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...wolf in cheap clothing
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I have lived in Western North Carolina all my life, and as an avid watcher of the news, I can tell you that there are four cities in the western parts of North Carolina and South Carolina that are always on each other's radar: Asheville, NC and Greenville, Spartanburg, and Anderson, SC. Always said in that order whenever the station is bragging about their range of coverage. Asheville has the ABC station, Greenville the NBC and Fox stations, and Spartanburg the CBS station, and we're always fretting about each other -- being sure to note that yes, again today as it has been for the past consecutive several million years, it's going to be between five and ten degrees cooler in the mountains. Also, if things in Asheville are unusually quiet and nobody's trying to chop off their own head after killing their children with an axe (which really happened in Asheville a couple of summers ago), we can always talk about who got shot, stabbed, or set on fire down in the Upstate of South Carolina.

It's a mutually beneficial relationship that keeps the news entertaining and watchable.

The dynamics of this region are a little odd when you really consider them... Asheville is an extremely liberal place, and the Upstate of South Carolina, where you find Greenville, Spartanburg, and Anderson, extremely conservative -- although, like Charlotte, Atlanta, and other Southern business cities, so long as you can make money for someone, nobody cares what you do in private. You'd better remember to keep it in private though. Showing same-sex affection, and sometimes even interracial affection, can end badly in the Upstate.

That's what's so frustrating about the Upstate, especially for an Ashevillian. It would be a delightful place to live if not for its knuckle-dragging politics and religiosity. Thus, those of up here in the rare air of Asheville look at the jobs that pay more down there, and the houses that cost less down there, and while we may be tempted, we know it's probably not a good idea. And so, we may yearn but in the end we stay here where it's cool and expensive and where employers will blatantly tell you that they're paying you less because the weather's nicer, the landscape prettier, and you can hold hands with your boyfriend in public here. If you don't like it, go where it's hotter, flatter, and you'll be openly told you're going to hell for the sin that felled Sodom. The conservatism of the Upstate is the kind that would leave a San Franciscan with third-degree burns within seconds of exposure.

However, that situation has changed, to some degree. It's even partly attributable to refugees from the ludicrous housing costs of Asheville. We're shedding some of our liberals, you see, and if they want to stay in the region, they most often head to the Tri-Cities region of Tennessee, especially Johnson City, or else they head to Greenville-Spartanburg, especially Spartanburg.

Now, you ask, what was I doing in Spartanburg? Simple. I needed an oil change, and I bought my car in Greer, a blip in the sprawl that links Greenville to Spartanburg. My partner and I have had a very busy couple of weeks in which we've discovered it's exhausting to have an actual social life, and have had no time for each other lately. To fix that we decided to make yesterday "our" day, and after getting that oil change (first since I bought the car and therefore free), we headed off to that most magical and romantic of cities, Spartanburg, to look around. We've never been, you see, only passed through, and we've heard good things about what they're going with their downtown there. Besides, we've already been to Greenville.

Now, you ask, what's this about bologna? Well, en route to the dealership, we passed by the Lil' Rebel Restaurant, which proudly advertises on its scrolling marquee, "Now serving bologna!"

Now, I ask you, why is that anything to brag about? I have no answer. I remember bologna as a fairly repulsive lunch meat made from mystery bits that were presumably too nasty to go into sausage. When you fry it, it bubbles up in the middle and chars on the edges, and it gives you the most horrible burps. But the Lil' Rebel thought it a selling point.

Good for them. At the very least, it gave me a title for this thread. Now, won't you join me for a stroll around sparkling Spartanburg, South Carolina?

Asheville was the first city in the region to gets its downtown act together, followed by Greenville, with Spartanburg lagging behind but making rapid progress.

Asheville rebuilt its downtown in the original buildings. Greenville built new buildings. Spartanburg builds new buildings that look like old buildings, and does an excellent job of it.

The headquarters of the Denny's restaurant chain looms above the central city. Would you believe they don't have an actual Denny's in the building though? My partner and I went on our first date at a Denny's, and were hoping to relive the magic, but no. It was quite disappointing.

This statue, Exuberance, stands at the entrance to Barnet Park, which is named after the mayor who really got the ball rolling on downtown Spartanburg's revitalization.

Fun fact: Exuberance wouldn't be all that exuberant if she knew that mud dauber wasps had made a nest in the folds of her dress.

Or perhaps she does know, and that's less exuberance than it is blind panic.

