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Must-See RVA! — Richmond & Chesapeake Bay Railway Car Barn

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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16200 Brook Road
Built, 1907
VDHR 127-6171

The Richmond and Chesapeake Bay Railway car barn is significant because it is one of two surviving buildings associated with the independent electric railway that provided service between the City of Richmond and the Town of Ashland from 1907 to 1938. The only other surviving building, the terminal, has been heavily altered and is no longer recognizable as a terminal building. Utilitarian in nature, the car barn incorporates industrial materials of the time – steel structure and corrugated metal siding. A number of innovations incorporated into the line made it unique – the type of car, the current utilized, and the concrete and steel viaduct.

VDHR

VDHR

Constructed in 1907, the Richmond and Chesapeake Bay Railway Car Barn is located on the west side of Brook Road to the northwest of Richmond’s central business district. Brook Road borders the property on the east, with School Street to the north. Other industrial properties define the boundaries to the south and west. A chain link fence encloses the triangular lot with a gate at the north end. Tracks once ran to the west of the building with spur lines that passed through the building. The utilitarian building was designed to service the railway’s electric passenger cars, which entered and exited the building through large openings at both ends. Utilitarian in nature, the gable-roofed, T-plan building has a steel frame clad with corrugated steel panels. Today, the building appears much as it did when built. A one-story transformer station was added to the east side of the building in the 1920s with further alterations being made in the 1970s when the building was acquired by Meyer Repair and used for the repair and service of large trucks.

February 2014

February 2014

The Richmond and Chesapeake Bay Railway Car Barn is sited on a triangular lot on the west side of Brook Road. A chain link fence encloses the partially paved lot. The building stands alone today, but the 1925 Sanborn maps shows that there were once five additional storage buildings on the property. The Sanborn also shows that there were four “workmen’s shanties” to the west and four dwellings to the south, between the car barn and Sledd Street. In the 1970s, Brook Road was widened from sixty feet to ninety feet and the dwellings and storage buildings removed.

The corrugated steel-clad, T-plan building has a structural steel frame that supports a Fink Truss gable roof. The corrugated metal stopped at the bottom of the trusses in the north and south gable-ends creating large openings through which the cars were driven in and out along rails that are still imbedded in the concrete floor. The main part of the building had a capacity for six cars. A second slightly higher gable roof crosses at the center of the building and extends beyond the sidewall on the east creating a T-shaped plan. The blacksmith and machine shop were located in the wing. A Vulcan hoist is located in this elevated area. There are three, sixteen-over-sixteen double-hung, wood-sash windows in the east elevation and two in the west elevation. Physical evidence and an old photograph would suggest that there were seven windows in each of the side elevations. A one-story transformer station was added to the east side of the building in the 1920s and a second one-story toilet addition was made to the east side of the building in the 1970s. Other alterations made to the building in the 1970s include the removal of several of the windows, and the construction of a makeshift mezzanine at the north end of the building. A portion of the east wing was removed when Brook Road was widened, in the 1970s.

February 2014

February 2014

The form and structural elements of the Richmond and Chesapeake Bay Railway Car Barn were dictated by current technology and the function of the building. The Fink truss, patented in 1850, was one of the first trusses to be built from iron instead of wood. The designer, Albert Fink, a civil engineer, was born near Frankfort-on-the-Main, Germany in 1827. He studied architecture in Germany, and emigrated to the United States in 1849 where he found employment as draughtsman with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and became chief office assistant of Benjamin H. Latrobe, Jr. In this capacity he was the superintendent for the design and construction of buildings and bridges. During this time, Mr. Fink was also consulting engineer to the Norfolk and Petersburg railway. In 1857, he left the service of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and became chief engineer of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.

VDHR

VDHR

The Ajax Sheet Metal and Roofing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio supplied the sheet metal at the car barn. Vulcan Ironworks, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, manufactured the hoist in the car barn. Best known as a locomotive manufacturer; Vulcan Ironworks was founded in 1849 as a small foundry to manufacture shaft hoists and other machinery for Wyoming’s booming coal industry. By 1881, Vulcan’s Wilkes-Barre facility included a machine shop, a foundry, a blacksmith shop, a boiler shop and a pattern store and office. The first locomotives were offered in 1888 with the acquisition of the Wyoming Valley Manufacturing Company. Vulcan became an important producer of industrial locomotives and in 1919 a new steel plant with open-hearth furnaces was built to satisfy the demands of World War I. By 1929, things were indeed very good at Vulcan, with some 1,600 employees producing both gasoline and diesel-electric locomotives, along with some battery mine units. Business declined during the Great Depression, never to recover again. World War II gave the company a short reprieve, but production ceased in the 1950s.

