Architects of Richmond: Charles M. Robinson

First English Lutheran

Article and photographs by Robert P. Winthrop.

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.

*   *   *

Charles M. Robinson (1867-1932) was one of the few Richmond architects to have an influence throughout Virginia. Most architects had practices confined to a single city or region. Robinson has major works spreading from Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley to South Boston, Roanoke, Williamsburg and Norfolk.

His father was an architect and builder, James T. Robinson. Born in 1867 in Hamilton, Virginia, a hamlet in Loudoun County, the family moved to Welland, Ontario, in the post war period where he went to school. Welland is now part of Niagara Falls, Ontario. He went to work for D. S. Hopkins, a noted architect in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and later for John Kevan Peebles, a Virginian practicing architecture in Pittsburgh. Robinson established a successful firm in Altoona, Pennsylvania, but returned to Virginia in 1906.

Once he was back in Virginia his career exploded. This was largely due to his skills as a designer of educational structures. The new schools were a result of the new state constitution of 1902. While the constitution is noted today for disenfranchising much of the black population of the state, it also emphasized public education. The General Assembly passed an act authorizing Normal Schools for educating teachers for the new system in 1908.

While the City of Richmond built some impressive school buildings in the later 19th century, most of the schools in the state were modest. In 1900, only 4% of Virginia students went on to high school and even Richmond did not have a building for high school students. It seems this need for new schools was enough for to bring him back to the state after developing his successful career in Altoona. By 1907 he had designed five schools in Virginia. By 1908 he was designing another fifteen, including his first school in Richmond.

He won the competition for a new campus for the State Normal School at Harrisonburg in 1908. This is now James Madison University. He designed the original seven buildings for the school. In 1909 he began work at the campuses of the Normal School in Fredericksburg, now Mary Washington University. He designed the original buildings there. He also did the plan and early buildings at Radford in 1914.

His most impressive university work was the massive expansion of William & Mary. There he created the sunken garden and designed 17 buildings in a style harmonious with the original Wren campus.

As he worked on the campuses he designed a remarkable number of public schools throughout the state. These included many schools in Norfolk, Newport News., Portsmouth and Richmond. While he designed for these large cities, he also produced hundreds of schools for smaller towns and counties.

Robinson had a rare ability to produce a huge amount of work at a consistently high level. Depending on the client and budget his buildings can range from being modest and sensible to being imposing and impressive. They are always are well built, logically planned, efficient and handsome. Robinson seemed to have a knack for creating architecturally impressive buildings for the notoriously stingy state, county and city school boards.

Historically Virginia was generally opposed to public education. Many upper class Virginians thought giving farm hands or the laborers in their mills an education was counterproductive. You don’t need a degree to work in a tobacco field. It had been illegal to teach slaves how to read until after the Civil War.

Richmond and other larger cities were modern and they needed educated people to work in the offices and in the new professions associated with modernity. The tenants of new skyscrapers of downtown Richmond needed educated and skilled labor, accountants, clerks and typists. Richmond’s schools tended to be architecturally impressive, as befitted a modern city.

The superintendent of schools in Richmond from 1909 to 1919, J. A. C. Chandler, was Robinson’s close friend. He and his predecessors were in the forefront of the movement to create a modern school system. The schools tended to be monumental; they were physical manifestations of the city’s commitment to modernity. Chandler left Richmond in 1919 to become the president of William & Mary. He remained the President until 1934, by which time he created the modern William & Mary.

Highland Park and Fox Schools, his first schools in Richmond, were essays in the Craftsman, Arts & Crafts style. Binford School, built in 1914, is in a collegiate Gothic style. The Ginter Park School of 1915 and Albert Hill of 1925 are in the Spanish style. Robinson’s last school in the city is a spectacular Art Deco building, Thomas Jefferson High school.

He was comfortable and skilled at all of these styles. These schools are standardized in plan, but not in a cookie cutter way. Each building has its own character and identity. The plans are simple and logical with large, light filled classrooms facing on wide corridors. In many cases the corridors form the wall of central gymnasiums, auditoriums and cafeterias. This is both efficient and reduces the footprint of the schools on their comparatively small, urban sites.

