Parker, Charles N. (1885-1961)
Charles N. (Newton) Parker (October 29, 1885 -July 30, 1961), architect, practiced in Asheville for many years and is best known for the Grove Arcade complex built at the height of the city’s pre-Depression boom era. A native of Ohio, he came to Asheville as a young man in 1900 and spent his career there, working briefly with Smith and Carrier (Richard Sharp Smith and Albert Heath Carrier) and then on his own. Although his work included all types of buildings, he specialized in houses in the Tudor Revival and other picturesque modes popular in the mountain city’s planned suburbs of the early 20th century.
Charles Parker was born in Hillsboro, Ohio, the son of John Milton Parker and Carolyn (Caroline) Holmes Parker. In 1900 the United States Census recorded him as living in Hillsboro with his widowed mother and his older brothers and sisters. The eldest son, Harry Lewis Parker (1878-1947), had left home in the 1890s and worked briefly in Raleigh before moving to Asheville in 1898 at age 20, where he worked for the city engineer and a private engineering firm. Encouraged by Harry, in 1900 Charles and his brother Leslie and sister Clara moved to Asheville, and their mother followed them about 1904 to 1906. In 1910 the United States Census listed Carolyn (Caroline) as a widowed head of a household in Asheville that included Harry, Clara, Anna, and Charles. (Leslie had died soon after moving.) As Charles’s daughter recalled, Charles built a “neat little chalet” at 70 Furman Avenue for his sister Clara and his mother, Caroline (d. 1926). He lived there until he met and married Julia Maynard of Georgia in 1928. He built their home at 54 Ridgewood Place, where the couple raised their family and he lived until his death.
Upon arriving in Asheville, Charles Parker fell in love with the mountain region and spent much time hiking and exploring the landscape. He worked for a time as a surveyor in western North Carolina, and then was employed as a draftsman by the city of Asheville in 1906-1907. From about 1909 to 1913 he was a draftsman for Smith and Carrier, one of the leading architectural firms in Asheville and western North Carolina. From Smith, an Englishman who was supervising architect at the Biltmore Estate and Biltmore Village (see Richard Sharp Smith), Parker gained expertise in the firm’s sophisticated and picturesque vocabulary of half-timbered and pebbledash houses. He continued in this mode throughout the 1920s. There is no evidence that Charles Parker received any formal education in architecture; he came to Asheville immediately after high school and evidently learned his architectural skills on the job. He became active in his profession and was a founding member of the Architect’s Association of Western North Carolina.
In 1913 Parker began working on his own as an architect, as indicated in Asheville city directories, and in 1916 he was advertising his services in the Asheville Citizen (November 5, 1916). According to his obituary he maintained a connection with Smith and Carrier until 1918. Probably his first project was a remarkable group of romantically picturesque cottages he designed for Rose Mary Byrne in the small Sunset Terrace [Sunset Terrace Cottages] development, which was laid out along a steep hillside by his brother Harry. Combining elements of Craftsman, chalet, and English cottage styles, Sunset Terrace had cottages called Rosemary (1913); Primrose (1913); Rambler (1915); West View (1915); Blossoms (1915); and Violet (1920), plus a seventh never built. In this same period, Parker was commissioned to plan the large new hotel, the Kenilworth Inn II, to replace a predecessor that burned. The Asheville Citizen of September 22, 1916, reported that Parker had drawn up plans for the 150-room hotel, but thereafter his name was not connected with the project, in which Asheville architect Ronald Greene was more directly involved.
Parker was one of the first licensed architects in North Carolina. His license certificate, issued in 1915, was #28 in the official registration book of the North Carolina Board of Architecture, one of the early group of men who were licensed in the state based on their having been in professional practice prior to the licensing act of 1915.
Probably through his brother Harry, Charles Parker won important patronage from Edwin W. Grove, a major figure in shaping Asheville in the 1910s and 1920s. In 1913, Harry had begun work as manager and chief engineer for developer Grove in an association that continued until the latter’s death in 1927. Grove (1850-1927) was a drug manufacturer from Tennessee who built a summer home in Asheville about 1897 and became a developer on a grand scale. About 1905 Grove began planning the ambitious Grove Park residential development on the north side of town for which Harry Parker laid out the streets and did other planning work. (Grove Park was adjacent to Sunset Terrace.) Grove’s massive, stone Grove Park Inn on Sunset Mountain and the adjoining golf course became the centerpiece in 1913. Sections of the Grove Park development, each carefully planned, were built in stages into the mid-1920s. While Harry laid out the neighborhoods, for his “designed neighborhood,” as Charles’s daughter recalled, Grove “hired my father to approve the plans for the houses to be built and thus my father received the commission to design many of them.” In addition to his work for Grove, Parker captured public attention when he designed the Arch of Triumph (1919), a grand archway on Patton Avenue that welcomed home parades of World War I veterans.
