1200 East Clay Street
Baskervill & Lambert
Words you rarely get to use in a sentence: hostile and competing professional medical organizations.
The construction of the Richmond Academy of Medicine in 1931-32 represented the culminating effort of a generation of Richmond physicians who, during the latter part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, established the city’s private hospitals, developed the University College of Medicine and the Medical College of Virginia into a unified institution, and made Richmond a medical center of national reputation.
The Academy traces its origins to a group of Richmond and Manchester physicians who organized the first medical society in Richmond in 1820. Named the Medical Society of Richmond, it continued under that title until 1866 when it was changed to the Richmond Academy of Medicine. Throughout the 19th century the local medical community was divided by intense rivalries among various competing factions of physicians.
Before 1893, this friction most often involved a clash between members of the Academy and various doctors at the Medical College of Virginia. In 1880 this antagonism led to the formation of a rival group called the Richmond Medical and Surgical Society, and for the next decade the city had two hostile and competing professional medical organizations.
In 1926 the Academy began seriously to address the problem of a permanent home. Serendipitously at the same time, Dr. Joseph Miller of Thomastown, West Virginia, a graduate of the University College of Medicine and collector of rare medical books, manuscripts, instruments, and silhouettes, was considering an appropriate recipient of this collection. Dr. William Sanger, President of MCV, upon hearing of the availability of this collection, sought the collection for his college, perhaps seeing the collection as a rallying point to gather local support for a new library for his institution.
The library in 1927 was considered a regionally significant collection, consisting of about 3,000 portrait prints, silhouettes and other engravings, and over 3,000 medical books, at least one half of which were of unusual interest. According to the Academy, the silhouettes composed the largest collection of silhouettes of medical personalities in the United States. The books include the first printed book on obstetrics published in 1545; Andreas Vesalius’s De Fabrica Humani Corporis, published in 1453; Anthologia by Hieronymus Fracastorius, published in1592; Chirugia, ende alle de opera by Ambroise Pare’, published in 1592; Circulation of the Blood by William Harvey, published in 1649; and the first English edition of Harvey’s Anatomical Exercitations, one of only 35 copies originally offered, published in 1653; Chirugia Magna in Duos Tomos Digesta by Aureolus Paracelsus, published in 1573 (some of the pages of this volume were blotted out by hot irons during the Inquisition); and Jason Partis’s De Pariente et Partu, 1527, probably the only copy in America.
Dr. Sanger, with permission from the Academy’s Board of Trustees, purchased frontage along Clay and Twelfth streets to accommodate the Academy’s projected needs. By June 14, 1927 financial arrangements were stable enough to commission Baskervill and Lambert to prepare sketches for the proposed building. On December 6, 1927 the firm was authorized to prepare working drawings. The estimated cost of the Academy’s portion of the building was $60,000. Funds for MCV’s portion of the building were not appropriated until 1930, delaying building dedication until September 1932. The Academy’s final share of the building cost was $92,000.
The restrained Georgian style of the Academy is typical of the work of the Baskervill firm. The firm, a prolific and highly competent Richmond enterprise, had designed several structures in the area. In each building design they reacted to the concerns of the MCV trustees that the structures be designed in the same mutually compatible styles. These structures include the Dooley Hospital (1917), St. Phillips Hall (1917-20), and Cabaniss Hall (1927), which harmonize with the style and scale of the surrounding historic structures. The Richmond Academy of Medicine is no exception to this trend, for its 3-story height and severely restrained facade provide a sympathetic streetscape for the White House of the Confederacy directly to the south and the Maury and Stevens houses to the southwest. Its brick and limestone exterior is also sympathetic to McGuire Hall, another MCV building (1912), across the street to the west.
In the early 1970s there was a strong movement by a large segment of the membership to dispose of the Academy building and to move to new headquarters. A majority of the membership favored disposing of it, if adequately compensated, but the Academy’s Board of Trustees decided instead to preserve it as a home and workshop for the local profession. The recent building campaign at MCV has led Academy members to become concerned about future impacts on the building and generated interest in having the Academy building officially designated as a historic landmark. Apart from its own individual merits, the Academy functions as an important visual component of the 1200 and 1100 blocks of East Clay Street, adding beauty and dignity to this historic neighborhood, which includes the White House of the Confederacy, the Wickham House, and the Valentine Museum. (VDHR)
Which is all great, but it’s a bit hard to appreciate that ol’ sympathetic Georgian styling with the insidious Tree-Architecture Conspiracy giving us the finger. Compare the view today with the 1984 view above, and see for yourself.
(Richmond Academy of Medicine is part of the Atlas RVA Project)
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