Retail Has Come to South Addison

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Addison Street has been a main north-south retail corridor of the Fan District for decades, even before its northern portion was renamed “Strawberry Street” in 1978. What is now Strawberry Street has long benefited from a posh clientele while its southern half has been ignored, especially since the Downtown Expressway separated it from Byrd Park in 1976. Thanks to a new group of pioneering retailers, that is beginning to change.

Lamplighter Roasting Company opened on Addison Street in 2009. The shop’s clever reuse of an old-school automobile service station turned heads, leading some life-long Richmonders to venture south of Cary Street for the first time in decades. 2013 brought the next wave in the neighborhood’s evolution with three new shops following Lamplighter’s lead.

Addison Handmade & Vintage and Yesterday’s Heroes sell consignment and small batch items, mostly clothing. Addison Handmade & Vintage is arranged sparsely, letting its pressed tin ceiling and fashionable bare-filament bulbs stand out. Yesterday’s Heroes has taken a more rugged approach to both stock and design; one wall features a hardwood panel covered in military garb. Halona, a glass arts shop, rounds out the trio, which is located in a quaint, party walled commercial row.

Unlike their coffee shop progenitor, these stores deal in hard goods. The Fan District’s status as hot bed of culinary activity has been a model for urban rejuvenation elsewhere in Richmond. However, the Fan now faces the problem of accommodating a new, pedestrian-oriented populace that wants to access more than just a good meal on foot. Three such stores in a row constitutes a remarkable achievement in this regard. A once obscure corner of the neighborhood is now showing how the Fan can again lead Richmond into a new phase of urban transformation.

D.OK.

Photographs by author.

3600 Centre

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Architect: Baskervill and Son
Date: 1956

Address: 3600 West Broad St

Known as the Traveler’s Building to many, the ship-like structure that towers over I-195 was originally home to the Seaboard Air Line Railroad Company in 1958 and afterwards hosted various office tenants, including Traveler’s Insurance. The building served primarily as offices for the Virginia Department of Taxation before being recently purchased by the PMC Realty Group. Since 2011, the building’s upper six stories have been converted into apartments with the lower floors retaining commercial office and retail tenants.

A strong block at the end of West Broad’s collection of small art deco flourishes, the 3600 Centre takes on a more pared down aesthetic, with clear volumes adorned not with ornamentation but massive text or signage. Bronze-coated storefront frames on the ground floor are recessed under an aluminum overhang that flares around the corners. This shadowed baseline visually lifts the large, light gray mass above it, broken by an asymmetrical two story projection in the central portion. The overall effect draws a common ground between the sharpness of mid-century modernism, accentuated formal organization of Art Deco and pure efficiency of industrial buildings in the vicinity.

While intended as suburban offices and currently surrounded by little else, the 3600 Centre addresses a density beyond its years and clearly defines an urban street edge as well as any other building on Broad Street. It is by no means a graceful structure, but nonetheless an important character in Scott’s Addition. Its reuse as apartments is a promising step towards other development nearby, which would soften the dramatic impact the building holds today.

M.F.A.

Photographs by D.OK.

Lewis Ginter Recreational Association

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Architect: Duhring Okie and Ziegler

Dates: 1901
Address: 3421 Hawthorne Avenue

The story of the Lewis Ginter Recreational Association, or LGRA, is linked inextricably to the development of the Ginter Park neighborhood. Wealthy Richmond tobacco baron Lewis Ginter built an early streetcar suburb of north of the city beginning in the late 1800s. Today’s LGRA was erected on the dollar of Grace Arents, Ginter’s niece. Arents was also a principal benefactor of Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens which has become a Richmond institution. Just two years after LGRA’s construction, Ginter Park and Richmond shared the honor of running America’s first electric street cars.

The Lewis Ginter Recreational Association’s three massive stories are of a scale much greater than that of even Ginter Park’s grand homes, its Arts and Crafts details and playful paint colors make its appearance quaint. Duhring Okie and Zeigler Architects of Philadelphia secured the commission having designed a host of buildings in one of Philadelphia’s most prosperous streetcar suburbs, Chestnut Hill. LGRA’s central staircase case and flanking tudor style wings recall the grand urban apartment homes of the Boulevard. Wide setbacks from both Walton and Hawthorne Avenues reinforce its suburbanity.

