A Brand New ArchitectureRichmond

Architecture Richmond Kickstarter Package-01

In 2011, three friends, Mario Accordino, Don O’Keefe, and Ed Slipek, had an idea for a way to give something back to their native city of Richmond. The goal was simple. They wanted to create an organization that helped residents and visitors alike to better connect with the city.

In three years, ArchitectureRichmond has published some 150 articles on the site. We have documented and illuminated buildings, spaces, events, and issues in neighborhoods across the city. Now ArchitectureRichmond must grow to provide options that enable people to learn about and take pride in the city we call home.

The images above show what the new ArchitectureRichmond will look like. Every existing part of the site will be revamped, with an improved homepage, a searchable version of our growing architectural inventory, and a video explaining our mission. Joining these improvements will be brand new features like architecture maps and DIY walking tours, all optimized for mobile viewing.

Our goal is as simple now as it was then: make the best resource for local architecture and urbanism in the country. As of today, ArchitectureRichmond is launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise $5,000 by New Year’s. This budget will allow us to design and program the new website and features, produce our first video feature, and create new printed materials including some great thank you gifts for our supporters. Please take a look at our Kickstarter and make a commitment to architecture and design journalism in Richmond. We can do it, but we need your help.

Thank you.

ArchitectureRichmond Staff,
Mario Accordino, Don O’Keefe, and Ed Slipek
Link to our Kickstarter campaign:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/architecturerichmond/architecturerichmond-20

Stuart Court Apartments

AR Stuart Court 5


William Lawrence Bottomley
1924
1600 Monument Avenue

A Special Announcement: ArchitectureRichmond would like to remind our readers to visit our Kickstarter page and make a commitment to architecture and design journalism in Richmond today. You can learn more about our Kickstarter campaign here. Thank you.

The Stuart Court Apartments stands at the northwest corner of Stuart Circle and both derive their names from the statue of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart in the central roundabout. Stuart Circle is an architectural showcase intersection, studded with notable works: St. John’s United Church of Christ, by Carl Max Lindner Sr., and the First English Lutheran Church and Stuart Circle Hospital, now know as One Monument Avenue, both the work of Charles Robinson. The architect of Stuart Court, New York City based William Lawrence Bottomley, would have been well aware of these designers as he practiced extensively in Richmond. His design responds accordingly.

Dating to 1924, Stuart Court is the youngest structure on the circle, excluding the addition to One Monument Avenue. This gap can be felt in the building’s siting. Rather than bending with the corner as others on the intersection do, Stuart Court retreats. The setback forms a concave space which accommodates a drop off lane, a record of the increasing importance of automobiles by the 1920s. Population and housing demand increased in 1920s Richmond as well, and those pressures are also readable in the building’s form. At 10 stories, it is the tallest building in the urban portion of Monument Avenue and is one of only a few mid-rise buildings in the neighborhood west of Monroe Park .

Stylistically, the lower registers of Stuart Court match the ground level norm in Monument Avenue. The simple planes of the facade are adorned with quoins and Georgian Revival window mouldings. At the upper reaches, Bottomley switched to eclectic polychrome panels of ornament, vaguely Moorish in origin. Negative space between the low relief ornament was painted in contrasting colors which makes it greatly more readable from ground level. The final three floors of the building stagger back from the street, culminating in a palatial roof composition with chimneys, urns, and auxiliary structures adding romance to the tower’s terraced profile.

Today Stuart Court is home to around 60 units of housing, some with up to 3 bedrooms and separated dining, kitchen, and living spaces. The basement retail space is one of the few along Monument Avenue. The staircase down from the street is flanked by oversized urns, creating a subtly funerary ambience. Despite the prime location, distinguished history, and generous plans, the exterior seems to have fallen on hard times. Many of the original cornices, moldings, finials, and urns have been lost and patch work paint jobs litter the facade. Still, the building’s most valuable contribution to the neighborhood may be demographic rather than architectural in nature. The Stuart Court Apartments allow a many people to realize the dream of living along Richmond’s most prestigious residential avenue who would otherwise have to look elsewhere.

D.OK

Edgar Allan Poe Museum

AR Poe Museum 1

Jacob Ege
ca. 1750
1914 East Main Street

Near the corner of 20th and Main streets in Shockoe Bottom sits the oldest building in Richmond. Known to many as the Old Stone House, it was built by German immigrant Jacob Ege around 1750 for himself and his wife. Their descendants retained ownership of the house until 1911, an impressive lineage. When Marquis de Lafayette visited Richmond in 1824 he payed the house’s tenants a visit. It is here when Edgar Allan Poe enters the story. At 15, he served in an honor guard which welcomed the dignitary to Richmond and guarded the house during de Lafayette’s visit.

Edgar Allan Poe spent much of his early life in Richmond. None of his former residences are still standing but many of the buildings he frequented appear as they did in his youth in the near East End. He began his career in writing in the city and worked as an assistant editor at the Southern Literary Messenger, the offices of which were just five blocks west of today’s Poe Museum.

The Poe Museum was founded in 1922 and has amassed the largest collection of Poe manuscripts and memorabilia in existence. The Old Stone House serves as the perfect repository for such items, steeped as it is in antebellum atmosphere. Its asymmetrical composition of dormer windows and irregular masonry, stained by years of exposure, makes the building appear haunted. Foreboding gives way to charm in the rear yard, an atmospheric garden in the manner of Charles Gillette (1). The building’s squat massing and loose site relationship reveal its age and help it to stand out on the block.

And the Edgar Allan Poe Museum does stand out, if it does nothing else. It is decidedly out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood where much larger buildings have been the rule for well over a century. Rarely do buildings have such significance in such a variety of areas, from current function to historic beginnings. It seems certain that the Old Stone House will always be counted among Richmond’s most important landmarks.

D.OK.

Photographs my M.F.A.

Edgar Allan Poe Museum Website:
http://www.poemuseum.org/index.php


1. A leading landscape architect in Richmond working in the first half of the 20th century. He is well known for creating a sense of enclosure in outdoor space.

Hathaway Tower

AR Hathaway Tower 6


Hathaway Tower
Thomas A. Gresham, Brown and Gresham Associated Architects
1972
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.

D.OK.

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

Central United Methodist Church

IMG_4522

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.

E.S.

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.

http://www.sadlerandwhitehead.com/

M.F.A.

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.

D.OK.

Photographs by author