Hathaway Tower

AR Hathaway Tower 6

Hathaway Tower
Thomas A. Gresham, Brown and Gresham Associated Architects
2956 Hathaway Road

Deep in southwest Richmond lies the suburban crossroads known as Stratford Hills. Strip malls line the roadside, dotted with shops: a florist, a grocery store, a breakfast spot, a tattoo parlor, check cashing. Silently presiding over the comings and goings is an architectural monolith, Hathaway Tower.

Built in 1972, the condominium tower is heavily marketed towards seniors. The building is within a short drive of churches, hospitals, and a country club. Unusual for a suburban complex, walking is also an option given the amount of retail clustered nearby. For those unable to drive, a bus stop is also a short walk away. The Forest Hill route 70 takes riders Downtown in around a half hour.

The design, supplied by Richmond based Brown and Gresham Associated Architects, is standard suburban condominium fare. At 13 stories, the tower dwarfs any building in the neighborhood. Expansive brick faces are punctured by windows of deep amber glazing, so popular in roadside hotels of the period. Black steel bars and white panels protrude and form broad balconies with a slight angle. This system is wrapped around a three core tower, an arrangement only made feasible by the lack of competition for space in the area. Its connection to the landscape is tenuous though the base employs a rustic stone to smooth the transition from the ground.

Despite its height, Hathaway Tower is curiously in scale with the surrounding shopping centers. Parking lots and multi lane roads open up wide horizontal views of the tower. Often, it is seen from such a distance that it simply fades into the background, the impact of its size lost in the rhythm of everyday commerce. Of course, it is often seen from only from the seat of a car. By the time one reaches the base of the building, its verticality is made invisible by the car’s ceiling. The tower’s verdant setback further obscures it.

Hathaway Tower appears most alien from the leafy residential neighborhoods to its immediate north. Behind the squat brick 1960s ranches, its faceted form rises, a more unapologetic expression of the same era. Though it lacks serious competition, Hathaway tower stands as the most enduring monument of Richmond’s southwest side.


Note: A special thank you to Shaahida J. Lewis of Baskervill for her help in researching this piece.

Central United Methodist Church


Architect: Wiley Anderson
Date: 1900
Address: 1211 Porter St

Most of the architectural fabric that once made Porter Street the most fashionably attractive residential street in Manchester had fell victim to the wrecking ball by the 1970s. But one proud and important survivor is the Central United Methodist Church that anchors a corner of Porter and 13th streets. This eclectic confection of red brick, granite and sandstone—with countless towers, turrets, apses and arches, both Romanesque and Gothic–  is among the glories in our city’s collection of late 19th century ecclesiastical architecture. The church, lovingly maintained by the still-active congregation today, was designed by D. Wiley Anderson (1864-1940). He was one of the most prolific and creative architects of his generation.

Tracing its origins to 1786, Central is Richmond’s oldest Methodist congregation. This is the latest in a number of permanent locations where the membership has worshiped formally since 1797 when a frame structure was built nearby at Perry and 10th streets. That structure, the Old Plank Church, is memorialized today in a stained glass window in Central’s handsome, light-filled sanctuary.

The church is French Romanesque Revival in character but distinctly Richmond with its red brick (as opposed to stone) walls. And like many European churches, it has the appearance of a building that expanded over time with evident stylistic changes. This is especially true of Central’s 13th Street façade which presents an energetic tour de force that includes three entrance towers, a turret and an array of windows that vary wildly in size and style. It speaks to Anderson’s talent that the façade holds together and doesn’t explode under its own architectural exuberance.

A similarly designed church by Anderson is the former Hanover Avenue Christian Church in the Fan (now a condominium complex).

Central United Methodist is the crowning jewel in a necklace of three 19th century brick houses in the 1200 block of Porter Street that have somehow survived in this tattered, but emerging neighborhood.


Interview: Sadler & Whitehead Architects

mimi sadler and camden whitehead

The following is an edited discussion with Mimi Sadler and Camden Whitehead of Sadler & Whitehead Architects, a local firm specializing in historic preservation and adaptive reuse.

How did you get interested in architecture?

