Monday, September 15, 2014

Raw Deal for New Deal-Era School?

South Loudoun Citizens Group Asks Supervisors To Save Historic Arcola School  

Dedicated in 1939 by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Arcola School is threatened with destruction. The Arcola School, one of Loudoun County’s few projects under Roosevelt’s New Deal Public Works Administration initiative, may face the wrecking ball if Loudoun County Supervisors decide it is not worth saving. 

“This brick building represents a time when our nation experienced unprecedented social change,” said Jane Covington, member of Friends of the Arcola Community Center.  Covington added, “If Roosevelt were alive today, he would surely be dismayed that Loudoun County is considering selling the site without consideration of the historic building.”  

The building housed an active school until 1972.  It then became a community center from 1977 until early 2006.  Many citizens in South Loudoun County, as well as The Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Preservation Virginia and state delegates Randy Minchew and Scott Surovell urge an adaptive reuse for the historic Arcola School, whose appeal is not only its historic value but also because it is needed by the community residents. 

The village of Arcola has been the center of major residential development.  Currently, there are four developments in the immediate area totaling 12,000 residential units.  Citizens have been circulating a petition in these communities asking for a community center.  Denise Kloeppel, an adjacent resident, said, “There is no community facility for clubs, HOA meetings, picnics, after school activities, dances, social events, and the diverse needs of a growing community.  [The] petition was started to show support for a community center.”

The Board of Supervisor's Finance, Government Services & Operations Committee met on September 9th to discuss the fate of the Arcola School.  Chairman Ralph Buona stated: “My elementary school is gone, my middle school is gone, and my high school is gone.  Fact is times change and we have to move on and build new.”

The Friends of the Arcola Community Center group challenges county estimates for rehabilitation.  Between 2003 and 2014, the County's cost estimate for renovation has increased over six times, from $1.9 M to $12.9 M.  The Friends group requests that the County allocate $25,000 paid from Arcola Center proffer for the purpose of hiring an independent consultant to conduct a feasibility study for the adaptive reuse of the building.  The study would provide guidance on future capital facility needs and a strategic estimate for rehabilitation including public/private partnerships, grants and rehabilitation tax credits. 

Laura Tekrony, Founder of the Friends of the Arcola Community Center, said at the very least the building should be preserved.  She questions why the county spent time and money having the building listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places just to have it demolished.  Tekrony supports a public/private partnership that would work with the Friends Group and County to rehabilitate historic school for the community.  The Friends group was started in 2007 to renovate and reopen the historic building to the public.

For more information, contact the author of this guest blog post:

Laura Tekrony
Founder, Friends of the Arcola Community Center

On May 22, 2014, Preservation Virginia, Friends of the Arcola Community Center, the VA Dept. of Historic Resources, Delegates Minchew and Surovell, and other community members met at Arcola School to announce its place on Preservation Virginia's 2014 Most Endangered Sites list.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Longwood University and the Demolition of the Historic Cunningham Residence Halls

Longwood University has a rich history. The college, first known as the Farmville Female Seminary Association, was established in 1839 and is the third oldest public institution of higher learning in Virginia. It is also the first state institution of higher learning for women in Virginia. Longwood has always cared about its history and traditions and has shown good stewardship of its historic buildings.

That is why I was surprised to find out that Longwood University’s Master Plan called for the  demolition of the Cunningham Residence Halls in order to build a new student union. The Cunninghams have been a central part of Longwood for over 80 years and many students, faculty, and alumni clearly do not want them demolished.  College campuses are home to many of our oldest buildings, and these historic buildings contribute tremendously to their character. 
Cunningham Residence Hall

Below are two very articulate quotes on this subject from Gale and Associates, an Engineering and Planning Firm from Herndon.

“It’s the historic buildings that dominate marketing materials and draw students to campus. They convey an image of a solid, lasting institution appealing to both the students and the parents paying tuition. These iconic historic buildings are often what alumni think of as they remember the campus.“


“While it may seem that older buildings require more work compared to newer buildings, the reality is that these buildings were constructed to last and now having aged a century or more, are in need of maintenance. Buildings much younger (post‐War to present), on the other hand, are exhibiting premature failure due to inferior design, materials, and workmanship and may require as much, if not more work, than historic buildings. As universities consider new construction projects, they need to ask themselves, will the proposed assemblies and construction details last 100 years or more?" Link

Why Demolition?
Longwood’s Master Plan is somewhat perplexing because while it calls for the proposed demolition of an important historic building on campus, it also establishes several guiding principles for itself including: “keeping Longwood ‘like Longwood’; architectural compatibility; a compact, convenient campus; on-campus student life; gathering spaces; making the campus more pedestrian friendly; preserving, enhancing, and expanding campus green space and lastly, including sustainability.”

Demolishing the Cunningham Residence Halls does not fit into several of these guiding principles especially “keeping Longwood like Longwood.” It also doesn't fit with  the “sustainability” guideline. One of the most often undervalued methods of achieving overall resource efficiency is to adaptively reuse our older buildings. Unlike demolition, reuse does not produce the tons of wasted building materials that end up in landfills each year.