February 2014

February 2014

The current owners plan to renovate the building and retain its industrial character. The building will be used for the storage of construction material and office space. The office space will be a primarily glass structure located at the southern end of the building. (VDHR)


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Must-See RVA! — John Marshall Courts Building

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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May 2020
  • 800 East Marshall Street
  • Built, 1978
  • Renovated, 1994
  • Architects, C. F. Murphy & Associates; Helmut Jahn, project architect (1978). Hening-Vest-Covey (1994)

Straight out of Alphaville.

[ADR] — building in 1981 downtown survey

[ADR] — building in 1981 downtown survey

Designed by a nationally known Chicago-based architectural firm, the John Marshall Courts Building was intended to provide a neutral background to the John Marshall House. In this it succeeds. it is a slickly detailed glass box with rounded edges. The building is the best example of the “glass box” genre in Richmond.

(Montage) — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, undated

(Montage) — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, undated

C. F. Murphy & Associates are among the more skillful followers of Mies van der Rohe, who was the most influential architect of the 20th century. Their Richmond building has been controversial on both functional and aesthetic grounds. [ADR]

Designed to respect the Marshall House next door, the sleek, black glass box of the John Marshall Courts Building sets off the house, emphasizing its iconic, welcoming facade. This is perhaps its only success, because the court building has been plagued with criticism for its dysfunction. Recent alterations have attempted to correct traffic and security issues. (SAH Archipedia)

May 2020

May 2020

When your lead architect likes to wear capes as normal outerwear, and his detractors call him “Flash Gordon”, there’s a chance you might not get what you were expecting. Before you know it, you might be throwing around emotional terms like controversial and dysfunction and find yourself spending money to correct gaps in the original design.

(The Architect’s Newspaper) — McCormick Place, 1969-1971

(The Architect’s Newspaper) — McCormick Place, 1969-1971

After graduating from the Technische Hochschule in Munich in 1965, (Helmut) Jahn moved to Chicago to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a school long associated with the Modernist aesthetic of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and his followers. On the basis of this solid design background, Jahn was hired by Chicago architectural firm C.F. Murphy Associates to work on the Miesian design for McCormick Place in Chicago.

(YouTube) — screencap from Helmut Jahn, FAIA Lifetime Achievement Award

(YouTube) — screencap from Helmut Jahn, FAIA Lifetime Achievement Award

In the late 1970s and ’80s Jahn made his mark, designing extravagant buildings that combined historical and contextual references—the central tenets of postmodern architecture—with high-tech engineering solutions. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

May 2020

May 2020

Jahn certainly has his admirers and adherents. He has completed over 90 building projects during his long career and has been widely recognized for his efforts, earning a Ten Most Influential Living American Architects award from the American Institute of Architects in 1991.

(Newspapers.com) — Helmut Jahn’s MetroWest building in Naperville, Illinois —Chicago Tribune Sunday, March 2, 1986

(Newspapers.com) — Helmut Jahn’s MetroWest building in Naperville, Illinois —Chicago Tribune Sunday, March 2, 1986

However, in the early days, his critics considered him “that postmodern enfant terrible who rocketed to stardom on the supercharged fireworks of the State of Illinois Building in 1985.” (Architecture Week)

A 1986 Chicago Tribune article about his MetroWest design in Naperville, Illinois called him a “flamboyant postmodernist, who adorns himself in capes and Porches.” It went on to observe that the building produced nausea in a nearby office worker, and concluded with relief that “at least nobody has dubbed it the Starship Naperville.” [CHIT]

May 2020

May 2020

With context like that, perhaps it’s not surprising that issues were found with the courts building. Not everyone digs the glass box thing, that’s easy to grok, but the functional issues are something else. The building opened in 1978 and just four short years Robert Winthrop was calling it controversial, so whatever problems existed must have quickly found a voice.

