Brown Bag Lunch “Hungry for History” Attendees Learn about Rafael Guastavino’s Life & Family

Local Asheville residents are hungry for history. Eighty-three people gathered in the Lord Auditorium, Pack Memorial Library to hear new research about the life and family of Rafael Guastavino (1842-1908), the renowned Spanish architect known for his vaults and domes. Guastavino came to Asheville in 1894 for the construction of the Biltmore Estate. He purchased 1,000 acres near Black Mountain for his home, which he named Rhododendron, the current site of Christmount Christian Assembly.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015, Lord Auditorium, Pack Memorial Library.

Guastavino is most known in Asheville for his domes and vaults at Biltmore Estate as well as his “masterpiece,” the Basilica of St. Lawrence. He is also known for his domes and vaults at the Cathedral of St. John The Divine in NYC, the Boston Public Library and Grand Central Station, to name only a few.

John Toms, in photo below, seated facing the camera, set the background and introduced the speakers. John researched and wrote the National Register documentation for the Basilica’s National Significance designation. Albert Czarnecki at the podium, contacted many of the newly found family members, and was given, with stipulations, valuable Guastavino business and personal letters, as well as Spanish clothing worn by Guastavino’s second wife, Francisca, who lived on at Rhododendron after he died in 1908, until her death in 1946.


Lori Doerr, a retired chemist and past docent at the Basilica, talked about the genealogical work she had done on both Rafael and Francisca (who took some 14 years off her actual age, making Lori’s research a bit difficult.) Diane Wright, tour coordinator for the Basilica, talked about the chance to meet and talk several times with Francisca’s friend and driver, Nancy Hyatt Frady, revelling more about Francisca and her 38 year period of being a recluse, mourning her husband’s death. Diane also invited everyone to come tour the Guastavino masterpiece.


Some of these items of correspondence and clothing and the result of the speaker’s research are currently on display through May 31 in the North Carolina Room at Pack Library, and have been donated as part of the permanent collection in the North Carolina Room. The event was sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room.

MS264_001B PHOTO G

Ending the program, an AmeriCorps volunteer at Hall Fletcher Elementary School, and a parent of two students there, talked about plans for Hall Fletcher’s Outdoor Learning Center that plans to construct two Guastavino domes on the site.

Their project can be found at this link,


Thanks from the North Carolina Room staff to John, Lori, Albert and Diane for their passionate interest, detailed research, and for taking the time to share it with us.

Photographs taken by North Carolina Room staff, Lyme Kedic.

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