A new student union seems to be needed, but why demolish a historic building (and incur the costs) to do so? Why not build it somewhere else?  The reason given to demolish the Cunninghams in the Master Plan is, “The cost of retaining and renovating these buildings was judged to be excessive, and the choice was made to explore other uses for the site.”  However; I saw no financial analysis of demolition verses reuse in the Master Plan, so how do we know if the cost of renovation will be excessive?  

Architectural drawing of new student union

2011 Endangered Sites Listing
Preservation Virginia has invested a great deal of time and effort into encouraging the reuse of historic college and university buildings.  In 2011, after receiving several nominations that highlighted threats to historic structures on college campuses, Preservation Virginia listed “Historic Structures on Virginia’s College and University Campuses” to our annual Most Endangered Sites list.  

In 2006, five years before the Endangered Sites listing, Preservation Virginia supported legislation calling on the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to provide a tool for recognizing and assessing the critical needs of state owned historic buildings including those on colleges and universities.  Because of this legislation, public colleges and universities now have additional information to help them meet stewardship goals for historic buildings while maintaining their functionality.

Examples exist in Virginia and elsewhere of successfully renovating and reusing historic campus  buildings. Also see.

Some Quotes
Some quotes I have read by students and teachers include: “The Cunninghams are a part of Longwood history that should not be forgotten. Longwood students have a connection to their residence halls that is hard to explain, and the connection to the Cunninghams is apparent when you talk to alumni, and you hear the genuine love of their ‘home’ when they tell stories about the fun they shared with friends. So, yes, it is sad to see them go.”   

“I have an emotional attachment to this building. It was the first building that I lived in as a freshman, and now I’m an RA for the same hall that I was a freshman on. This building pretty much houses the majority of my college career” 

“It’s upsetting to know that we have to say farewell to the Cunninghams, but again, I understand why they can’t remodel them. But overall I will be sad that I am losing one of the most important and integral parts of my college career.”

“I’m going to miss the Cunninghams, but I understand the reasons they have to tear it down.”

I have a feeling that the “reasons they have to tear it down” have not been fully vetted, at least not by the students and alumni who seem to genuinely care about their former dormitory. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Time For a Real Compromise: The View from Libby Hill

The Richmond City Council purchased Libby Hill Park in 1851 for the then unusually large sum of $5,000.  The land was set aside by the city leaders specifically for its views of the entire City, “because it affords a commanding and picturesque view of the lower portions of the City, the river, the falls, the railroad bridges.”                   

It seems like a miracle that we can still enjoy that extraordinary view today, but it’s not.  For more than 150 years Richmond’s leaders have been guarding the City’s birthright.  Surely we can’t let it be destroyed on our watch.  

Of course developers see the profit potential of building in this historic viewshed.  The high-rise condo being proposed by Salomonsky and White would take this spectacular view from the people and sell it to wealthy residents.  All they need to do is convince City Council to ignore the Downtown Master Plan, to ignore the will of the people, and to ignore inherent responsibility.   Then they could have it all to themselves.

But City Council members know that tourism, second only to agriculture, is the industry in Virginia that brings in more money than any other business – than any other business.  Libby Hill Park and its famous view of the James River is the top visual destination in our Capital City.  The trolley and Segway tours, large bus groups, wedding parties, romantic dates, family reunions, birthdays and traditions for large gatherings at the Libby Hill view all reflect the value people place on the park and its panoramic views.   And they all bring money to the City.

In early May, Edwin Slipek wrote an insightful article in Style exposing this proposed structure as a massive intrusion on the park and on Tobacco Row, and advancing the idea that this land should be left open to facilitate the flow of nature from the river to the park above.  That vision is reminiscent of urban park connectivity as pioneered by Frederick Olmsted, designer of Central Park, and is shared by many who want it to remain in its natural state. 

The Downtown Master Plan, adopted in 2008 by City Council after two years of research, planning, and extensive public involvement (a process that cost close to half a million dollars in tax payer money) reflected many compromises.  It identified the parcel in question not for a park, but for building up to five stories in keeping with its historic surroundings.  

Salomonsky and White want more.  They are asking for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to allow them to construct a 16 story building, and to change the zoning from light industrial to residential, and for the City to sell them a right-of-way at what appears to be a discounted price.

Voting on this decision has been postponed twice by City Council member Newbille, who has been meeting one-on-one with the developers.  The result is a false compromise.  The developers are willing to drop the penthouse one and a half stories down.  Unfortunately, shaving off one + floors solves nothing.  And presenting it to the public as a solution is disingenuous.

Our elected representatives on City Council are smarter than that.   They understand the economic value of this public asset.  They hear their constituents and they see the growing strength of its supporters.  Just within the last few months, over 1600 citizens have signed a petition supporting the Downtown Master Plan’s vision for this property, which is the true compromise.  It is a waste of time and money to revisit a decision that already has an overwhelming public stamp of approval.

