A “Worst” Asheville Album: 52 Weeks, 52 Communities

I remember “worst” Asheville.

It’s the neighborhood where my Grandfather was born in a house with dirt floors, where I went to preschool (back when Crossroads Assembly was “West Asheville Assembly” located on Haywood Rd.), attended my first dance lessons (in the building where Asheville Greenworks is today), and went along with my mother to shop for discount groceries for my great grandmother’s sister at GO Grocery (now West Village Market).

In my lifetime (26 years) the area surrounding Haywood Road has changed significantly. As I began planning this post, I tried to think back to my earliest memory of change in the neighborhood, and after careful contemplation, I feel sure that it was when West End Bakery first decorated their building with a mural.

Sometime over the past couple of years, I was hanging out on Haywood Rd., and among the (many hundreds) of bumper stickers saw one that read: “Make West Asheville Worst Again,” an obvious stab at the redevelopment and subsequent gentrification of West Asheville that has taken place over the past 25-30 years.

Check out this thread on /r/Asheville to see a photo of the bumper sticker, (not my photo) and some interesting conversation about the myriad of changes that have washed over the area in the past 2.5 decades:

One commenter says, speaking directly to newcomers, “Worst Asheville is what West Asheville was called before y’all all showed up.”

This post isn’t going to get into the nitty gritty about redevelopment or gentrification, but simply take a look at the changes I’ve seen in my lifetime in the Haywood Rd. area of West Asheville. Here in the North Carolina Room, we have some photos of Haywood Road ca. 1999, taken by our very own Zoe Rhine. Exactly 20 years ago. Today, we’ll take a look at some of those photos, and compare them to what stands (or doesn’t) there today.

“The more things change…”

We’ll start with one that hasn’t changed too much. Here’s a shot of #577-575 Haywood Road:

“Tastee Diner” J162-5.

Here’s the same block in late 2018 (the most recent Google Street View).

Google Street View, 2017.

Other blocks have gone through major transformations

It took me (and other folks in the office) a long time to figure out the fate of this two-walled beauty. I could look at this photo forever wondering how this building is still standing. A feat of engineering and preservation, to be sure!

The barely-standing structure is now transformed into Sunny Point Cafe. Here’s the most recent Google Street View:

Sunny Point Cafe, 626 Haywood Rd. Google Street View, 2019.

A couple of the other more incredible transformations are restaurants, too. For instance, we can see in this photo of the corner of Haywood Rd. and Sand Hill Rd. that Johnson’s Texaco Gas Station (formerly a Pure Oil station) is now transformed into the Universal Joint, a great place to grab a burger.

Johnson’s Texaco Gas Station, 784 Haywood Rd. J175-5.
The former gas station is now obscured in the summer months by ornamental and fruiting trees. There are figs, blueberries and herbs growing in this little patch of green. Google Street View 2019.

Another gas station transformation is at 631 Haywood Rd. Formerly a Phillips 66 Service Station, the building is now home to Standard Pizza Co.

The final transformation that will always stick with me, and probably a lot of other Asheville-raised folks my age is the disappearance of the “Panda House” near the corner of Brevard Road and Haywood Road. There are no images of this house in our collection, but you can do a quick internet search for “Panda House Asheville” to get an idea of what the house was like. I imagine that the owner of the house (and the Pandas) has since passed on, but I’ll never forget their unique lawn ornaments.

So all of this is simply to say, a lot has changed in “Worst” Asheville in the past 20 years. I often tell people I have grown with the changes, so some of them I don’t notice as well as others might. I don’t, nor have I ever, seen any part of our city as “worst,” but I definitely do understand the sentiment of the “Make West Asheville Worst Again” sticker. Sometimes, change can be beneficial, but other times, it established businesses and residents.

Were you fond of “Worst Asheville”? How come? What do you miss the most? We’d like to hear from you.

As a reminder, this post is a part of our 52 Weeks, 52 Communities Series. In this series, we are covering a different Buncombe County community each week. Do you have materials related to West Asheville or some other Buncombe County community you’d like to let us know about? Do you, your parents or grandparents have a good story to tell? We want to hear from you! The North Carolina Room is Buncombe County’s Public Archive, we want to help preserve and make accessible the history and culture of Asheville and Buncombe County for all its residents.

This post was written by North Carolina Room library specialist Katherine Calhoun Cutshall.


    1. Yes! They still do. We also have copies of that material available at ncroom.buncombecounty.org. Search “West Asheville” to find all kinds of interesting stuff!

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