CW: As an undergraduate, majoring in art, I was interested in a lot of different scales of working and making things. Looking at graduate schools, I realized as an architect I could paint and make furniture as well as design buildings, but as a painter or furniture designer, it would be more difficult to design buildings. I wanted to do all of those things. I came to the urban part of architecture once I started practicing and realized: “Hey, this is another scale I had not considered before”. I did some water colors while working at SWA Architects in the early 80’s that got me interested in the ability of a painting to have an impact on design at the urban scale; helping a city imagine what it can be or recognizing the treasures that it possesses. Personally, painting helps me slow down and appreciate my own hometown in ways that I cannot otherwise. I often find that my work as an artist has a significant place in my work as an architect.

MS: I got engaged in architecture because of the stories buildings tell. All buildings, both fabulous and uninspired, have compelling stories because buildings result from a group of people with the will to get something out of the ground and built. There’s a remarkable exchange of ideas and resources that allows a building to be constructed to fulfill a specific architectural vision. I was born and raised here and grew up with a love for both historic Richmond and modern Richmond. I went to UVA for graduate school where the teachers took a very literary approach to architecture. My education there was an abstract approach to architecture that suited me well. My liberal arts college education and grad school education in architecture was about supporting a working life where I could learn the stories of buildings, help bring those stories back to life and add the next chapters. After grad school I went to work for a firm that focused on adaptive reuse projects. We were converting what had been the Little Sisters of the Poor Convent into condominiums [present day Warsaw Condominiums]. The building was vacant except for a group of squatters who were using the basement to conduct satanic rituals. In a nunnery! It was exciting to re-conceive of the convent as generous, accommodating urban housing. There is a rich and compelling environment presented by projects like this. Who wouldn’t want to be engaged in putting underutilized urban buildings back into play?

CW: It’s important that you mentioned continuing the stories. I think we’re believers in continuing stories.  I think both of us approach our work from a modern standpoint, we are interested in engaging existing buildings in a continuing dialogue about modern issues and circumstances. Even when we’re looking at a 200 year-old building, we’re thinking about how we add to or fulfill its story in the present. It’s about incorporating a new space or a new purpose and looking at these aspects with modern sensibilities. All of the historic elements become cues for us, not rules or formulas. How we respond to these prompts really determines the quality of the place. We are not interested in replicating the past.

In a climate like Richmond, that kind of approach has both challenges and rewards.

CW: We find that dancing the line on these issues generates an architecture that invites, engages and informs. A productive tension between past and present, or as our friend, Matt Robins, says, “finding repose”, is important to us.

MS: Even though my role is not as the designer I like the collaboration needed to get projects approved for tax credit funding. One of my favorite projects is the VCU Brandcenter. The project started with the old Jefferson Hotel carriage house. The Brandcenter needed to build an addition. L.A. architect Clive Wilkinson was hired to work with local firm Baskervill. The project was a by-the-books preservation effort where a crummy 1960s addition was replaced with an expressive new addition that revealed the historic south wall. The project followed the rules, and left historic materials intact while making a bold architectural statement. The addition was approved by the state, but our National Park Service reviewer insisted that the new addition needed to be a bland brick box. This was wrong. We shouldn’t expand historic buildings with mediocrity. Instead, our built conversations with historic buildings should offer expressive architecture with equal or better quality.

CW: It’s a situation where even though Mimi doesn’t build projects, she goes to the mat for good modern design, and that’s important.

Is it a continuous battle to imbue historic structures with a contemporary aesthetic?

CW: Certainly from an investment tax credit standpoint. There’s a lot of room for interpretation in the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. Reviews depend in large part on the attitude and agenda of the reviewer. Reviewers seem reluctant to establish a set of exemplary precedents.  The regulations are general in nature, and have to be, because of the range of structures they intend to cover. A phrase like “an addition must be compatible yet contemporary”, can be legitimately interpreted with a wide variety of design outcomes. We favor interpretations that allow diverse design outcomes, stressing the quality of a response versus the replication of a style.

What is the future of the historic tax credits program in Richmond? In the state of Virginia?

MS: The future looks great! Every time you turn around an unexpected neighborhood or building is being declared historic. Recently a group of tobacco warehouses in Richmond received National Register designation. Many of these are corrugated steel warehouses that aren’t the type of buildings you’d expect to see listed on the Register. It will be interesting to see what uses go into these gigantic metal shoeboxes. Earlier this year a group of mid-1960s high rises were included as historic buildings in the Main Street Banking Historic District. There will always be an upcoming generation of historic buildings that should be recognized, and then rehabilitated for viable new uses.