The Lewis Ginter Recreational Association has served many functions throughout its long history, often simultaneously. Initially it was host to Ginter Park’s first school and its Town Hall. Following the 1914 annexation of the town of Ginter Park the existing building, then known as the Old School House, was turned into a community center. In this capacity it served as a meeting place for many groups over the years including the Ginter Park Women’s Club, Garden Club, an American Legion post and a masonic lodge. The congregations of both St. Thomas Episcopal and Ginter Park Baptist Churches initially met in the building. The Ginter Park Citizen, a small circulation newspaper, was headquartered and published there as well.

Today the Lewis Ginter Recreational Association remains an important part of the neighborhood. One of its primary roles is a pool house: three have been added over the years. The cavernous interior spaces can be rented for events and host a variety of community functions. All of this is housed in an exterior that has remained largely unchanged over its 100 year plus history. Hopefully, the Lewis Ginter Recreational Association can continue to contribute to the neighborhood for another hundred years, in whatever capacity.

D.OK.

Photographs by author

Architects of Richmond: William Lawrence Bottomley

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As part of a continuing series we are featuring an essay from a guest writer, Robert Winthrop. Winthrop is partner at Winthrop, Jenkins, and Associates, a Virginia based architecture firm specializing in historic renovation. Historic buildings have also been his focus in numerous writings and lectures. As author of The Architecture of Jackson Ward, Cast and Wrought: The Architectural Metalwork of Downtown Richmond, Virginia, and Architecture in Downtown Richmond, Winthrop has established himself as an authority on the city’s architectural history.

Winthrop has adapted these essays from a lecture series at the Virginia Historical Society. The series, entitled “Sophisticates and Wild Men,” followed the interaction between the exuberant Victorian architects and the sober classicists at the turn of the twentieth century.

*   *   *

William Lawrence Bottomley (1883-1951) was the most successful society architect in Richmond between 1915 and 1935. He was a skilled designer and with his wife Helen Townsend, a decorator, he produced 15 major buildings in Richmond and had another twenty or thirty commissions elsewhere in Virginia. His work struck a responsive chord in upper class Virginians.  In Richmond, only Duncan Lee approached his prestige as a residential architect.

He was a native of New York City and had a degree in architecture from Columbia University in 1906. He came from a good family and was descended from the noted scientist, Lord Kelvin. He studied at both the American Academy in Rome and at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He was well traveled in Italy, France and Spain. He was exceptionally well educated. He married Helen in 1909 and established his own firm at about that time. Part of Helen’s family was from Lexington and this connection may have been the link to Virginia. He practiced architecture from New York City, but his Virginia work was an important part of his practice.

Bottomley’s skills were largely related to residential architecture and he concentrated on large houses and luxury apartment houses. His most memorable New York buildings’ include the Turtle Bay Gardens and the luxurious River House Apartments. While he had an extensive practice in New York in the city and on Long Island, he was popular in the South.  He was skilled at creating elegant, pretend plantation houses, as well as fantasy Mediterranean villas.

His first house in Richmond was the Wise house in Henrico, designed in 1915. While large suburban and country houses constituted a major part of his work he was a skilled designer of town houses. This skill is well illustrated in Richmond. His first Monument Avenue house was the Golsan House of 1916-1917. He built continuously on the high prestige avenue until the Great Depression ended the building boom of the early twentieth century. At the same time he built the Monument Avenue houses he also created a series of new plantation type mansions in Windsor Farms and along the James to the west of the city. These were directly related to 18th Century Virginia Tidewater plantation types.

His houses are quietly luxurious, both restrained and extravagant. Bottomley was an imaginative and creative classicist. He had a knack of being bold and eccentric while maintaining a calm, classical front to the world.  While his Richmond clients may have admired him as a traditional architect, he sometimes seems to be playing classical games with their houses.