While schools and academic buildings were a major part of Robinson’s work he had other projects. He was the architect of the First English Lutheran Church on Stuart Circle in 1909-11. This is a massive, imaginatively planned granite building. The church fits well on the pie shaped lot. This church relates to his earlier work in Altoona, Pennsylvania.

His finest church work is the Cannon Chapel for the University of Richmond. Completed in 1929, it is a fine essay in the Collegiate Gothic style. Its design relates to English college chapels such as the King’s College Chapel at Cambridge. Cram and Fergusson’s West Point chapel and the same firm’s chapel at Princeton were the more immediate prototype. Cram was the architect of most of the buildings at the newly relocated Richmond College and the new Westhampton College. Robinson’s chapel is stylistically related to the earlier buildings.

While Robinson was not well known for his residential work, his Laburnum Park development and most notably his Laburnum Court are distinguished. He drew the plans for the entire neighborhood featuring landscaped boulevards throughout. This district is spacious and handsome. It is filled with charming and modest homes for Richmond’s growing middle class. In this neighborhood Robinson brought a touch of the grandeur of Monument Avenue to the middle class.

The architect-designed small house has vanished as a building type today. Robinson designed every house in Laburnum Court. They are simple, sensible and charming. Dating from 1919, the houses are as desirable today as they were a century ago. They are in the progressive, Craftsman style, with minimal stylistic references. They are modest, sensible and handsome. The houses surrounded a central park area and were served by a central heating plant. They are as far away from the modern taste for McMansions as is possible.

Robinson designed many shops and offices. He created several distinguished buildings for Miller & Roads. The most handsome of these is the row at 319-323 West Broad Street. Built in 1913, this building is modern and inspired by the mid-western Chicago Style.

While Robinson designed a wild rage of building types, he remains best known for the schools and college buildings. He dominated school building in the state for twenty-five years, and in terms of number and quality of his schools, he has never been equalled.

Robert Winthrop

Stuart Court Apartments

AR Stuart Court 5


William Lawrence Bottomley
1924
1600 Monument Avenue

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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

3600 Centre

IMG_2831

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.

Architects of Richmond: William Lawrence Bottomley

wortham

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.

Architects of Richmond: Carl Max Lindner Sr.

Lord Fairfax


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.

 *   *   *

 

Carl Lindner (1894-1973) was a native Richmonder, who spent his entire professional career in the city. His father, Maximilian Lindner (1863-1918) married Katherine Ebell Ruehrmund (1866-1933), the sister of architect Carl Ruehrmund. Lindner’s professional education was with his uncle, augmented by classes at the Virginia Mechanical Institute.

He served in the navy during World War I and returned to Richmond beginning his practice in 1917, the date of his earliest building permit. His practice was mostly residential and commercial.  He received few institutional commissions. The most important of these is the commission for St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, now known as St. John’s United Church of Christ, on Stuart Circle. This fine Church was built in phases between 1920 and 1928. Designed in association with Bascom Rowlett, this is one of the most elegantly detailed and composed examples of the Neo-Gothic style in Richmond.

Rowlett attended the Mechanical Institute too. Both men were gifted designers and there is no information on the distribution of tasks in the project.

The earliest permits in Lindner’s name are for an apartment house on Grove Avenue dating from 1917. This building was commissioned by Lindner’s cousin Charles H. Phillips. A major part of Lindner’s work was done for or with Phillips. Phillips’ mother was Carl Ruehrmund’s wife’s sister. Philips and Linder were partners and designed ten apartment houses between 1922 and 1924. There was no stylistic change in the work before or after the brief partnership. Lindner appears to have been the designing partner; Phillips was developer.

After the partnership ended, there was no change in Lindner’s client list. Phillips continued to provide the majority of Lindner’s work. Lindner did some development work on his own, but this was minor compared to Phillip’s commissions. There are more than 34 permits for apartment houses by Lindner in Richmond, and permits for at least 60 houses. Most of these are in the West of the Boulevard area. We do not know what portion of Charles Phillip’s buildings were designed by Lindner.

The family connections make it difficult to be clear as to the exact responsibility of each project. Lindner’s early apartment houses are similar to apartments designed by Carl Ruehrmund.  Since Lindner worked for Ruehrmund, it is unclear if the design is Lindner’s or Ruehrmund’s work.

