By Lauren Stepp
When architect Douglas Ellington moved to Chunns Cove in 1926, soon after being commissioned to design the First Baptist Church of Asheville, he brought with him what would be Asheville’s first taste of Art Deco panache: clean lines, geometric patterns and streamlined arrangements. But he was also audacious enough to stray from that trending style, his blueprints reflecting an avant-garde cocktail of modern French accents, European Neoclassicism and Christian symbolism.
“Ellington developed a personal vocabulary of forms, materials and decorative elements,” says Clay Griffith with Acme Preservation Services. “His use of bold massing coupled with an artist’s sense of color and materials make his buildings stand out. The silhouettes are instantly recognizable.”
Honoring that legacy and celebrating their ever-increasing inventory of protected places, the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County (PSABC) has rolled out its new Ellington-inspired logo. Created by Will Hornaday of Hornaday Design Inc., the rebranded logo showcases the draftsman’s signature detail: a feather. Though subtle, this motif is a fixture in downtown architecture. The ziggurat roof of Asheville City Building (an Ellington design completed in 1928), for instance, features red tiles patterned with green and gold feathers. Inside, pink Georgian marble arranged in an octagonal shape is topped with, once again, a feather. Hornaday says Ellington’s respect and admiration for the Cherokee inspired the embellishment. “It is used in light fixtures and on roof peaks and is repeated in plaster trim,” he notes.
Reinterpreting the logo for PSABC—a pro bono project—took more than two years and 20 different drafts. The result is Art Deco with a dash of Ellington. Paired with black and gray Futura typeface, a red crest acts as a visual anchor: a flag planted in the ground. “Some may see the actual mark in the logo as a leaf, building skeleton, feather, dart or an arrow, and that is good. If you leave a brand open to some interpretation, it engages the viewer,” says Hornaday.
Jack Thomson, executive director of PSABC, agrees: “We embrace the strong presence of the mark with its many nuanced meanings,” he says. “It is, after all, echoed among some of the city’s most important buildings.”
Beyond the First Baptist Church and Asheville City Building, that list includes Asheville High School, S&W Cafeteria and lesser-known standouts like Merrimon Avenue Fire Station, Biltmore Hospital and the gates for Chimney Rock Park. The man behind these structures reflected a delicate balance of old and new, modern and traditional. Hair piled in a bun and pants stained by cigarettes, he talked politics, painted vivid watercolors and served as lead designer for Greenbelt, MD, one of three “Garden Cities” planned by the government in the 1930s. Even when American financials dipped in 1929, Ellington remained a visionary and Asheville his canvas.
“I don’t mean to knock the other guys—William Lord, Ronald Greene, Charles Parker, William East—they were all fine architects,” says Griffith. “Ellington’s buildings, however, have contributed greatly to the visual character and identity of the city.”
That certainly is not lost on the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County as it draws upon Asheville’s past for its new look.
For more information on the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County, visit psabc.org.