Parker also gained a clientele among the founders of Biltmore Forest, a prestigious suburban community established in 1920 around a golf course on 1,500 acres from the Biltmore Estate, and filled with luxurious residences by the period’s leading local architects. Parker planned the Thomas Wadley Raoul House (ca. 1922) for the president of the development company and the Junius Adams House (1921) for another founder. These, like others of his designs, display a Tudor Revival style that carried forward the English spirit established by R. S. Smith at Biltmore Village and elsewhere in Asheville. The Walter P. Taylor House (1925-1926), a rambling stone house of Tudor Revival manorial style, and others are also documented or attributed to Parker.
Charles N. Parker’s most famous project far exceeded any of his other known works in scale and cost: the Grove Arcade (1926-1929), a last project by Edwin W. Grove. The immense arcade building is covered in glazed terra cotta, richly detailed in molded decorations of Tudor Gothic Revival spirit, including a depiction of a medieval architect—(with Parker’s name inscribed)—and his architectural tools. The interior is lavishly finished in similar style. It covers an entire city block and was planned to include a skyscraper tower twenty stories tall.
For the arcade, developer Edwin W. Grove had acquired a large downtown tract that included the 19th century Battery Park Hotel on a tall hill. Grove tore down the hotel, decapitated the hill, and filled in the valley in front of it. According to Harry Parker’s obituary, this great project was Harry Parker’s idea. Grove built a new Battery Park Hotel (see William Lee Stoddart) at the upper end of the site, and where the valley had been, he sited a massive arcade building that was designed as the base of a skyscraper tower. Grove employed Charles Parker as architect, and work began on the project.
But in 1927 Grove died and the project halted, far from complete. The property was sold, and in 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression, the arcade was completed by a new owner, Walter P. Taylor, but without the skyscraper originally planned. Because of these events, Parker never received full payment for his work. His daughter, born in 1932, recalled that the topic of the Arcade project was not a happy one and was seldom mentioned in their family in her hearing. “My memory association of the Arcade is walking up the ramps as a small child, holding my father’s hand and then running back down.” With the crash, other clients also failed to pay Parker for work he had completed. Rather than opening doors for Parker’s future career, the great arcade marked the end of an era of great building in the city.
As for most architects, particularly in Asheville where the impact of the Depression was especially severe, Parker’s opportunities dropped off drastically. He cut back his practice to a one-man office on Wall Street overlooking Pritchard Park, designing mainly small houses, while his wife went to work as a schoolteacher. In 1940, Parker found work at Camp Lejeune near Swansboro, North Carolina, on the coast. “Lejeune was just being built at the time and my father’s first drafting room was in a tent,” recalled his daughter. He continued at Lejeune through World War II. The family spent vacations with him there but returned to Asheville for Mrs. Parker to continue teaching during the school year. After the war, Parker returned to Asheville and worked for Six Associates (an Asheville firm formed by several area architects in order to gain wartime projects), which became a major firm in the region. He retired from active practice about 1950. Always a great lover of the mountains, Parker remained in Asheville for the rest of his life and was buried in Forsyth, Georgia, his wife’s home. In Asheville, many of his fine houses still stand, and his chief landmark, the Grove Arcade, has been restored for new use as a center of enterprise in the city.
- 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.
- Charles N. Parker, Obituary,Asheville Citizen, July 31, 1961.
- Joe Franklin, Rose Mary Byrne and the Cottages of Sunset Terrace (2004).
- Clay Griffith, “Sunset Terrace,” National Register of Historic Places nomination (2005).
- North Carolina Board of Architecture, Record Book 1915-1992, microfilmed by North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Charles Parker File, Pack Memorial Library Research Files (Architects), Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina.
- Charles Parker Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Harry Parker, Obituary, Asheville Times, Sept. 9, 1947.
- Annette Parker Sechen, email correspondence with Catherine W. Bishir, copies in Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina (2007-2008).
- Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).
- Daniel Vivian, “Junius G. Adams House,” National Register of Historic Places nomination (2001).
- Dates:1919Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Patton Ave., Asheville, NCStatus:No longer standingType:MemorialImages Puslished In:E. M. Ball Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Asheville, North Carolina.
- Dates:1920sLocation:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Biltmore Forest, Asheville, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ResidentialNote:Charles N. Parker's drawings for the Biltmore Forest Country Club Servants' House are at the Pack Memorial Library, Asheville (AD10140). The building was razed ca. 1990.
- Dates:1914Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:108 Fairview Rd., Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:Charles N. Parker's drawings of the Charles A. Hoit Residence are at the Pack Memorial Library, Asheville (AD0073).
