Asheville, North Carolina
Client: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
Scope of Services: Forensic Building Investigations; Historic Paint and Finish Analysis; Wallpaper Analysis; Interior/Exterior Restoration
Thomas Wolfe was perhaps the most overtly autobiographical of this nation’s major novelists. His reminiscences of his boyhood in his mother’s 29-room boardinghouse were so frank and realistic that Look Homeward Angel was banned from Asheville’s public library for over seven years. Today Wolfe, who died just before his 38th birthday in 1938, is celebrated as one of the city’s most famous citizens, and his boyhood home has become part of the nation’s literary history. Indicative of his continued popularity, his once-banned epic has never gone out of print since first published in 1929.
The two-story frame and weatherboard Queen Anne style house over a full basement was built for a banker in 1883. It was enlarged before becoming the home of the Wolfe family in 1906. Mrs. Wolfe, a shrewd businesswoman obsessed with real estate acquisitions, enlarged her boardinghouse in 1916 using tenants as the work crews; the rambling additions were a contrast in quality when compared to the original house.
Since 1975 the house has been operated as a museum by the state. More recently, an arsonist’s fire devastated the house. JKOA conducted extensive forensic investigations to piece together a reconstruction of missing elements and complete a full restoration. A museum-quality environmental system was installed, as well as new electrical and fire detection/suppression systems. By stabilizing and conserving existing framing, plaster and wood trim rather than replacing, more than a million dollars was saved in the restoration budget.