The Gunter Building, on the corner of Oak Avenue and Topaz Street, is a unique architectural landmark in Spruce Pine. The first business to occupy it was Belk’s Department Store as you can see on the signs in this picture.

The structure known as the Gunter Building, on the corner of Oak Avenue and Topaz Street, was erected about 1941; Spruce Pine was in the midst of a commercial boom based on the mining industry, which had greatly expanded in the first 2 decades of the 20th century and again during the high demand for mica during World War II.

The building is the namesake of Charles Smith Gunter (1882-1961).  Charlie, son of Henry and Mary Sullins Gunter and husband of Minnie Vista Johnson, was an important “local mica industrialist and civic leader.”  He was president of the English Mica Company in 1908.  Unlike the sheet mica in such great demand, scrap mica wasn’t marketable until Gunter began “grinding it in a kitchen coffee mill and drying it in a cook stove oven.”  He perfected a “dry and later wet grinding process for this scrap mica, which ended up having numerous industrial uses, specifically in rubber, paper, roofing, and paint products.”

From 1923 until 1961, as Spruce Pine grew from a “small village to a thriving industrial town,” Charles Gunter “alternated between the positions of mayor and alderman.”  The AshevilleCitizen-Times of 9/23/1961 marked the passing of Gunter, calling him “a cornerstone in Spruce Pine government, who parlayed a small mica grinding firm into a million-dollar business.”

The 2 lots on which the Gunter Building sits were owned by several owners from 1916 when the plan for Spruce Pine was laid out until 1928, when the Town purchased the lots; they were sold to Gunter in 1941 for $4001.  The structure he would build was to share a wall with the Town Hall of the time, later Lantz Jewelry.

The architects of the Gunter Building were Dave Greene and Charlie Mitchell.  David C. Greene (1902-1978) was the son of V.W. and Delzie Ollis Greene; he was married to Norine Gunter, niece of Charlie Gunter.  The Department of the Interior had no info on Mitchell but suggested that he and Greene may have received part of their training at Penland.

The Gunter building is “built of river-tumbled micaceous biotite and appears to be one of only two buildings in the town which utilized this distinctive material.”  The other was Gunter’s home on Elm Street, built in 1921.  Cut biotite mica-bearing rock, rather than the tumbled stones, was used in construction of other buildings, including First Baptist and Central Baptist Churches, Burleson Plumbing and Heating, Crystal Place, and several residences.

According to the description in the 2001 Registration Form nominating the Gunter Building as an Historic Place, the “Stone on all exterior walls is set within a hard, deeply recessed mortar bed which helps to accentuate the round face of the unusual rock.  Small stones are laid horizontally for the most part with vertical courses forming the lintels and sills of the windows.  Vertical courses also divide the first and second floors and form the cornice and the parapet coping above… The basement level is delineated from the first floor by a course of vertical stones.”  Charlie Gunter’s nephew Ralph Gunter was one of the laborers at the building site, and years later he would tell his children Rhonda and Mike about laying the dark stones.

The Gunter Building has been home to the Belk-Broome store, a furniture store, and other commercial businesses.  Some interior renovation and partitioning were done in the 1960s.  Ownership of the Gunter Building remained in the family until it was sold to Jon Beatty; it was remodeled and was the home of Tokyo Restaurant for many years.  The Gunter Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, which declares the “property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or represents the work of a master…”

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