The earlier apartments had a slightly German medieval look with steep clipped gables.  Lindner turned to a restrained Neo-Georgian in the early twenties. Individually these buildings are handsome and distinguished. A small apartment built in 1923 at the corner of Floyd and Colonial is a good example of Lindner’s Classical mode.

When these buildings are clustered into large groups they become impressive.  In 1922, Lindner designed the apartments overlooking Fountain Lake in Byrd Park. These occupy the entire block frontage and form a grand composition. In 1926, Lindner built a large, elegant apartment, the Rose Park, on Roseneath Avenue facing the Albert Hill School. This is handsome and elegant.

Given the number of the apartment houses designed by Lindner one would expect considerable standardization.  This is true but he was capable of designing unique structures too.  The most visible of these is the Lord Fairfax Apartment at the Maury monument. It sits on one of the triangular slivers of land left over from the collision of the Sheppard family land development in the west of the Boulevard area and Monument Avenue. Architects would describe this as a challenging site.

Lindner took the challenge and had no problems with the difficult geometry. While it is a complex building, it is also calm, elegant and self-assured.  The Monument Avenue front is completely different from the West Franklin Street elevation, but the design is so carefully worked out, one doesn’t notice. Lindner also designed the handsome Georgian style apartments on Grove Avenue facing the Retreat for the Sick hospital.

In the later twenties, Lindner worked in the modernistic Art Deco style. His master piece in the style is a commercial building at 306 E. Grace Street. It was built in 1928. Art Deco was the style of New York skyscrapers, and this building is a skyscraper in every way except for height.  It is only three stories tall. It is faced in limestone with urn capped corner pylons, marble spandrel panels and wonderful cast bronze ornament. It is a masterpiece.

His best known modernist apartment house is the Ritz on Grove Avenue. Built in 1928, the front is stucco and the ornamentation is in cast-stone. Some fine metalwork remains. It was once known as a hippie-biker apartment house during the 60s and 70s and some of the decorative items vanished in that dark period.

Lindner did several other apartments in the style. The Chalfont on W. Franklin Street is particularly charming, combining up-to-the-minute decoration with small bear heads overlooking the street. Lindner designed the Lock Lane Apartments in the depression.  While these look conventional now, garden apartments were a new building type in the 1930s, progressive and modern.

Lindner tended to do smaller town houses, rather than large mansions. His best known row is just to the west of the Lord Fairfax. Each house is in a different picturesque residential style, Mission, French, Tudor etc. While this might be an International Style architect’s nightmare, the row is charming and has held up well. His row at 210-228 Roseneath Road (1926) is made up of attractively varied small houses.  Other examples of his houses are scattered through the West of the Boulevard area.

In 1922 Lindner designed Byrd Park Court. This is a beautiful collection of double and single houses facing a central park like area.  The styles of individual houses are cottage-like and picturesquely varied. These 90-year-old houses are beautifully preserved and maintained. While they form a dense cluster, they take advantage of the adjacent park and seem gracious. This is one of several experiments in urban housing undertaken in the 1920s in Richmond.

Lindner did many small commercial buildings, most of which were in a slightly Italian-Spanish style. The building at 4-10 E. Grace Street is the finest of the Spanish-Mexican group. Now the Barcode restaurant, it had been painted in colors that enhance the building.

Lindner designed a number of up-scale houses, but he never achieved the reputation of William Lawrence Bottomley or Duncan Lee as a designer of houses. It is possible that his reputation as a developer’s architect would have discouraged those who were looking for a prestige named architect.

Lindner is little known today, but he was both prolific, talented and imaginative. He was capable of designing fine buildings in several styles. They were clearly well built and have remained in use for almost a century. While he was a “developers” architect, his buildings testify to his architectural skills.

Article and photographs by Robert P. Winthrop.

