2000 Riverside



Architect: Marcellus Wright & Partners
Date: 1965

Address: 2000 Riverside Drive

A modest skyline of mostly apartment buildings is fast changing the silhouette of Manchester.  Half a century ago, however, while this district was in serious decline, in 1965 in the adjacent neighborhood of Springhill, South Richmond received a shot of verticality with completion of River Towers. This 15-story apartment building is at 2000 Riverside Drive near the southern end of the Robert E. Lee Bridge. Its balconies offer unparalleled vistas of both the downtown skyline and the wilds of the James River. And when viewed from points north of the James, the apartment tower remains a welcome brick and concrete slab of modernism rising above the foliage and rocks of the nearby James River Park.

“It is one of my favorite buildings,” says Fred Cox, senior partner of Marcellus Wright Cox Architects, who was on the design team for the project (along with William Moseley, who would go on to establish the Moseley Architects firm), when they worked together at Marcellus Wright & Partners. “We did the River Towers at about the same time we were designing the Monroe Tower and Berkshire apartments downtown on West Franklin Street.” Explains Cox:  “Everybody was trying to urbanize the former suburbs and we all got stirred up to tear down the crazy old buildings downtown.”

“We had a formula [for designing these apartments]. There were just three floors to design—the ground level, the residential floors and the penthouse. It was real simple.” Cox, who graduated from architecture school at the University of Virginia as a fierce modernist, says:  “Le Corbusier was my hero.” A highlight of his budding architectural career was an impromptu personal tour of the iconic Yale School of Art & Architecture by its architect, Paul Rudolph, soon after the building’s completion in the early 1960s.

River Towers was recently refurbished and rebranded “Riverside 2000.” This name change adjusts the long-misleading implication that there is more than one tower here. Cox says that a second structure, originally intended to be sited at a 90 degree angle to the first building in the block to the immediate east, never materialized after one of the developers withdrew from the project (with funding).

“Almost no building comes easily,” says Cox.


Architectural Ancestry: Mosby Dry Goods Store

Mosby Dry goods

This article comes to us from 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.

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The former Mosby store at 201-205 West Broad Street was the home of an up-scale department store and was designed by one of the nation’s best department store architects, New York’s Starrett & van Vleck in 1916. They designed Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Abraham & Straus, and Alexander’s in New York City as well as many other stores throughout the nation. The first of their major stores, Lord & Taylor, was designed in 1914, two years before the Mosby store. They would design the Grace Street side of Miller & Rhodes in 1922.

The design for the Mosby store was directly related to New York’s 1906 Gorham Building. Stanford White designed this master piece for the Gorham jewelers and silversmiths while his partner, Charles McKim, designed the flagship store the Tiffany Company. Their firm, McKim, Meade & White was the best known architectural firm in country. White was well known in Virginia as the architect of the reconstruction of Jefferson’s Rotunda and the construction of a new academic group at the end of Jefferson’s lawn. His murder in 1906 tended to overshadow his considerable architectural gifts. The murder involved Evelyn Nesbit, the “girl on the red velvet swing”, and a deranged millionaire, Harry K. Thaw. The resulting trial was sensational in the extreme and ruined White’s reputation.

Both White and McKim’s buildings are masterpieces of commercial design, but the Gorham Building was more graceful, spare and elegant than the Tiffany building. The Gorham Building’s first level arcade is directly related to the early Renaissance work of Brunelleschi in Florence. The glass filled arcade provided the show windows needed for retail establishments.

White combined Renaissance detailing with a high rise building in a way that struck contemporaries as sensible and unaffected. The main level of the Mosby building is vaulted and exceptionally well preserved. The store was technologically advanced and was the first fireproof department store building in Richmond.

The associate architects of the store, Richmond’s Carneal & Johnston, used the same basic design for the Methodist Publishing House Building, best known as the Cokesbury Building at 415 East Grace Street. Built in 1921, this is a direct copy of the Mosby structure. Unfortunately the arched openings have been partially filled in which reduces the impact of the arcade.

The Mosby building remains one of the finest and best preserved buildings of its type in the city. The Gorham building itself was altered by ripping out a part of the arcade in the mid-twentieth Century. The Mosby Building is now closer to looking like the Gorham building than the mutilated original.

Article and images from Robert P. Winthrop

Note: The Mosby Dry Goods Store will soon enter a new chapter in its history as it is remade into a boutique hotel. More information on this contemporary transformation is available here.

Neighborhood Profile: Bon Air

Bon Air 2

Bon Air is a neighborhood in northern Chesterfield County. Located roughly 8 miles west of Downtown Richmond, Bon Air was formed as a getaway for wealthy Richmonders. The name, meaning “good air” in french, was selected to evoke the bucolic countryside which Richmonders could now escape to.