- Dates:Ca. 1928Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:54 Ridgewood Pl., Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:Charles N. Parker built this house for his wife, and their children, and lived there the rest of his life. According to his daughter Annette Sechen, "The lot at 54 Ridgewood Place was . . . . a tiny lot and my father seemed to think that only he could design a livable house on such a small, precipitous lot. The footprint of the house covered the entire lot with only two to four feet of uncovered land all around. There was no place to park a car. My father designed a half-timbered cottage, one story high on the front, two stories on the right side, three in the back where the basement had a door to the outside, and four stories on the downhill side where there was a garage under the basement. Access to the garage was from the service alley. Utility roads ran behind almost all the houses in Grove Park. There was a turntable in the garage where we parked the car and then pushed it around to face out. It was not hard to do and even as a child, I could push it. Our house was quite comfortable and we never seemed to be on top of each other. There were two bedrooms on the ground floor and one on the second plus two packing rooms, as Mother called them."
- Dates:1920sLocation:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:70 Furman Ave., Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:According to his daughter, Annette Sechen, "My father had built a neat little chalet at 70 Furman Avenue to house his sister Clara and later his mother." City directories confirm this.
- Variant Name(s):First Methodist Episcopal ChurchDates:1928Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:14 N. French Broad Ave., Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousNote:The Asheville Citizen of September 11, 1928, reported the formal opening of the church and mentioned Parker as architect.
- Dates:Ca. 1920Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:56 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialNote:Charles N. Parker's drawings of the Gaston Motors Company Building are at the Pack Memorial Library, Asheville (SA40).
- Dates:1926-1929Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:37 Battery Park Ave., Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialImages Puslished 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).
Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).Note:Charles N. Parker's drawings for the Grove Arcade are in the Charles Parker Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Dates:1921Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:11 Stuyvesant Rd., Biltmore Forest, Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).Note:Charles N. Parker's drawings of the J. G. Adams House, 11 Stuyvesant Rd., are at the Pack Memorial Library, Asheville (SA0206). Adams was an attorney for the Vanderbilt estate and a founder of the Biltmore Forest suburb.
- Variant Name(s):Appalachian HallDates:1912-1918Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Caledonia Rd., Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:CommercialImages Puslished In:Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).Note:Built to replace the Kenilworth Inn I, which burned, the Kenilworth Inn II became the centerpiece of a residential suburb for which Ronald Greene designed several houses. The architectural authorship of the Kenilworth II is not entirely clear. The Asheville Citizen of September 22, 1916 reported, "Carolina Woods Products Company Signs Contract for the Erection of Kenilworth Inn and Will Start at Once." The article noted that developer J.M. Chiles had signed with the company and also cited "Charles Parker, Architect." It explained, "The plans and specifications for the new hotel have been completed by Charles Parker, who spent several weeks in preparing them. Mr. Parker told The Citizen yesterday that the hotel would have about 150 rooms." (A recent visitor to the Pack Library in Asheville recalled having seen the architectural drawings for the Kenilworth II signed by Parker, several years ago; these have been lost.) The Kenilworth Company's Nov. 13, 1916, memorandum of agreement with Carolina Wood Products made no mention of Parker but cited "the firm of Donaldson & Meir of Detroit, Michigan and Roland [sic] Greene of Asheville." Parker may have been dropped from the project between September and November. On November 19, 1916, the Asheville Citizen reported on construction work in town: "The Kenilworth Inn contract, now in the hands of the builders, the Carolina Woods Products company is the leading feature in this great march of development. In talking yesterday to Mr. E.A. Fonda, general manager of the house department of the C.W.P. Co., he said: "Yes, we ourselves, have contracted for approximately three quarters of a million dollars for construction work in the city of Asheville, alone." Fonda stated, "The hotel, which is strictly English architecture, has been designed and planned throughout in the architectural department of the Carolina Woods Products company, with the assistance of Mr. Donaldson, of the architectural firm of Donaldson and Meir, of Detroit, Mich, acting in the capacity of consulting architect." Whether Parker's design was used in the final project is unknown.
- Dates:1913-1920Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Sunset Terrace, Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Joe Franklin, Rose Mary Byrne and the Cottages of Sunset Terrace (2004).
Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).Note:The cottages of Sunset Terrace are named Rosemary (1913); Primrose (1913); Rambler (1915); Westview (1915); Blossoms (1915); and Violet (1920) and a seventh (1921) unbuilt. For a detailed account, see Joe Franklin, Rose Mary Byrne and the Cottages of Sunset Terrace (2004).
- Dates:1925-1926Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:436 Vanderbilt Rd., Biltmore Forest, Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:Charles N. Parker's drawings for the Walter P. Taylor Residence are at the Pack Memorial Library, Asheville (SA32.1-32.8).
- Dates:1926; 1948 [renovated]Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:20 Cedarcliff Rd., Biltmore Forest, Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialNote:Charles N. Parker's drawings for the William Redwood Residence (1926 and 1948) are in the Pack Memorial Library, Asheville (SA1007 and SA1008).