Communities Heritage/History

NC Highway Historical Marker Honors Rafael Guastavino

Guastavino postcard. Courtesy of Swannanoa Valley Museum

Join the Guastavino Alliance, Swannanoa Valley Museum, and Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA) on Monday, September 13, at 10:30 a.m. for the unveiling and dedication of a new NC Highway Historical Marker recognizing Rafael Guastavino’s vault and dome tile work and marking the site of his Black Mountain estate, Rhododendron. After the dedication, a short program and self-guided walking tour of Rhododendron (now Christmount conference center) will take place. Refreshments will be served.

“We hope this marker will pique the interest of those who drive by it and encourage them to learn more about Guastavino’s work across the country,” says WNCHA executive director Anne Chesky Smith. “It’s very likely they have been in a building that utilizes his work, but have no idea who he was or why the technique was so innovative.”

Rhododendron. Photo by Gertrude Sprague. Courtesy of Swannanoa Valley Museum

Rafael Guastavino Moreno arrived at Ellis Island with his son in 1881, speaking no English and with limited funds. He was trained as an architect in Barcelona and with his knowledge of the Catalan vault structure developed the Guastavino Tile Arch System that allows for the construction of large, self-supporting arches, vaults and domes using thin terracotta tiles and mortar. One of his first major commissions was the Boston Public Library. Soon after that, George Vanderbilt engaged him to work on the Biltmore estate. While working in Asheville, Guastavino fell in love with the area, purchased land in Black Mountain and built his estate which included a large home, vineyard and wine cellar, dairy and a kiln for making tiles.

Guastavino’s son Rafael Guastavino Exposito was also an architect active into the 1950s. Together they were responsible for more than 600 structures extant in the US. Ten are in North Carolina including St. Lawrence Basilica in Asheville where Guastavino Senior was buried in 1908.

“The mission of the Guastavino Alliance is to tell the story of the life of the Guastavinos and to maximize public interest in the history and preservation of their work,” says Guastavino Alliance co-chair Suzanne Fisher. “The Alliance Board felt it was important to recognize that he chose to build his home in Black Mountain.”

The marker will be placed at the I-40 interchange in Black Mountain (Exit 64). Dedication attendees will meet on the sidewalk at the stoplight on the southwest corner of the intersection (corner closest to Ingles/McDonalds). Parking is available in the Ingles parking lot. The reception and tour will take place after the event at Christmount at 222 Fern Way, Black Mountain. Learn more at and

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