Located in Asheville’s Southside neighborhood, Walton Street Park (570 Oakland Rd.) has served as the backdrop for many community events, birthday parties, and family celebrations since it opened in 1939. In 1948, Walton Street Pool opened in the southwest corner of the park. Since April, the City of Asheville and local nonprofit Southside Rising have been collecting input through surveys and at community events, meetings, and one-on-one discussions with Southside residents on their vision for this vibrant space. Now, the larger Asheville community is invited to provide guidance through an online survey or by filling out a survey at any Asheville Parks & Recreation community center.
Asheville Parks & Recreation has allocated $500,000 for the improvement of recreation features in Walton Street Park. Simultaneously, staff members from multiple City departments have been working closely with neighborhood stakeholders and organizations to discuss ways to honor the historical significance of Walton Street Pool and Pool House. The pool is the longest-serving public pool established for Asheville’s Black families and community members, filling a void left by the closure of Mountain Street Pool in the East End neighborhood around 1935.
“There is a special connection many Black Asheville residents have to Walton Street Park and Walton Street Pool. It was one of the few public spaces Black people could go to recreate during segregation,” according to D. Tyrell McGirt, Director of Asheville Parks and Recreation. “Like Southside itself, Walton Street Park and Pool are enduring spaces and evolving examples of community pride and perseverance. Asheville Parks & Recreation values the input of neighboring community groups, as well as those connected to the Walton Street Park and Pool history. The department will use that feedback to guide the investment efforts in updating these treasured spaces.”
The City began hosting input meetings and outreach for the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Community Center Recreation Phase expansion in 2017. At the same time, community members began discussions around the redevelopment of Walton Street Park. Since then, park benches and grills have been replaced and a new park sign and lighting have been installed.
After a professional assessment of Asheville’s public pools determined the continuation of years of significant repairs would no longer extend the useful life of Walton Street Pool, Asheville City Council amended the design contract for Grant Southside Center to include a new outdoor pool with modern amenities that can accommodate swimmers of different ages and abilities, increased program offerings, and greater security and safety features available at a staffed full-complex recreation center. The community center is located about two-tenths of a mile from Walton Street Park.
Based on neighborhood feedback, the most requested recreation features are picnic areas and a covered shelter, a basketball court, a multipurpose field, and asphalt surfaces for biking, skating, and walking. Similar to the recent redevelopment of Linwood Crump Shiloh Community Center and Recreation Complex, enhancement of the recreation offerings may be a multi-year process as additional funds become available. Southside residents also indicated they wish to pursue designation as on the National Register of Historic Places and as a Local Historic Landmark.
“Historic designation, whether it’s in the National Register and/or Local Landmark designation, means recognizing and honoring the cultural and historical significance of a place that allows us to tangibly connect to our past, as well as to carry that legacy into the future,” according to Alex Cole, Urban Planner for Historic Preservation in the City’s Planning and Urban Design Department. “While Local Landmark designation would require that any changes to the pool and pool house follow a formal design review process, neither designation is intended to prevent reimagining how the pool and bathhouse can be used in the future
. In fact, adaptive reuse is one of the most common ways historic buildings and places are preserved, honored and celebrated.”
Adaptive reuse is updating a structure for a new use or purpose. Local examples include 8 River Arts Place (Black Wall Street AVL Building), Linwood Crump Shiloh Community Center, Thomas Wolfe House, and Young Men’s Institute (YMI).
Asheville Parks & Recreation
Established in 1956, the Asheville Parks & Recreation Department manages a unique collection of more than 65 public parks, playgrounds, and open spaces throughout the city in a system that also includes full-complex recreation centers, swimming pools, Riverside Cemetery, sports fields and courts, and community centers that offer a variety of wellness-, education-, and culture-related programs for Ashevillians of all ages. With 8 miles of paved greenways and numerous natural surface trails, its complete portfolio acts as the foundation of a vibrant hub for the people of Asheville to connect with their neighbors and explore the natural beauty of a livable and walkable city.
Driven by the promise that Asheville is a better and safer place when everyone from infants to retirees has the opportunity to be supported, healthy, and successful, Asheville Parks & Recreation was the first nationally-accredited municipal recreation department in the United States. For the latest updates, follow the department on Facebook @aprca and Instagram @ashevilleparksandrecreation or visit www.ashevillenc.gov/parks.