Brookland Park Boulevard

AR Brookland Park Boulevard 5

Brookland Park Boulevard is a main commercial and retail corridor running through the heart of Richmond’s North Side. The street begins at Six Points, an intersection which ties together the greater Highland Park and Chestnut Hill / Plateau areas. The two lane street is flanked by parallel parking spaces, sidewalks, and bus stops, the commercial core being devoid of street trees. Brookland Park travels west, becoming largely residential by the time it concludes at Hawthorne Avenue, continuing on as Brookland Parkway.

Brookland Park first developed in the late 19th century when Richmond’s electric streetcar system extended north from Downtown into Highland Park. Development intensified when the streetcar began to travel west along Brookland Park Boulevard, first connecting with lines on Brook Road and later Chamberlayne Avenue.

As North Side’s population rose and transit and development pushed north, demand for internal amenities grew. Brookland Park Boulevard filled that demand with an increasingly wide range of retail and community functions. By 1920, the street was home to grocery stores, restaurants, tailors and clothiers, general stores, offices, apartments, churches, and a grand schoolhouse, now Richmond Community High School, designed by Charles M. Robinson, one of the city’s most prolific public designers. 1924 brought the Brookland Theatre, a photogenic Art Deco structure which anchors the street’s retail core.

The 1940s and 50s saw the end of streetcars and the rising dominance of automobiles, both of which had a dramatic impact on Brookland Park Boulevard. Whites, who used to dominate neighborhood demographics, relocated to new far flung suburbs as African Americans moved in, sometimes in spite of discriminatory sales tactics. Nearby public housing developments and school integration solidified the demographic shift. Until recently, the neighborhood has been nearly entirely African American. As the income of Brookland Park residents decreased relative to other neighborhoods, so did its importance both as a retail core and vehicular connector. Following a familiar narrative in Richmond and the country at large, storefronts closed, rents fell, and economic vitality gave way to blight.

Now, with Richmond’s population growing for the first time in decades and pockets of revitalization springing up around the city, many theorize that Brookland Park’s time has arrived. The street retains much of its former visual charm, if sometimes obscured by plywood window covers and the like. Richmond Community, one of the city’s best high schools, now occupies Robinson’s neo-classical school house. Bus routes run along the street, connecting it with employment centers downtown and residential areas further north. The growth of nearby institutions such as Virginia Union University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Reynolds Community College, and Union Theological Seminary also benefit the area. Home values and incomes in the neighborhood have been increasing at a higher rate than the city at large. Growing interest in urban living by people from different economic and social backgrounds now promises to balance the neighborhood’s demographics for the first time in its history, a prospect which presents both opportunities and challenges.

The revitalization of Brookland Park Boulevard has been the subject of several studies by the City of Richmond and VCU’s Master’s Program in Urban and Regional Planning. The plans, which overlap on a number of points, include proposals such as street improvements, community events, and a neighborhood rebranding program. Some of the most encouraging improvements thus far have been made from within the community. Friends of Brookland Park Boulevard has hosted a number of events and workshops for community stakeholders. They are also involved with an effort to restore the Brookland Theatre, which predated Carytown’s Byrd and fulfilled a similar role prior to its closing. Carytown, which never suffered an economic downturn on the scale of Brookland Park, represents a developmental target for the street. While it may seem a lofty goal, Brookland Park Boulevard’s many storefronts and varied architecture make a vibrant transformation easy to imagine, even if it remains a few years off.


Photographs by author

Portfolio: Modernism of Willow Lawn

AR West End Portfolio 12
Willow Lawn Shopping Center opened in Richmond’s Near West End in 1956. The development was a new frontier in the city, giving concrete form to the postwar American Dream of middle class suburbanity. In the mall’s periphery a new type of suburban landscape was being developed. Offices, hotels, and apartments were created, replicating the economic diversity of the old city center on a horizontally stretched plane. The vast spaces between building plots were filled alternately with asphalt and trimmed grass. On this open podium, mid-century architects set to work creating exuberant modern sculptures to be viewed in the round.

In the past half century, development has pushed further west and intensified. The suburban landscape is no longer remarkable; instead it is expected. Meanwhile, changing demographics and tastes have left the office parks of Willow Lawn feeling antiquated despite the atmosphere of optimism in which they were made. Its buildings now stand as surreal monuments, simulacra of a future that never materialized.