Generally the interior design of the houses was done by Helen. Her interest in luxury wall coverings is evident, and remarkably many of her wallpapers survive or have been restored. The partnership between Bottomley and his interior designer wife produced a consistent aesthetic that set his houses apart from the conventional Richmond house.

Charles Gillette, Richmond’s finest landscape architect, was also a regular collaborator. Gillette’s gardens are lyrical compliments to Bottomley’s houses. The contracting firm of Claiborne and Taylor was another collaborator. Herbert Claiborne was a noted authority on period brickwork. The superb craftsmanship of the houses, especially the brickwork, reflects Claiborne’s influence. The architecture, interior design and landscape were all coordinated in a Bottomley house to create a work of art.

Bottomley was also concerned about modern architectural elements such and closets, storage and bathrooms. Many Richmond designers tended to avoid closets and other modern amenities. His attention to these details made his housed livable for modern families. Most remain residences today.

Bottomley was not interested in traditional Richmond elements such as porches or porticoes.  He was definitely not interested in the grand entrance hall in townhouses. He didn’t waste windows on entrance halls, preferring to use the front windows for major living rooms. The main hall is in often in the middle of the house. The entrance is just a narrow passage.

Bottomley was interested in pinwheel plans. The entrance passage takes you to a central hall.  In the Golsan and Wortham houses this hall is spectacular with a grand staircase. Major rooms are entered from this grand space. He tended to avoid the traditional Richmond townhouse plan with a long line of rooms and a side hall.

He did use one Richmond architectural element in his houses, the cantilevered circular stair. The first Richmond stair of this type appeared Alexander Parris’s Wickham house of 1812. Bottomley used it in the Wortham house of 1925 and the Cabell House of 1924.  In the Wortham house it is a spectacular feature serving all three levels of the house.  In the Cabell house it is more modest element with a handsome Art Deco railing. He also used the feature in the suburban Wise House (1915), Nordley (1923), Redesdale (1925), 4207 Sulgrave Road (1927) and Milburne (1934).

Bottomley often created landscaped courtyards. The best example of this is the Parrish house of 1922. This is a Mediterranean Style house. You enter this house from a gated side courtyard. To the rear is a complex space.  Bottomley used the kitchen and utility rooms to create a fantasy Mexican village facing the landscaped garden. The original architectural photographs survive at the Valentine Museum.  Shot through gauze, they indicated a Mediterranean dreamlike space.

Architectural ornament is limited on his exteriors. Bottomley made use of the rich texture of his fine brickwork to relieve the austerity of the composition. His works illustrate a full range of brick bonds, and the ornamentation is varied.

In his Jeffress house of 1929 he uses Greek revival ornamentation on an early Georgian house type.  The steep slate roof, dormers and tall chimneys evoke Westover, but all the architectural detailing is Greek Revival almost a century later in date.  It is a mark of Bottomley’s skills that the merger of styles is effortless and assured. No one notices or cares about the juxtaposition of styles.

The same skills are evident in the Stuart Court Apartments of 1926-27. Stuart Circle is a showplace where architects illustrate the possible ways to deal with pie shaped lots. Charles Robinson at the Stuart Circle Hospital and the First English Lutheran Church, and Carl Lindner at St. Johns’ Church produced convex buildings that followed the curved property line.

Bottomley’s building is concave. He thus creates a drop-off drive for the main entrance. The building uses Adam architectural detailing, but terminates in a fantasy Moorish roof scape. It is both picturesque and elegant. It now lacks its cornices, balustrades and roof top urns, but the building remains elegant and handsome.

Bottomley’s houses on Monument were large, expensive, and impressive, but they were not showy or pretentious. Compared to some houses on the avenue they were architecturally modest. Their virtues were meant to be understood by those who were in the know. Many of their most impressive features were inside. The grand stair halls and superb wallpapers were to be seen only by invited guests, friends and family.