May 2020

May 2020

The precise nature of the complaints is obscure, but the building does not appear to respect the available space. Together with the John Marshall House, the courts building complex consumes the entire block, yet there is a large, empty plaza along Ninth Street.

May 2020

May 2020

It certainly looks nice, but by 1994 the City would find itself coughing up $2 million dollars for a renovation to create additional office space and another courtroom. [RTD1] At such cost, there probably weren’t a lot of plaza enthusiasts still hanging around.

(Rocket Werks RVA Postcards) — John Marshall High School

(Rocket Werks RVA Postcards) — John Marshall High School

Adding to the sense of injury, the new courts building came at the price of the beautiful old John Marshall High School. It too sat quietly behind the John Marshall House at the corner of 9th and Marshall and was considered a state-of-the-art facility when it opened in 1909, with large classrooms, elevators, and science labs, as well as modern plumbing, heating, and ventilation. [RTD2]

Alas, this sacrificial lamb was razed, and the school had to scoot to a new location in North Side.

(John Marshall Courts Building is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Note

  • A shout-out to Ray Bonis & Harry Kollatz for their tips and input on the courts building!

Print Sources

  • [ADR] Architecture in Downtown Richmond. Robert P. Winthrop. 1982.
  • [CHIT] Chicago Tribune. Sunday, March 2, 1986.
  • [RTD1] Richmond Times-Dispatch. December 8, 1994.
  • [RTD2] Richmond Times-Dispatch. August 16, 1909.

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appearing on rocket werks – check it out!

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History

Wayback RVA — Dreyer’s Studio

A Then & Now photo essay of Richmond places from around the area.

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Dreyer’s Studio
611 E. Broad Street
Richmond, VA.

June 2, 1923
Doug & Reg

Little angels.

Mom says we have to sit still to take the picture — I am sitting still stop poking me — I’m not touching you — Yes, you are, quit it! — Ow! — Mom, he started it!


(Dreyer’s Studio is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


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History

Library of Virginia Wants Your Pandemic-Related Sign Photos

The signs of the times are very different from pervious signs.

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The Library of Virginia is currently collecting images of COVID-19-related signage from the public through a “Signs of the Time: COVID-19 in Virginia” Tumblr page (va-signsofthetime.tumblr.com).

In the midst of the current pandemic, many Virginia businesses are shutting their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19, while others remain open with reduced hours to provide essential services. It can be a challenge to convey information to the public in such quickly changing circumstances. Often created in haste, these impromptu paper signs are taped to doors and shop windows indicating where to collect or drop-off products, reminding people to practice social distancing, and communicating other safety best practices.

Community photos of these temporary signs will help future generations visualize what life was like for Virginians during the disruption to business and social interaction caused by COVID-19. The Library is not encouraging people to leave home in order to take photos, but rather to help us document signs you might see as you venture out for supplies or takeout food in your Virginia communities.

Photographs of storefronts and signs can be submitted via desktop or mobile device by clicking the “Submit” option in the menu on the Tumblr page. “We chose Tumblr because it’s easy,” said Dale Neighbors, the Library’s Visual Studies Collection coordinator. “It seemed one of the most convenient ways for people to submit their images.”

The Library of Virginia has two main focuses in its COVID-19 collecting. As the archival agency of the commonwealth and home to the records of state and local governments, we want to document the official response and the changing landscape of governmental guidance during the crisis. Secondly, with our strategic focus on civic and community life, we want to collect representative examples of how Virginia communities are affected by the virus.

“For the Visual Studies Collection specifically, I wanted to express through visual imagery how Virginians’ public lives were impacted with the halting of regular business and social interaction,” said Neighbors. “As businesses and restaurants were just beginning to post signs announcing changes in hours and services offered, I wanted to seize the moment before such items, and the memories associated with them, faded away. Photographing these ephemeral signs and submitting them to the Library is a way of preserving history as it’s happening.”

The Library looks forward to a time when COVID-19 signs will be a thing of the past. As Virginia enters phase one of its reopening from the pandemic, many of the original signs are already being removed or altered, but the photographs submitted will serve as a reminder of these times for generations to come.

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