Ages.  However in many cases the forms and features associated with that period have been used by architects and are often referred to as Neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival.  The noticeable spyres, common in the Gothic style, are used more often in religious buildings, however Green employed them as an eye catcher atop Jackson’s iconic advertisement.  Unfortunately, some of the most quintessential Gothic features of the Jackson Building are often misnamed.  First, the structure commonly referred to as the “bell tower” contains no bell and the “gargoyles” that protrude from the corners of the building are actually grotesques.  In order to be considered gargoyles they must be a working part of the buildings downspout and the Jackson buildings “dragons” are merely for decoration.  


 Although the lower majority of the building is structured as a typical office building, Green employed some Gothic features in this portion like the equilateral pointed arches that make up the entrances. These arches are often referred to as Gothic arches, making the connection more clear.  On the whole the Jackson building lends a Medieval touch to Asheville’s already eclectic architecture.

Hidden Gems 

Interesting facts about the Jackson building:

  • It was the first skyscraper in western North Carolina.

  • The gargoyle structures that protrude from the top four corners are fully functional.

  • The bell tower was actually used as a searchlight to draw tourists to the city.

  • The building shares its elevator system with the adjacent Westall Building.

  • It takes its name from L. B. Jackson, the building's developer.

  • When completed, it eclipsed the Independence Building in Charlotte as the tallest office building in North Carolina.

  • It held this rank until 1923 when the Jefferson Standard Building went up in Greensboro.

  • Fire insurance maps indicate a main roof height (not including the tower) of 140 feet (43 m).
  • The Jackson Building is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest building on the smallest footprint.
  • The Jackson Building is built on the former site of W.O. Wolfe's (Thomas Wolfe's father) Tombstone Company.

Clean Air Outlook

Half a century before President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, Asheville was taking an active interest in pollution and air quality. With the reputation of being a “health haven” the clean mountain air must remain clean. The top of the Jackson Building served as a “Clean Air Outlook” station. Most of the buildings and factories in Asheville were powered by coal. Each morning Asheville’s City Inspector would perch himself atop the Jackson Building where he would have a panoramic view of the entire city. As the city awoke and came to life the coal furnaces were fired up, if the heavy smoke from firing up the furnaces lasted longer than 5 minutes the inspector would issue citations to the buildings in violation to clean their furnaces.

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Jun 18, 2014, 10:43 AM