The village was formed around the Bon Air Hotel, built in 1880 in stick style. The resort complex offered a range of amenities from croquet to jousting. Bowling and billiards were soon added, though restricted to male customers. A carpenter gothic chapel was built next to the hotel in 1882, presumably allowing weekending Richmonders to stay in Bon Air for Sunday.  Immediately surrounding the resort complex a number of Richmonders built private vacation homes. The rest of the 1880s saw a growing number of permanent residents in Bon Air and an increasingly complex internal economy.

Richmond’s electric streetcar lines opened in 1888 bringing the most important change to Bon Air since its inception. The line was an outlet to channel additional vacationers from the city to the resort, but its efficiency made commuting the reverse direction feasible. The Bon Air hotel burned to the ground in 1889, reinforcing the shift from resort village to bedroom community, a status which Bon Air retains to this day.

Despite more than 100 years of suburban growth, the core of Bon Air retains the feeling of a Victorian era getaway. The area is anchored by the 1881 annex of the Bon Air Hotel and includes a number of Victorian and stick style residences. This cluster of preserved buildings was listed as a National Historic District in 1988, 100 years after the streetcar reached it.

Today, Bon Air is part of Chesterfield County. The area has no independent municipal structure; it carries only the unimaginative title of “census designated place.” Though the core village has been seamlessly integrated into a larger suburban landscape, the residents of Bon Air continue to celebrate their distinct architectural and historical heritage.


Photographs by author

Sister City Profile: Windhoek, Namibia

Panoramic-View-of-WindhoekAs 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.

With a population of approximately 330,000, Windhoek is the geographic, political, economic and cultural center of Namibia, its most populous city and capital. First settled on the site of a hot spring, the present-day city was founded by German colonisation in 1890 with the construction of the Alte Feste (Old Fortress) underway, and the building remains as the city’s oldest structure today. German influence is still seen clearly in the urban planning, ethnic makeup, language, and architecture of the city. One German born architect, Wilhelm Sander, is responsible for three iconic castles in Windhoek, incorporating Tudor and medieval elements with regional materials, resulting in quasi-European symbols of power mingling with thick growths of palm trees and desert plains at temperatures often above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Development in Windhoek slowed in the first half of the 20th Century, picking up in 1948 with the beginning of apartheid rule and several major civic infrastructural projects. Although surrounded by natural reserves of rolling mountains and very little development outside the city’s borders, its recent expansion to an area of 1,982 sq mi makes it the third largest city in the world, geographically. Despite its size, there is little urbanised area outside Windhoek’s center, with most of the built form exhibiting suburban organisational and density characteristics. The isolation inherent in the urban design of these neighborhoods was exacerbated by the segregative behaviors of apartheid and the residents continue to deal with issues of separation and difficulty of access to the city center. With the current urbanization of Namibia, the city of Windhoek is growing at a quick rate of 4.3% per year, much of the growth occurring in informal settlements in the city’s periphery.

As its population is eclectic, so is its architecture. Various buildings incorporate north African style architecture, seen in the Supreme Court building; Art Nouveau elements, as in Christuskirche; and neo-classicism, seen in the Turnhalle. In addition to stylistic interest, Windhoek boasts several notable efforts of sustainable development, and boasts the first water treatment plant in the world to recycle domestic sewage and reuse it as potable water, built in 1958.

Richmond’s Sister Cities relationship with Windhoek has been less active than other cities since the partnership formed in 1998. Both cities have participated in meetings between representative visits and small exchanges including a fire truck that Richmond donated to Windhoek in 2007. With its fascinating history, unique architecture and expected growth, Richmond and Windhoek should further engage each other as there is much to be learned for both capital cities.


In Support of Pear Street


Spatial Affairs Bureau

A controversial new development has been proposed in the East End. The development, commonly known as Pear Street, is sited in Shockoe Bottom at the eastern terminus of Tobacco Row, a street of large tobacco warehouses which has been converted into a mixed use neighborhood. The site is currently zoned for industrial use so the residential development requires a special use permit from City Council. The proposal recently received a recommendation for approval from the Richmond Planning Commission but some East End residents stand in opposition. As such, its fate at City Council remains unclear. This article provides a positive perspective on the Pear Street development and its implications for the city.

I will begin by addressing common concerns voiced by those in opposition to Pear Street. It seems the most common concern is the building’s height. Depending on who you ask, and likely what side of the issue they are on, the building rises 13 or 16 stories. From the Main Street frontage the tower is 13 stories, but the site falls away steeply to the south revealing 3 stories of semi-underground parking. The building would rise only around 45 feet shy of the neighboring Lucky Strike Smoke Stack, making it the tallest habitable building in the neighborhood. The development sits near the base of Libby Hill Park, a popular urban green in Church Hill known for the “View that Named Richmond.” That view, which faces east from the park, will remain unaffected by the development but the larger panorama for the which the park has become known will not. While some oppose the building’s height outright as being incongruous with the neighborhood, most are concerned with the effect it would have on this exceptional view.