The comparatively small urban sites on Monument Avenue seemed to have encouraged Bottomley’s imagination. The suburban houses are somewhat more conventional. Most of the suburban Richmond houses were Georgian five part houses with a central block and flanking wings with connections. The wings and the connectors were used for the utilitarian functions needed by a large house. This composition was developed by the Italian Renaissance architect Palladio, but had been imported to the new World in the 18th Century. It was popular in Virginia. Westover and Mount Airy were the finest early examples here.

This composition was popular in status conscious 20th Century Richmond. Bottomley’s houses were among of the finest Colonial Revival mansions in the nation. Most of the houses sit on large properties, but only one is easily visible street, 4207 Sulgrave Road in Windsor Farms. It is the most Westover like of the houses. It is beautifully detailed and is convincingly 18th Century in style.

The calm self-assurance of Bottomley’s houses contrasts with the exuberance of local Richmond architects such as Albert Huntt or D. Wiley Anderson.  Other architects, such as Baskervill & Lambert and Duncan Lee, were capable of creating houses of similar character and quality to Bottomley’s work. This contrast in architectural approaches contributes greatly to the quality and popularity of Richmond’s historic residential districts.

Article and photographs by Robert P. Winthrop.

Richmond Community High School

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Architect: Charles M. Robinson
Date: 1915
Address: 201 East Brookland Park Boulevard

Richmond Community is a public high school for gifted students in Richmond’s North Side. Their building was originally home to Chandler Middle School. In 1960, Chandler became the first public school in Richmond to racially integrate. Richmond Community boasts another first; founded in 1977, it was the first public high school for the gifted in America to focus on minority and low income students. Community, as its known colloquially, has achieved notoriety for its high academic standards in a number of national rankings.

The school was designed in 1915 by architect Charles M. Robinson, who moved his practice from Pittsburgh to Richmond where he spent the majority of his career. Robinson was a dedicated educational architect. He designed more than 400 public schools and worked on university campuses such as University of Richmond, William and Mary, and Virginia State. Robinson also designed Winthrop Manor, formerly the John B. Cary Elementary School, in Richmond’s Byrd Park.

Richmond Community exhibits one of Robinson’s most used modes of design, reserved neoclassicism. Monumental stone columns engage a tan brick wall topped with a cornice completing a faithfully rendered greek ionic order. The clock in the entrance pediment presumably informs students if they have arrived late, affording them much needed time to prepare excuses. Its imposing scale is unlike anything on its stretch of Brookland Park Boulevard, an important mixed use corridor running east-west through North Side. The contrast is a pleasant one. Community has occupied the building only since 2009, but hopefully the school can help anchor a successful revitalization of the well worn boulevard.

D.OK.

Photographs by author

Sister City Profile: Ségou, Mali

segouAs part of a continuing series, ArchitectureRichmond will document the cities that comprise our five active Sister City partnerships, in order to learn more about similar urban environments throughout the world as a point of reference for our own development.

Situated on the Niger River in Mali, Ségou is the fifth largest city in the country and the capital of the Ségou region. With a population of just over 130,000, the city was the first capital of the Bambara Kingdom which flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries. Despite, or maybe because of, Ségou’s lengthy history, it has struggled with modernization.

While it is probably the most different sister city from Richmond in cultural and aesthetic terms, it does bear many commonalities. For instance, its vital location on the Niger River gives the city a very active waterfront, and brings a diverse group of inhabitants to the semi-nomadic metropolitan region. Like Richmond and Washington DC’s relationship, Ségou benefits from the nearby commercial centers of Djenné and Timbuktu. It’s economy is dependent on fishing, pottery and trading markets, with its most popular goods of production being sugar, rice, cotton and crafts.

The architecture of Ségou is known for its French Colonial and Sudanese styles. While this gives Ségou a unique identity, the materials Sudanese monuments and religious buildings are made from (usually mudbricks, adobe plaster and wooden logs) require a good deal of maintenance and preservation, as do many of our city’s historic structures. The mosque in the old town of Ségou-Koro is perhaps the greatest architectural achievement of the city and a perfect example of this predicament. The Ségou Municipality Building is the most well known example of its French Colonial architecture, with other civic structures exhibiting the popular style of the 1930s when the French colonial administration established an office in the city.