This series of photos attempts to capture the unique landscape of Willow Lawn.


Photographs by author.



Architect: Edgerton S. Rogers
Dates: 1890-1893
Address: 1700 Hampton Street, 2201 Shields Lake Drive

Maymont was built in 1890 as the Gilded Age estate of millionaire businessman and philanthropist James H. Dooley. The mansion was built for himself and his wife, Sallie May Dooley, and named in her honor.

The 100 acre estate was a dairy farm up until it was purchased by Dooley in 1890. Architect Edgerton S. Rogers of Richmond was commissioned to build a 33 room mansion on the highest hill on the property. From this vista the Dooleys could survey the James river or descend into any of their gardens at will. The house is eclectically Victorian in style, favoring the rusticated stonework and steep gables of the then popular Romanesque.

During the decades that the Dooley’s inhabited the home, increasingly elaborate and exotic gardening programs were carried out. The family’s collection of art and oddities from around the world grew simultaneously and now contains pieces ranging from Tiffany vases to a jewel box that is said to have belonged to Marie Antoinette. The most impressive pieces in the estate are the many species of trees collected by James Dooley on his travels abroad.  The couple lived in the mansion until 1925 when they passed away. The Dooleys willed the estate, gardens and all, to the City of Richmond and its people.

Now a city park, Maymont is eminently accessible. Close to density of Richmond’s urban core and just across the Nickel bridge from the largely suburban south side, the estate serves as a welcome respite to city residents. Within the confines of the park, visitors can tour the historic home and grounds, or spend time at the children’s zoo, nature center, or the always popular Italian and Japanese gardens. The park attracts well over half a million people each year and admission is free.

Maymont was recognized in 2011 as one of the ten best public spaces in the country by the American Planning Association.

Photos by M.F.A.

The Locks


Architect (Restoration): Walter Parks Architects
Date: Late 19th to early 20th century

Address: 311 S. 11th Street

In the vicinity of the 1100 block of Byrd Street, just east of the gleaming office towers of Riverfront Plaza and the Williams Mullins building, downtown’s topography shifts dramatically. This almost 100 foot change signals the dividing line between Virginia’s Tidewater and Piedmont regions. Today, the nearby gushing river waters attract kayakers and canoeists. Two centuries ago they lured industrialists eager to harness water power. Hydroelectric plants, canals and millraces once supported dozens of factories and manufacturing operations in this vicinity.

Fortunately, four contiguous, late 19th- and early 20th century structures, varying in dimension and architectural intensity, remain from that earlier period. They form an irregular but handsome ensemble along the Haxall Millrace near the downtown Canal Walk. For many years, until the turn of the millennium, these structures were occupied by Reynolds Metals Co.  Recently they have been repurposed as The Locks, a mostly residential complex with a smattering of commercial operations. The latter includes Casa del Barco, a Mexican restaurant located on the ground floor of the Italianate building, with a popular waterside patio and a footbridge completed in August 2014 connecting to the Canal Walk.

The Italianate
A Mexican restaurant occupies the ground level of the Italianate, the most architecturally elaborate of the four buildings at the Locks. Built in 1901, it served a tobacco company as well as Union Envelope Co. The impressive central stair tower with decorative corbelling at its entablature is flanked by two symmetrical wings, each with seven window bays. All of the apartments on the upper three floors front the south side of the building with the hallways running along the north side of the building.

The Flume is a no-nonsense, early modernist industrial structure of reinforced concrete construction with large, metal casement windows. It is devoid of ornament. Built sometime around 1915, its architect, Charles M. Robinson, was a prominent Richmond architect best known here for designs of scores of Virginia schools and college buildings.

White Byrd and North Canal
Built in 1900, the two-story White Byrd building was originally a tobacco warehouse. Similarly, the North Canal buildings (built in 1886 and 1895) housed tobacco operations. While these buildings aren’t spectacular in themselves, their importance lies in how they are critical components of the overall Locks assemblage that is wedged into a topographically challenging site.

The careful renovations of these four buildings, the addition of a modest, but elegantly contemporary multi-purpose room, a swimming pool, and a series of M.C. Escher-like balconies and stairways, make the Locks one of the most satisfying architectural experiences in the city. All this, and the Canal Walk too.