North Carolina Architects and Builders - A Biographical Dictionary

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Merchant, Luther L. (1876-1966)

Variant Name(s):
  • Luther Launcelot Merchant
Birthplace: Brooks, Indiana, USA
Residences:
  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Henderson County, North Carolina
Trades:
  • Contractor
NC Work Locations:
  • Buncombe County
  • Buncombe
  • Asheville, Buncombe County
  • Buncombe
  • Canton, Haywood County
  • Haywood
Building Types:
  • Commercial;
  • Religious;
  • Residential
Styles & Forms:
  • Colonial Revival;
  • Gothic Revival;
  • International style;
  • Neoclassical Revival

Jackson Building [Asheville]

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Jackson Building [Asheville]

Biography

Luther Launcelot Merchant (1876-1966), a contractor who was called a "construction pioneer" in Asheville, took a central role in building the city's notable early 20th century architecture. A native of Brooks, Indiana, he was the son of John and Eliza Jane Hess Merchant. The family moved to Henderson County, North Carolina in about 1885. Luther attended local schools, enlisted for service in the Spanish-American War, and then moved to Asheville about 1904. Listed in the local city directory of 1904-1905 as a carpenter, and by 1909 as a contractor, he initially worked for Asheville builders including J. C. MacPherson, for whom he served as foreman for seven years.

By about 1911, according to an article in the Asheville Citizen (July 6, 1924), Merchant "decided that he had sufficient experience to go into the game for himself," and he joined with "several good men" including his brother, Oscar, to establish a contracting business. The Merchant Construction Company grew rapidly and eventually took on projects in four states. In Asheville, the firm constructed some of the booming city's principal buildings. Designed by various architects, these exemplified a variety of styles, forms, and construction techniques, some of them new to the city. The competence, skill, and size of Merchant's firm were vital to the successful completion of buildings that often employed challenging construction methods and large scale work.

Probably the most famous of Merchant's contruction projects is the Jackson Building (1923-1924), designed by Ronald Greene as a slender tower in Gothic Revival style; at thirteen stories it was the tallest building in western North Carolina and the region's first skyscraper. 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. The Loughran Building (1923) was one of architect Richard Sharp Smith's last designs, and among the city's first structures with all steel framing. At the other end of the architectural spectrum, Merchant constructed numerous residences, often with highly refined detailing, such as the elegant rendition of Gunston Hall (1923-1924) designed by Washington, D.C. architect Waddy B. Wood for a descendant of the family who built the original colonial period Gunston Hall in Virginia. The spectacularly eclectic Public Service Building (1929) was completed on the eve of the Great Depression from designs by Beacham and LeGrand. In 1930, Merchant and his wife and children were residing in Henderson County, but they later returned to Asheville.

As construction in the city began to recover from the Great Depression, the Merchant firm gained the contract for the sleekly modernist Asheville Citizen-Times Building (1938-1939) designed by Anthony Lord—one of the first big projects in town in years, and an early example of the International Style, displaying exactingly finished concrete construction. The firm also erected many other buildings including several local schools and churches. A key postwar project was Beth Ha-Tephila Temple (1948-1949), designed by the prolific local architectural firm of Six Associates. Merchant retired as president of his construction company in 1950 and after 1952 spent much of the year in Lakeland, Florida, while returning to Asheville in the summers. He married first Almetta Harris (d. 1938) with whom he had two sons, and then Mrs. Pinkney Smith (d. 1958).

Author: Catherine W. Bishir. Contributor: Zoe Rhine.

Published 2009

Building List

Jackson Building (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1923

Contributors:
Dates: 1923-1924
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 22 South Pack Square, Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
  • David R. Black, Historic Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville, North Carolina (1979).
  • Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).
Note:

The slender 13-story building on a tiny lot was the first skyscraper in western North Carolina. Designed by architect Greene for young real estate developer L. B. Jackson, the steel-framed brick building features elaborate glazed terra cotta ornament in a Gothic Revival style that emphasizes its height. It stands on the lot where Thomas Wolfe's father had his monument shop. Originally, the building had more spires and a searchlight on top that cast a beam for 30 miles.

Jackson Building

Andrew Gennett House (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1926

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1926-1927
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 195 Kimberly Ave., Grove Park, Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

William J. East's (undated) drawings of the boldly composed Andrew Gennett House survive at the Pack Library, Asheville. The address first appears in the Asheville city directory of 1927.

Andrew Gennett House

Northup-McDuffie Hardware (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1921

Contributors:
Dates: 1921
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 72-74 Patton Ave., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Images Published In:
  • David R. Black, Historic Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville, North Carolina (1979).
Note:

The architectural drawings collection at the Pack Library in Asheville has the architect's drawings of the hardware store, dated August, 1921, by architect, Willard C. Northup of Winston-Salem, who was the son of William B. Northup who owned the hardware company (see W.B. Northup obituary, Asheville Citizen, October 4, 1936).