It is the newest Sister City of Richmond, with the partnership formed in 2009, but shares a very active dialogue with our city, according to Sister Cities Commission chairwoman Dr. Pat Cummins. After a visit from the Ségou mayor in 2005 and an official Sister City designation soon after, the cities have enjoyed a musician exchange between their respective folk festivals, an integration of Mali history into the Richmond Public Schools’ curriculum and a general education of women’s health in Mali, Cummins notes. The organization Virginia Friends of Mali was founded to support and encourage the partnership between the two sister cities and provides a public forum and resource for those interested to learn more.

M.F.A

Opinion: “A Stadium in Shockoe Bottom? No.”

Shockoe Baseball Stadium Rendering

This article addresses the development proposal in Shockoe Bottom unveiled by Mayor Jones in November of last year, which has been headlined by a new baseball stadium. A counter opinion article from Don O’Keefe was posted last week. More information about the Shockoe Bottom plan can be found here

So the mayor wants to build a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom with a surrounding assortment of oversized structures including an apartment complex, an office building, grocery store and parking garage.

Really?

This is a bad idea for dozens of reasons– from scale to traffic congestion to threatening fragile sites that are just beginning to be recognized for their tremendous historical significance. But a quick visual analysis of the site in question reveals how the site could and should be developed.

If you stand in any one of three places– either atop Jefferson Hill Park; or the park-like overlook in the 2100 block of East Grace Street (near the Richmond Hill complex); or on an East Broad Street sidewalk downtown near Monumental Church where the street begins its descent into Shockoe Valley, what expands in front of you is a real valley– a distinctive, low-lying, urban place called Shockoe Bottom.

Shockoe Creek, a once-open waterway than ran through this flood-prone space, now flows underground. The general path of the streambed, however, is reflected in the vein-like railroad tracks and I-95 highway traffic that snake through the valley.

A grand punctuation mark to these traffic lanes is Main Street Station, an early 20th century architectural gem that could well be mistaken for a town hall in northern France. Miraculously, however, it has survived and been gloriously restored to active use as an Amtrak station.

If you look closely, there are other distinctive buildings in the district. Most are diminutive, like Edgar Allan Poe Museum; the Adam Craig house (perhaps once a farm house); and the nation’s oldest masonic hall. The bulk of the building stock in Bottom, however is two- and three-story, brick commercial stock, and Italianate in style. These structures have weathered periodic flooding. And for decades, many of these buildings housed European immigrant families, including many Jews who operated businesses at the sidewalk level and lived above the store.

Then, of course, there are the disturbing ghosts of Shockoe Bottom. While few buildings still stand that offer reminders of the frightful slave trade transacted on these blocks for some 200 years, open spaces thought to have once housed African-American slave auctions, along with graveyards, have recently been excavated.

More cheerfully (although it is under utilized), the 17th Street Farmer’s Market, one of the nation’s oldest open air bazaars, still operates under the distinctive, green tin sheds that were built in the 1980s. The market is a gem of an opportunity in-the-rough.

But much is already happening here. With the James River flood wall, the restoration and adaptive reuse of the old building stock, including many former warehouses, has injected new life into the Bottom with hundreds of apartments, offices, retail, eateries and clubs. And as historic building stock has been rejuvenated, infill construction has followed, placing new structures on long-vacant lots.

So what does Shockoe Bottom need? It’s simple. The valley should continue to develop as economic forces demand. The infrastructure should be tweaked strategically: The market needs (and apparently is getting) a major overhaul. Streets could be repaired and returned cobblestone paving. Sidewalks should be cleaned up and parking decks built in unobtrusive ways. The lowlands where the baseball stadium is envisioned could be turned into passive parks (while retaining the dozen now-threatened, already existing buildings). And get rid of the disfiguring power lines!

Shockoe Valley is an evocative, tightly defined, already lively and irreplaceable American place. Now, with positive development and repopulation occurring, this is not to time to turn it into a massive, multi-year construction site for a project with questionable returns. Certainly, during the past quarter century of historic preservation awareness in our nation, we have learned that a stadium here is not the way to proceed here.

E.S.