News obit: John Lantzius, key figure in downtown Asheville revitalization, dies

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

lexington_avenue_2014John Lantzius, a downtown property owner and nurturer of Asheville’s most eclectic district of independently owned businesses who was a key figure in a successful effort to revitalize Asheville in the 1980s, died Feb. 10. He was 83.

Lantzius died in his apartment in Vancouver, British Columbia. A spokeswoman for the coroner’s office there confirmed his death.

Lantzius, his sister Dawn and other family members were essential players in bringing downtown Asheville to the vibrancy it is known for now. In the 1970s, downtown a was a desolate collection of mostly empty storefronts. Lexington Avenue was particularly blighted. In the early 1980s, Lantzius and a group of downtown proponents opposed a plan to tear down nearly 20 downtown buildings in the area to build a mall. The Lantzius clan bought a slew of buildings, including many along North Lexington Avenue. The move saved several historic downtown structures.

In so doing, Lantzius and Lexington became synonymous. After buying the buildings, Lantzius kept rents low and helped small, independently owned businesses establish a foothold. As one loyal reader noted, Lexington in the 1980s was a haven for prostitutes and board-up business fronts. Despite it all, Lantzius was tireless in his work to bring all new businesses and beautify the street.

A mix of eclectic businesses remain on the street today, which has helped make downtown a powerful tourism draw alongside the world-famous Biltmore Estate and Asheville’s surrounding mountain beauty.

Here’s how former Mountain Xpress editor and now Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell described the threat of a downtown mall in a 2007 story for Xpress:

“But folks with longer memories hark back to 1980, when the Asheville City Council unanimously approved a plan for a downtown mall. As related in these pages by Tom Kerr (“The Other Side of Asheville,” June 7, 2000 Xpress) ‘The project proposed to raze such landmarks as our Art Deco masterpiece, The Kress Building. The T.S. Morrison Store, a general mercantile store in business since 1891, was slated for destruction. Finkelstein’s Pawn Shop on Broadway (circa 1903) and the whole of lower Lexington Avenue … would have been demolished, on both sides of the street. Walnut Street and its handcarved granite curbstones, from Haywood Street all the way to Broadway, would have been laid to waste by wrecking balls and bulldozers. … Carolina Lane, where Thomas Wolfe used to deliver newspapers as a boy, would have likely become the location of the indoor mall’s food court.’

“John Lantzius was one of those who resisted the demolition plans, preferring instead to resurrect some of Asheville’s classic commercial buildings – red-brick beauties that have housed a century’s worth of local enterprises. Some of the street’s signature businesses have numbered among the family’s many tenants over the years. Artemesia, Cat in the Tub, Chevron Trading Post, Cosmic Vision, Crucible Glass Works, Dirt and Sky People Art Gallery, Fashionistas, Heiwa Shokudo, Mela, Mountain Lights, The Natural Home, Nest Organics, News of the Blue Sky, Piece Garden, Rosetta’s Kitchen, Shady Grove, 68 Lexington, Spiritex, Terra Nostra and Vincent’s Ear are among the local businesses that have operated in Lantzius-owned properties.”

Two years ago, the North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association named Lexington Avenue a “Great Main Street” in recognition of the eclectic, funky business that populate the historic buildings there.

Lantzius was honored by the Asheville Downtown Association two years ago for his downtown preservation work. In handing out that award, the association noted that Lantzius was continuing his work along a downtown street parallel to Lexington Avenue.

“John is currently renovating the 80,000-square-foot building on the north side of Walnut Street. When completed, the building will be home to a ‘creative center’ with office space, a restaurant and a courtyard linking Rankin and Lexington. Many in the area credit John with keeping downtown affordable for small, locally-owned businesses.

Today, downtown Asheville is abuzz with visitors and thriving businesses. In recent years, Lantzius could be seen cleaning sidewalks and planting flowers and shrubs in the area. He recently built a public walkway to connect Rankin and Lexington Avenues, a move that had long been a vision for Lantzius. It was all a never-ending work in progress for Lantzius, as he told Xpress reporter Jake Frankel in 2012:

“One of the main things is, I’m trying to make Lexington Avenue and downtown so nice that everybody will live here downtown and won’t be building these little houses out in the countryside, destroying the farms and the mountainsides,” Lantzius explains. “We’re trying to get a lot of action down here. … I want to have a nice urban space.”

The loss of Lantzius has many renters wondering what’s next. More on that coming up.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1


  1. Media Watcher February 22, 2014

    A little Googling suggests that John Lantzius of Vancouver was an internationally-known landscape architect. If this is the same John Lantzius as the downtown Asheville champion, it seems there is a larger story here. Why haven’t any of our local media told us this larger story?

  2. Media Watcher February 22, 2014

    Are there any obituaries of Lantzius that give information about his life: born, raised, educated, worked, etc., etc., standard obit info. How is that a man in British Columbia had such extensive real estate holdings in Asheville? Did he have a home here as well? Is his sister still living? A resident here? Any comments from her?

  3. Myles February 20, 2014

    I remember John planting trees in the Lexington Street area. If you see a good sized maple, thank him for planting it. His vision was to renovate buildings only enough so that folks could afford to rent them. He figured that , once everything was rented, he could consider fixing the buildings up more and charging more. It’s important to remember that this was when 80% of the buildings downtown were abandoned. He would fly down to Asheville from his Canadian home and work on his buildings. Thanks, John, you were a vital part of the revitalization of Asheville, and you also supported a bar that was the place where other pioneers would gather on friday after work and support each other and enjoy music and possibilities

  4. Orbit DVD February 20, 2014

    Thank you for being our landlord for five years, John. You were a good man.

  5. LEW February 20, 2014

    Thank the powers that be for folks like Lantzius.

    1. Charles Corriher November 25, 2014

      The spirit of the Vincent’s Ear will destroy your family’s dreams!

  6. Rebecca February 20, 2014

    Sad day for our community, downtown, and Lexinton Ave.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.