AKA, Virginia Mutual Building, Tredegar Trust Company
821 East Main Street
Architects, Alfred Charles Bossom, Carneal and Johnston
The grandest triumphal arch in Richmond.
The Virginia Trust Company building is a pure expression of America s Neo-Classical Revival rendered in heroic proportions. Its facade is in the form of a Roman triumphal arch with an overall height of ninety-one feet. Located on Main Street, in the heart of Richmond’s financial district, the building is handsomely framed by the Neo-Classical First and Merchants tower on the east and by the Miesian-style Ross Building on the west.
Leaders of the Neo-Classical. Revival include the architectural firms of McKim, Mead and White, and John Russell Pope. The architect of the Virginia Trust Company, Alfred Charles Bossom (1881-1965), was as able as his more towering contemporaries, but his oeuvre has received little study. Bossom was born in London and was educated at the Royal Academy Schools. He came to America in 1903 and set up an office in New York City where he practiced until 1926 when he returned to England.
During that period he received commissions for buildings throughout the country; his Virginia works include the former headquarters building for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, the Union Bank of Richmond (demolished 1935), as well as the Virginia Trust Company. The associate architects for the Virginia Trust Project were Carneal and Johnston of Richmond.
Though considerably lower than either of its neighbors the grand scale of the Virginia Trust Company prevents the building from being dwarfed. Constructed of white granite with terra cotta ornament, the facade, which is reminiscent of the Arch of Titus, consists of massive piers supporting a fourteen-foot-deep Corinthian entablature above which is a twelve-foot attic. The attic is broken by two slight projections directly above the arch. The arch itself is some forty-eight feet high from street level to soffit and is approximately twelve feet deep.
The soffit is ornamented with three rows of coffers each having rosettes. The spandrels have foliated borders with foliated wreaths encircling the bank’s seals. The scrolled keystone features a female figure in full relief, from which the head unfortunately has been lost.
Other ornament on the facade includes anthemion bands at the impost blocks and at the top of the entablature, and foliated bands along the architrave. In the entablature frieze is the inscription: “VIRGINIA TRUST COMPANY”, and in the center panel of the attic is the inscription “FOUNDED 1892 / ERECTED 1920.”
Aside from its great arch the bank has five openings on the facade. A small window at the base of the east pier lights the president’s office; a corresponding doorway at the base of the west pier opens into the building’s main stairwell.
In the stone screen at the base of the great arch are three openings: the main entrance which is surrounded by an architrave and topped by an entablature inscribed: “VIRGINIA TRUST COMPANY”, and two small unornamented windows on either side.
The arch itself is filled with a great window with panes separated by bronze mullions. The panes can be opened by use of a complex but ingenious hand-operated mechanism. The area of the window below the arch is set in a bronze frame ornamented with rich arabesques in relief.
The bank’s interior consists of an enormous banking room, fifty feet high, which occupies the majority of the interior volume. The walls of the room have a gold marble rusticated base above which is a series of fluted pilasters framing scored plaster panels.
The pilasters employ a simplified Corinthian order. Its entablature features a frieze richly ornamented with anthemions and scrolls. Crowning the whole is a magnificent gilded plaster ceiling of extraordinary richness.
A tour-de-force of Classical decoration, virtually every surface of the coffered ceiling is ornamented with some form of ancient motif. Accenting the whole are the elaborate rosettes in each coffer. The center of the ceiling is occupied by a twenty-three-foot square surrounded by a lush border of fruits and foliage in relief.
Within the border is a Corinthian entablature from which springs a glass octagonal dome. A large metal chandelier hangs from the domes center. Two similar chandeliers provide additional light.
On the floor, the center of the room is a public space containing two stone desks. Around this space is a gold marble screen composed of Tuscan piers supporting a plain entablature. The bays in the west side of the screen frame tellers’ cages, on the cast the screen separates the public from an open office area formerly furnished with mahogany roll-top desks.
Opposite the main entrance the screen has a center doorway topped by a segmental pediment. Immediately through this opening is the safe deposit vault.
Above the vault and filling in the rear portion of the room is a mezzanine which projects in the center above the vault. In the center of the mezzanine’s balustrade is a handsome clock. On the rear wall above the mezzanine is a large arched window flanked by smaller rectangular windows.
Located under the mezzanine are various offices including the Tudor-style directors’ room paneled in mahogany with an elaborate strapwork plaster ceiling. Additional office space is located on the two floors above the banking room.
This area is reached by the stair in the west pier. More offices, as well as four large vault rooms, are on the lower level. Storage, utility, and furnace rooms are in the sub-basement. In all, the building has six levels.
Except for the loss of the original furniture, the building stands virtually unaltered and in an excellent state of preservation. (VDHR)
This building is architectural eye-candy on steroids. Everywhere you look there is marvelous attention to detail, sometimes in forms that are easy to pass over. In his book Architecture in Downtown Richmond, Robert P. Winthrop observes that the granite rondels and bronze plaques on the facade depict labradors which are guarding the building. At the time it was published in 1981, he believed it to be perhaps the only place in Richmond where dogs are used in architectural ornament. [ADR]
(Virginia Trust Company is part of the Atlas RVA Project)
The pictures shown here were made possible through the generosity of Vakos Companies, which manages this historic property. Rocket Werks thanks Christian G. Waller, Senior Vice President of Vakos, who granted permission, and Logan Tollison and Cas Bradshaw, who together conducted a tour of the building. This kind of public service, providing the Richmond community a window into a hidden gem, is not something that always happens, but it is always appreciated when it does.
- [RVCJ03] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1903.
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