Loughran Building (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1923

Contributors:
Dates: 1923
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: Haywood St. and Walnut St., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial

Loughran Building

Gunston Hall (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1922

Variant Name(s):
  • Dr. William B. Mason House
Contributors:
Dates: 1922-1923
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 324 Vanderbilt Rd., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Images Published In:
  • Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).
Note:

The William B. Mason House, built as a summer home, was designed as a rendition of Mason's ancestor's house in Virginia, Gunston Hall.

J. M. Westall Building (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1923

Contributors:
Dates: 1923
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: NE corner Walnut St. and Lexington St., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Images Published In:
  • David R. Black, Historic Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville, North Carolina (1979).

Honess Building (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1925

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1925
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 70 Patton Ave., Asheville, NC
Status: No longer standing
Type:
  • Commercial

Public Service Building (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1929

Contributors:
Dates: 1929
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 89-93 Patton Ave., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
  • David R. Black, Historic Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville, North Carolina (1979).
Note:

The 8-story, brick skyscraper features lavish, polychrome terra cotta detailing, including various classical motifs, on every façade. It was built by the Coxe estate with Carolina Power and Light as the first tenant.

Public Service Building

Dr. W. P. Herbert House (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1920

Contributors:
Dates: 1920s
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: Albemarle Park, Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential

Beth Ha-Tephila Temple (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1948

Contributors:
Dates: 1948-1949
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 43 N. Liberty St., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Religious

Asheville Citizen-Times Building (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1938

Contributors:
Dates: 1938-1939
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 14 O. Henry Ave., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
  • David R. Black, Historic Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville, North Carolina (1979).

Asheville Citizen-Times Building

Gennett House (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1924

Contributors:
Dates: Ca. 1924
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: #1 Evelyn Place, Grove Park, Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential

Westall Building (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1924

Variant Name(s):
  • Jackson Building Annex
Contributors:
Dates: 1924-1925
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 20 S. Pack Square, Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Commercial
Images Published In:
  • David R. Black, Historic Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville, North Carolina (1979).
Note:

Built as partner to the Jackson Building in Spanish Romanesque style over a steel frame, the Westall Building was covered with mottled orange brick trimmed with orange terra cotta picked out in green and blue. The photograph shows the Westall Building immediately to the right of the Jackson Building.

Westall Building

Champion Fibre Company Main Office (Canton, Haywood County)

Haywood Canton

1918

Contributors:
Dates: 1918
Location: Canton, Haywood County
Street Address: 14 Main St., Canton, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Industrial
Images Published In:
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
  • Camille Wells, Canton: The Architecture of Our Home Town (1985).
Note:

A principal landmark in Canton, the handsome office building was headquarters for the firm that built the town's principal industry the Champion Paper Company. The Champion em>Log noted that the brick came from Fletcher, N. C., and the granite from Mount Airy. The Asheville Citizen-Times of September 29, 1912, also credited William H. Lord with designing a bank in Canton and another in nearby Waynesville (the latter was also cited in the same paper in September 1903). These have not been identified.

Champion Fibre Company Main Office

Frank Salley House (Buncombe County)

Buncombe

1938

Contributors:
Dates: 1938
Location: Buncombe County
Street Address: 354 Kimberly Ave., Buncombe, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

Pack Library has the architectural drawings for this house (AD0127) at 354 Kimberly Avenue, dated 1/8/1935. Also, Carolina Architecture and Allied Arts, 1939-40 edition features the Salley house with photographs.

Bon Marche Department Store (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1937

Contributors:
Dates: 1937
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: 33 Haywood St., Asheville, NC
Status: Altered
Type:
  • Commercial
Note:

Pack Memorial Library in Asheville has Greene's architectural drawings for Bon Marche.

Bon Marche Department Store

Fernihurst (Asheville, Buncombe County)

Buncombe Asheville

1875

Contributors:
Dates: ca. 1875; 1930s
Location: Asheville, Buncombe County
Street Address: Victoria Rd., Asheville, NC
Status: Standing
Type:
  • Residential
Note:

As related by Gaines in King's Maelum, in the depths of the Great Depression, Mr. and Mrs. John F. Curran commissioned him to expand and remodel a Victorian residence they had recently acquired—a welcome project when he had no other work. He transformed it with a portico and other Colonial Revival elements. Gaines recalled that he "moved a drafting board out to the Curran house, and while Mr. Merchant [the contractor] proceeded with his work I was busy with the plans. We . . . worked out a sequence of work, listing the plans and details in the order in which he would need them. In this way I managed to keep ahead of the construction workers."

Luther L. Merchant's Work Locations

Bibliography

  • Asheville Citizen, July 6, 1924.
  • Asheville Citizen-Times, Aug. 24, 1966.
  • Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
  • David R. Black, Historic Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville, North Carolina (1979).
  • Charlotte Vestal Brown Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).
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