Greenville and Spartanburg have surpassed Asheville in the quality of their performing-arts spaces, a fact which chaps the hides of most Ashevillians, but which has no effect whatsoever on the NIMBY's in Asheville who have blocked efforts to build anything comparable. We had a city councilman up here who helped veto efforts to build a decent performing arts center because in due time, peak oil would rid of the nation of traveling Broadway shows anyway and we didn't need to waste money that would be better spent preparing for the collapse. Meanwhile, Greenville got the Peace Center and Spartanburg got the Chapman Center.

A capital from one of the columns of the old Spartanburg County Courthouse. When you see, later on, what replaced that old courthouse you'll weep.

For your viewing pleasure, a dead bird.

This is the Montgomery Building, with which no one seems to be doing much. As I've mentioned, though Spartanburg is experiencing a very impressive downtown renaissance, they still lag behind Asheville and Greenville. It's a true mystery as to why though, and why downtown Spartanburg ever declined in the first place. Spartanburg, by all rights, should be a top-notch college town. Spartanburg Community College, the University of South Carolina-Upstate, Converse College, and Wofford College are all located either in downtown or convenient to it.

This is the building that replaced the old Spartanburg County Courthouse, from which that column capital was taken. How sad is that? Spartanburg's city hall building followed a similar design tactic, and looks like a regional airport terminal. It's across downtown from here, and wasn't worth taking a picture of.

An important component to rebuilding downtown Spartanburg has been what appears to a strong push for neo-traditional buildings like this one. By and large, they look really nice. Spartanburg's doing it right.

Not as much art as you'd find in Asheville or Greenville, but I have a feeling it will come in time.

Meanwhile, over in Morgan Square, in the heart of downtown...

I've been told that a lot of Spartanburg's turnaround can be attributed to the BMW plant that plunked itself down between Greenville and Spartanburg a couple of decades ago. Also, between BMW, Michelin, and several other international corporations in the area, that helps to make Upstate South Carolina very international. In Asheville, that international flair is present and plainly evident, but lower-key. It's a very odd and very cognitively dissonant mix. However, it also lends a vibrancy to the area, what with its humming commerce and industry, that is lacking in Asheville when the tourists leave us alone for three months out of the year. In Asheville, you get three months of peace, and nine of chaos when everybody and their mother from Atlanta and Charlotte and Florida and points farther afield converge on the city, waving their money in the air. Down in the Upstate, you get a year-round steady hum.

The revitalization has a ways to go... There are some large and very nice buildings that are just sitting around decomposing, and some places where buildings have been lost and not replaced. That's really not the case in Asheville or Greenville.

This guy runs the most obnoxious radio commercials you've ever heard, especially back in the middle of the recent "gold rush" when every third storefront was an outfit looking to buy gold and silver from desperate and/or stupid people. This guy even buys dental gold, and it's the little touches that mean so much, don't you think?

This building wouldn't be sitting empty in Asheville or Greenville. Hopefully someone will do something interesting with it soon.

Denny's Plaza is a lovely place to relax after a long, hard day of dreaming up ever newer, more novel ways to peddle crummy, flavorless food. Or perhaps I am just bitter because whenever I really grow to love a Denny's menu item, that apparently sets off an alarm in the Denny's tower so that someone can swoop in and remove that item from the menu immediately. I still haven't forgiven them for getting rid of their peanut butter pie.

As Spartanburg revitalizes, little civic amenities such as this fountain are popping up all over downtown.

Spartanburg Community College.

Do you notice anything just a bit... off... about this church building? Perhaps something unusual about one of the windows? Take a look and get back to me on it.

Even more neo-traditional buildings. It seems to be one of the city's real, emerging strengths.

While waiting for the oil change to be completed, my partner and I amused ourselves by comparing housing prices between Asheville and Spartanburg. A house in Asheville that would cost no less than $400,000 sells for $110,000 in Spartanburg. Or less. A lovely house like this would probably set you back about three or four million in Asheville. In Spartanburg, who knows? I'd guess a million. Two at the very most.

Goodbye from sparklin' Sparkle City, South Carolina.


674 Posts
Your photos and comments make us feel the city, and not only see it, which is great. It is a mix of quite old (for the US), brand new but with and oldish look, derelict places, uglyness and revitalization efforts in a not very dense city. It looks something between the small city it is (I looked at the municipality's population, 37,000 only) and the small metropolitan area it also is (it houses 320,000 pop.). For a European like me, it would be quite strange to live there.
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