I believe that Pear Street will have a positive visual impact on the view from Libby Hill. The building will improve the view from the park by adding a vibrant and modern vertical punctuation to Tobacco Row, one which maintains a dialogue with the adjacent Lucky Strike tower. Few renderings and drawings have been made widely available but those that have show a building with an interesting massing and material choices and window details which respect the character of Tobacco Row without being derivative. Details aside, I think the mass of the tower has been greatly exaggerated by those who would see it undone. A panoramic rendering of the view might show just how slender a footprint the development has in the overall view shed. I don’t know why such an image is not widely available as it would, in theory, illustrate the point of either side.

Beyond and above such aesthetic concerns lie the Pear Street development’s planning implications. Pear Street’s strong vertical density represents a sustainable direction within the overall context of development in the metropolitan area. By concentrating residential units, mid and high rise buildings use less land and require less infrastructure than their horizontally sprawling counterparts. This translates into less urban runoff and habitat destruction. The more “urban” the project (the closer its proximity to a high density of other functions), the more cost effective and environmentally friendly non-automobile transit is. If sufficient density is achieved in the Bottom increasingly intense forms of public transit, such as street cars and light rail, will become more feasible. Density will also make walking and biking more viable by increasing the capacity for retail in an existing area. The proposed building would have a direct and positive impact on the city’s sustainable growth, promoting a pedestrian oriented retail culture in the Bottom.

Pear Street would also contribute to the success of the planned redevelopment of Great Shiplock Park. As the Richmond Riverfront Plan is realized, Great Shiplock will be of increasing importance as it forms the eastern capstone of the central riverfront park system. Pear Street, a residential building, would provide a healthy boost to Great Shiplock park’s user base as well as desirable informal ‘citizen monitoring’ in the mode suggested by Jane Jacobs (1). According to Jacob’s “eyes on the street” principle, the new residents should also help change the reputation of the Bottom, an area known for occasional crime and frequent ‘hooliganism.’

While Pear Street can be viewed as a discrete issue, it is important to tie the development into a larger narrative. I am optimistic about this building and the new phase of American planning which it represents. The fact that people of means might be ready and willing to live in a mid-rise building in Richmond, in Shockoe Bottom no less, would have been mind-boggling to many two decades ago. As the momentum of urban renewal grows, a future of well cared for townhomes and tasteful neighborhood shops is increasingly secure. While the trend has played an important role in shattering the de facto suburbanity of America’s middle classes, I often wonder what might lie beyond it. Are the city’s people open to continual growth or will we set a developmental ceiling somewhere around the current state of, say, the Fan?

Pear Street poses just such a question. Developments like this ask whether Richmond is a city in which urban development means rehabilitated town homes or new multi-family buildings, quaint eateries for the weekend or “real-life” retail for the days in between, or a few bike racks for the young and adventurous or diverse transit for just as diverse a populous. We are likely to face these questions with increasing frequency as the number of pre WWII buildings left unrenovated dwindles. I am proud of what Richmond has accomplished since the failed course charted in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, but I feel simply returning to bygone planning is unacceptable. In my view, Pear Street represents an opportunity to move beyond recapturing lost ground to a new developmental high water mark.



ArchitectureRichmond writer Ed Slipek recently covered this issue in a recent article for Style Weekly. Slipek’s piece took a critical perspective on the proposal.  Another article by the Richmond Times Dispatch can be found here.


1. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961. Reprint, New York: Random House, 1992), 35.

June 24th. Note: A typo in a previous version of this article stated that the View that Named Richmond faced west from the park, not east.


Opinion: Filling in the Gaps

 Richmond & Chesapeake Bay Railway Terminal of 1907

Article and photographs by Robert P. Winthrop.

The following is an opinion article 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.

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Architects often confront the question if we should express the character of our own age, or restore a neglected or mutilated earlier building.  It seems that in many cases the ego of the architect is the determining factor. Should you restore an earlier appearance to recreate a vanished street scape, or create a new expression?

The architect Steven Holl elected to reject any historic reference in his proposed Institute for Contemporary Art for VCU at the corner of Belvidere and Broad Street.  While the site is surrounded by historic districts and buildings, the site itself is vacant and no trace of its historic context remains.

Steven Holl is an internationally known architect and the character of his work is equally well known.  He was hired to do what he does best: create a dramatic, modern building.  There is an inherent dichotomy between the function of the building as a showplace for modern art and historic preservation concerns. Several blocks away architects have made a different choice.

