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RVA Legends — Murphy’s Hotel

A look into the history of Richmond places and people that have disappeared from our landscape.

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Murphy’s Hotel

717-719, 801-803, 807 East Broad Street
Built, 1886, 1902, 1907, 1911
Demolished, 2000 (Annex), 2007 (1911 Building)
Architect, John Kevan Peeples (1911)

The sprawling grand hotel of yesteryear.

The principal houses at present are Murphy’s, Ford’s, the Exchange and Ballard, the Dodson, American, Davis and Commercial; the first named and last two, especially commercial travelers’ resorts.

Murphy’s Hotel, corner of Eighth and Broad streets, Richmond, is situated on one of the highest points in the city, with both a southern and eastern exposure. It is the leading and best hotel in Richmond.

[RVCJ03] — original hotel building, circa 1903

This house, so well and favorably known to commercial travellers, as well as tourists, has been materially enlarged and greatly improved by the addition of two adjoining buildings. Its rooms are elegantly furnished throughout in a manner to contribute to the ease and comfort of all those who occupy them, and are provided with electric bells, steam heat, etc.

[RVCJ03] — original hotel interior, circa 1903

In connection with the hotel is conducted the finest restaurant and cafe in the city, where every delicacy of the season can be obtained ; and the billiard parlors are equal in every respect to those of the largest cities.

[RVCJ03] — Colonel John Murphy

Murphy’s was established about six. years ago by its popular proprietor, Colonel John Murphy, and is conducted under his able management. Colonel Murphy was originally a caterer here, and has worked his way up from small beginnings until he has attained prestige as one of the most successful hotel men of the South.

(Out of the Box) — Murphy’s Steamed Oysters, NE corner of Eighth & Main Streets

He is one of the representative business men of- the city. Many visitors to the city in former years will remember the old tumbledown building at Eighth and Broad streets, in which he commenced; there making a specialty of oysters and serving only the best, he made the dingy looking old structure familiar in a few years to all sojourners here as the oyster house of the city.

But the old house is gone. It fell before the march of improvement, and in its stead there rises a stately and imposing brick building, five stories high, covering a quarter of a square, and known to the travelling public as Murphy’s Hotel.

(LOC) — Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 4

This house was commenced on the site of the old one about six years ago, and has been furnished from top to bottom with the most modern improvements, in the shape of furniture and other hotel belongings. An elevator affords access to the top of this building, from which vantage one of the most charming views of Richmond and the adjacent country is unfolded.

(Out of the Box) — hotel interior, 1913

Looking east can be seen Drewry’s Bluff, Powhatan and points on the James ; looking west, Belle Isle, Hollywood Cemetery and intervening points, forming, as a whole, a delightful picture of this city on the James.

This house will accommodate four hundred guests. Rates on the European plan are one to three dollars per day, and on the American plan three to five dollars per day. [RVCJ93]

That was in 1903.

Murphy eventually added two annexes, building one on the lot across 8th street in 1902 and another on the block between Broad and Grace Streets in 1907. In 1913, Murphy demolished the brick building at 8th and Broad, and hired John Kevan Peebles, the architect who designed the 1905 additions to the State Capitol Building, to design an 11-story, H-shaped building.

Robert Winthrop observed that the Classical ornament and detail of the new building was elegant and that the base and top of the building were treated with great elaboration. [ADR]

(Out of the Box) — hotel bridge, 1939

A pedestrian bridge over 8th Street connected the main building to the annex; it served not just as a connection between the two buildings but as a lounge or sun-room. After the sale of part of the hotel property in 1939, the bridge was eventually dismantled so that its steel could be used in the war effort.

(Rocket Werks RVA Postcards) — the rebranded hotel

John Murphy died in 1918 and management passed to his son-in-law, James T. Disney, who ran the hotel until his own death in 1933. By 1939, the Board of Directors of The Richmond Hotels, Inc., had taken control of the Murphy Hotel, changing its name to the King Carter Hotel in 1949. The hotel was purchased by the state in 1966 and converted to offices in 1969.

September 2016 — Spotswood W. Robinson III and Robert R. Merhige Jr. Federal Courthouse

However, by the late 1990s the condition of both the original building and the Annex had deteriorated significantly. The Annex was condemned and demolished in 2000; it was replaced by the Spotswood W. Robinson III and Robert R. Merhige Jr. Federal Courthouse, completed in 2006. (Out of the Box)

The end of the 1911 building followed in 2007, not long after the courthouse was completed. The thinking was the empty lot would be filled with another modern building that would connect with the recently renovated Ninth Street Office Building, formerly known as the Hotel Richmond, and coincidently, another work of John Kevan Peeples.

January 2014 — empty NE corner of Eighth & Broad Streets

That was 12 years ago, and still, nothing has happened to change the location’s fate as a parking lot. Today it houses construction offices, vehicles, and equipment for the rebuilding of the General Assembly Building across the street.

(Murphy’s Hotel is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Sources

  • [ADR] Architecture in Downtown Richmond. Robert P. Winthrop. 1980.
  • [RVCJ93] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1893.
  • [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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