So this is the compromise: It’s a 5-story building. All of the units would have wonderful views - for some the river, for others historic Tobacco Row, and for others, beautiful Libby Hill Park. To further this compromise, it should include the City’s sale of the Cary Street right-of-way needed to develop the land, but at an assessed market price.

A park would be lovely, but that’s not the Downtown Master Plan.  The plan is a structure of up to five stories that would protect the view, while allowing the builders to profit.

Eugenia Anderson–Ellis:  On behalf of all concerned Richmonders 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Old Barns Get Face-Lifts!

Preservation Virginia/JTI Tobacco Barns Mini-Grants Project Update

Two barns have been repaired and at least thirteen others are on the way to being repaired under Preservation Virginia/JTI’s Tobacco Barns Mini-Grants Project.  Funded by a grant from JTI Leaf Services, the Mini-Grants Project was formed to provide small grants to help stabilize and repair tobacco barns in a three-county area:  Pittsylvania and Halifax Counties in Virginia and Caswell County, North Carolina. 
Over 300 applications to repair tobacco barns were submitted for the 2014 grant cycle. The project is expected to continue for two more years.  

One of the barns recently repaired was William (W.K.) Pearson’s curing barn in the Climax community of Pittsylvania County. This barn has an unusual overhang that is not supported by posts.   Mr. Pearson has been a tobacco farmer all of his life and plans to pass down his land and barns to his son.  M and M Construction from Blairs did the work.  See link for more information.

Barn owner, W.K. Pearson, and William McNichols of M and M Construction at the barn to be repaired
Miles McNichols of M and M Construction preparing to re-daub and chink the logs 
Digging for the correct type of soil to use for the daubing

Daubing and chinking repairs completed

Painting the roof

The first barn to receive repairs in Caswell County is Doris and Richard White’s curing barn in Yanceyville. The White’s barn was stuccoed sometime in the 20th century to help preserve the logs.  This addition of stucco over logs exists in North Carolina but is relatively unusual in Virginia.  Broadleaf Timber and Masonry Reclaiming LLC completed the repairs to the White’s barn.

Doris White, barn owner and Sallie Smith, Caswell County Historical Association at the White's barn

Roof work

Broadleaf Timber and Masonry Reclaiming, LLC

For more information on the tobacco barns project, please see link or contact Sonja Ingram at

Monday, March 24, 2014

Authentic Port Royal, Virginia

By: Carolyn Davis, Historic Port Royal, Inc. and
Sonja Ingram, Field Representative, Preservation Virginia

Catlett House  1760

Powers-Holloway House  1775

Town Hall Lyceum and Masonic Lodge

Port Royal, in Carolina County, Virginia has more authentic 18th century homes than Williamsburg, yet not many people know about it.  This small, historic town on the Rappahannock River is a dream for history and architecture buffs, but it is also in need of help because several of its most historic buildings are unoccupied and falling into disrepair. 
Port Royal Residence  1745

In February 2014, staff members of Preservation Virginia and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources visited Port Royal and were welcomed by Cleo Coleman, Phyllis Carpenter and Carolyn Davis, members of Historic Port Royal; Kathy Beard, the Caroline County Tourism Director and two other Port Royal residents.

Cleo Coleman, President of Historic Port Royal, gave the group a brief talk about the history and significance of Port Royal. Some of the interesting facts Cleo discussed included:

  • Port Royal was established in the 1650s along the Rappahannock River as a port for shipping goods to Scotland, England and Jamaica;
  • Dorothy Roy, the first woman to own and operate a tobacco warehouse in the colonies, lived at Port Royal.  Today, all that remains of her home are two tall chimneys on Route 201; however the chimneys have been stabilized and interpreted and can be seen by all who drive on Route 301;
  • Port Royal has the 2nd oldest Masonic Charter in Virginia;
  • John Wilkes Booth fled to Port Royal from Maryland on April 24, 1865 seeking shelter at the Brockenbrough-Peyton House after he assassinated President Lincoln.
Brockenbrough-Peyton House 1765

Our group was given a tour of the town as well as inside two of Port Royal’s houses-- the Powers-Holloway House (tour lead by Billy Booker, grandson of the current owner) and the Brockenbrough-Peyton House .  In 1865, after killing President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth fled Washington D.C. to Maryland and then to Virginia where he crossed the Rappahannock River at Port Royal and sought refuge at the Brockenbrough-Peyton House. 

As the story goes, three confederate soldiers rode up to the house seeking overnight lodging for their friends Booth and Davy Herold; but Sarah Jane Peyton (1830-1907) wary of the strangers, denied their request. They then continued west of town to the Garrett Farm where Booth was later killed. 

Historic Port Royal, Inc. has done an enormous amount of work to protect and interpret Port Royal including installing interpretive kiosks around town and operating the local museum which has collections ranging from local Native American artifacts to White House China. The museum also has a fabulous Toleware collection. If that wasn’t enough, a fully restored Rosenwald School sits beside the museum on Route 301 which is used by students today for living history programs.

If you are driving on Route 301 make sure to turn at Dorothy Roy’s chimneys and visit this place full of authentic Virginia history.
Chimneys of Dorothy Roy's House