Construction to expand and reclaim interior spaces of the historic Robinson House on grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will begin this month, museum officials announced this week.
When reopened in late 2018 after standing vacant for nearly two decades, the building will house a regional tourism center and VMFA’s Human Resources Division—providing a new front door both to Richmond visitors and prospective museum employees.
The 3,200-square-foot addition will introduce an accessible entrance, which visitors can approach by walkways from the VMFA parking deck. The expansion also will house an elevator, stairway, and three floors of glass-enclosed porches that connect to the original 7,600-square-foot structure. Easily accessed from both Interstate 95 and Interstate 64, the visitor center, with public restrooms, will occupy half of the first floor, while VMFA’s Human Resources team will move into office and training space on the second and third floors.
The Robinson House will also offer a first-floor gallery featuring an exhibition about the complex story of the site from the 17th century to the present. The multilayered history includes native peoples and English colonists; an antebellum family and the enslaved people who labored for them; the nation’s best-known Confederate veterans’ home; a scientific research institute; and a center for art programs and studio classes. In 2013, the house was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
“In reimagining the future use of Robinson House, we are creating a vibrant new welcome area both to Richmond and VMFA,” said Alex Nyerges, Director of the VMFA. “Many visitors begin their time in Richmond at our museum, and we’re honored to collaborate on an initiative that will benefit the entire region as a tourist destination. We also are delighted to create an engaging new environment where people can begin their careers or continue their professional journeys at our museum.”
“In addition to our core mission to create exceptional experiences of art and culture, we have a deep respect for the history of the land and the building that VMFA is charged to protect and preserve,” Nyerges added.
VMFA officials worked in partnership with the Art and Architectural Review Board to ensure the addition complements the former home’s style, which included Italianate design embellished with Victorian details. Richmond-based Glavé & Holmes, with a team led by Steven Blashfield, AIA, is the project architect; Jaclyn Miller, architectural designer, is the project manager.
To protect the design integrity of the original house, sections of which date from the late 1820s and the 1850s, the addition will be built on the rear, or north side, of the structure. Interior work on the period structure will include restoring the space to reflect historical accuracies, such as showcasing the grand central staircase. New mechanical and electrical systems are among other building updates.
A long-time VMFA goal, the restoration of Robinson House has been listed as the top priority on the Commonwealth’s six-year Capital Outlay Plan. Funding for the overall $5.2 million project is included in a bond package issued through the Virginia Public Building Authority, subject to the provisions in Chapter 806 of the 2013 Acts of Assembly. Additional support for the restoration has been provided by the Thomas F. Jeffress Memorial Trust.
The VMFA will partner with Richmond Region Tourism to develop the visitor center.