Richmond Public Library Main Branch

Richmond Library Main Branch 6


Baskervill & Son

Dooley Library – 1930, Addition – 1972
101 East Franklin Street

On October 13th, 1924, after more than 20 years of effort, a group of civic activists opened the Richmond Public Library. The late Major Lewis Ginter’s former home at 901 West Franklin Street served as the first location. By 1930 a new art deco building had been constructed on Franklin Street between 1st and 2nd and was named the Dooley Library for Mrs. Sallie May Dooley whose will contained both $500,000 for the library and turned her home, Maymont, into a public park.

The art deco Dooley Library was the work of local firm Baskervill & Son. The exterior cladding, known as George Washington Stone, was taken from a quarry in Aquia Creek, Virginia. The interior lobby is a mix of Montanelle marble and Travertine, both imported from Italy. Plaster ceiling ornamentation reveals the interest in Central and South American pre-Columbian aesthetics that were pervasive at that time.

In 1972, Baskervill & Son were selected to expand the library at its current location. The current building spans the entire north side of its block and totals more than 140,000 square feet. The Dooley Library is invisible from the exterior but its lobby forms the core of what is now the Dooley wing. The central library’s exterior defies easy categorization, recalling elements of late international modernism, brutalism, and spare fascist neoclassicism. The dramatic entrance portico references the spare formalism of art deco and, in doing so, evokes a sense of monumentality often prized in public buildings.

At the same time, the central library was designed to be a sensitive complement to Linden Row across Franklin street, a notable pre Civil War housing terrace that is now a hotel. These two buildings share the theme of repetitive vertical elements spread over a horizontal mass. The 7 story Linden Tower provides a truly vertical punctuation to the block’s eastern end. The warm stone that wraps the central library’s exterior is a striking canvas for the shadows of street trees, particularly on the rear where there is a small plaza and fountain. The plaza fronts an active stretch of Main Street with a budding group of retail businesses, but the park is often gated and does not attract many users. How this plaza is used is, perhaps, a minor challenge in the library’s mission to stay relevant after nearly 90 years of service to Richmond.

D.OK.

Photographs by author.

Virginia War Memorial

AR Virginia War Memorial 6


Architects: Samuel J. Collins and Richard E. Collins, (original complex,1956). Glave & Holmes Architects ( Paul and Phyliss Galanti Education Center and amphitheater, 2010).

Dates: 1956, 2010
Address: 621 S. Belvidere St.

There are few places in Richmond where memory, space and landscape meld more evocatively than at the Virginia War Memorial. This modernist, open air pavilion in light-hued Tennessee limestone and glass is light, hopeful and architecturally refreshing (especially after a recent cleaning and expansion) despite the fact that it salutes the more than 10,340 war dead from World War II and Korea. Since those conflicts the names of Virginians killed in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf have also been etched into the glass and stone walls. Set within the pavilion and visible to passersby is “Memory,” a 22 foot high statue of an allegorical female in grief. An eternal flame flickers at its base. The design was Leo F. Friedlander, noted sculptor who also worked on sculptural elements at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

In the years immediately following World War II, it wasn’t a given that Virginia would even construct a specific war memorial. Some voices argued that veterans groups, not taxpayers, should finance the project. Others wanted a practical memorial such as a sports arena or children’s hospital. And when the current, hilltop site on Oregon Hill was chosen (in part because it would catch the attention of passing motorists on Highway #1), prominent preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott went ballistic: She railed that placing the memorial in that location would further destroy Sydney, one of the city’s oldest residential neighborhoods.

Undeterred, a design competition was held among Virginia architects and Samuel J. Collins of Staunton, and his nephew, Richard E. Collins, were selected.

Their hilltop memorial makes brilliant use of the knoll and achieves a timeless quality with its beautifully proportioned and open-air interior. The glass wall on the east side lists names of the dead with the backdrop of ever changing light and skyline beyond.

The Paul and Phyllis Galanti Education Center and an amphitheater, added in 2010, steps down the eastern slope to form an ‘L.’ Here, Glave & Holmes Architects paid design homage to the Collins building without being obsequious. The center is entered through a bow-shaped bay which leads to an oval reception area. From this arrival point, visitors may move on to exhibit and program areas on two levels.

Sadly, The Virginia War Memorial is constantly evolving. The names of more than 100 Virginians killed thus far in Iraq and Afghanistan have yet to be inscribed here for eternity.

E.S.

Photographs: M.F.A.