At Richmond’s oldest surviving theater, the Empire, Commonwealth Architects recreated a long vanished façade. The original triumphal arch front designed by architect Claude K. Howell in 1912 had been stripped off in the middle of the last century. The architect of that renovation stripped away all the fussy and useless decoration and made the Empire into the Booker-T Theater. It was 1950s modern and up-to-date.

The restored front of the Empire, now the November Theater, is more correctly an evocation of the earlier front. The original front had considerably more architectural decoration. The architects made good choices and there is enough of the original façade to recreate the feel and architectural impact of the original.

The old Empire was part of an effort to make Broad Street into Broadway. The renovated November Theater recreates this imagery. It is hard to believe future Richmond will long to recreate the blank front of the Booker-T.

A few blocks away to the west of the proposed Institute of Contemporary Art site was the mutilated front of William Noland’s Richmond & Chesapeake Bay Railway Terminal of 1907. The central feature of the front was a reworking of a triumphal arch designed by Noland & Baskervill. It served as the welcome arch for a street carnival in 1900.  While the Richmond & Chesapeake Bay Railroad never became a great company, the building expressed the hopes and aspirations of the railroad.

Like the November Theater, the front was mutilated. In this case the covering was anodized aluminum, and the destruction beneath the new front was less complete than at the Empire. Recently the aluminum was peeled off revealing the remains of the original façade. Commonwealth Architects has renovated the building and restored the front.

This building is now providing facilities for VCU’s nationally known art program. Historically VCU’s art buildings are both hidden and innocuous.  The Pollack building is a dark hole on Harrison Street. The Anderson Gallery is completely hidden from view.  The large School of the Arts building on Broad Street is stunningly bland and seems to have been carefully designed to insure that no one would ever think that anyone with talent or imagination is associated with VCU.

The triumphal arch of the Terminal is on axis with Linden Street and visually connects the building to the outbreak of monumental buildings facing Monroe Park. William Noland had the rare ability to create an intimate, monumental building.

Both the Richmond & Chesapeake Terminal and the November Theater evoke a time when Richmond was proud to be a modern and sophisticated city. One aspect of this sophistication is expressed in the city’s cultural and artistic life.

Both the Empire and the Terminal were important buildings historically and architecturally. By stripping them of their architectural features, they lost any sense of their importance. They were mutilated.  Instead of expressing the aspirations of a great city, they were renovated into suburban blandness.  They were covered in the material-du-jour of the modern cheap renovation. By recreating these landmark buildings and combining them with new elements such as the ICA, there is a chance that Broad Street will become an expression of Richmond’s cultural and artistic potential.

In Richmond answering the question as to using a modern expression or a traditional expression may be moot. On Broad Street the answer is to be both. 

Manchester Floodwall Walk



Army Corps of Engineers

Following a string of floods during the 1970’s and 80’s, headlined by the city’s worst modern era flood of 36.5 feet in 1972, Richmond took preventative action in the form of a 3.2 mile floodwall system. This article focuses on a portion of that undertaking, the concrete wall in Manchester, which was built to withstand a water level up to 32 feet.

Due to its narrow dimensions and limited space for gathering, the Floodwall Walk is almost always experienced as a journey. If one starts the walk from the west, access is secluded at best with entrances the rear of the Suntrust building’s parking lot or in a nondescript lot off of Semmes Avenue. However the walkway quickly leads to the Manchester Overlook, featuring one of the city’s more flattering angles: a legible density of downtown with picturesque rapids beneath. The trail is continued steeply through a dense overgrowth down to the Manchester Climbing Walls, remnant monoliths of the Richmond and Petersburg railroad bridge which stood during the nineteenth century.  A worn dirt path brings one underneath the massive arched supports of the Manchester Bridge, one of the most awe-inspiring spaces in the city. The heart of the Walk begins atop the concrete floodwall, which curves sharply to bends in the river. Riprap lines its northern face, a granite continuation of the herons’ rocky habitat in the river below. Both draw the attention of birders, fishermen and kayakers in the warmer months. The path rises above the CSX Viaduct and dips down to ground level behind the floodwall, meandering along a canal until a final lookout point at the 14th Street Bridge in the shadow of the Southern States building.

Approaching the 20th anniversary of the floodwall, it is difficult to imagine the river encroaching on the structure as it would have decades ago. Instead of a multi-million dollar barrier, what we see now is a path, a view, a park. While the structure doesn’t allow for the same level of pedestrian access to the river’s edge and the associated wading or sunbathing, it has become an amenity unique for a piece of civil engineering inherently intended to divide. And in contrast to the Canal Walk, its manicured counterpart along the northern banks of the James, the Manchester Floodwall Walk resembles a wilder kind of beauty, grown from layers of imposing infrastructure, untamed vegetation, minimal human intrusion and the incomparable James.


Photographs by author and D.OK.