Our resident historian Steve Smith of Rocket Werks fame is in France. We assume but can’t confirm that he is spending all his time researching for future RVA Legends and RVA Must-See. This assumption is confirmed by the following story he relayed to us over the weekend.
Steve was taking a tour of the Omaha Beach Cemetery, located in Colleville-sur-Mer, Basse-Normandie. At some point like all good historians, he wandered off and began randomly walking around the cemetery. It wasn’t long before he noticed the gravestone you see above of Jimmie Watters Monteith Jr.
Noticing the Virginia birthplace he did some quick Google-Fu and found the Jimmie was from Richmond.
Jimmie Watters Monteith Jr. was born on July 1, 1917 in Low Moor, Virginia. His family moved to Richmond, Virginia, when he was nine years old. After elementary school, he attended Thomas Jefferson High School, where he played a year each of varsity football and varsity basketball. Known in high school as “Punk,” he graduated in 1937. He attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (then known as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, shortened in popular usage to Virginia Polytechnic Institute or simply VPI) for two years, 1937–1939, majoring in mechanical engineering. While at VPI, he was a member of K Battery in the Corps of Cadets and the Richmond Sectional Club. He returned to Richmond at the end of his sophomore year and worked as a field representative for the Cabell Coal Company, where his father was vice president.
He was drafted into the army in October 1941 and sent to Camp Croft, South Carolina, for basic training. During basic training, he was promoted to corporal and applied for officer training. He was accepted and sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, completing the course in March 1942, when he was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. He was then transferred to Fort McClellan, Alabama, where he helped train the 15th Battalion. In February 1943, he was transferred into the 30th Division at Camp Blanding, Florida, to begin training in preparation for being shipped overseas to fight in the war.
In April 1943 he was shipped to Algeria, where he joined the 1st Infantry Division (Big Red One). The division moved to Sicily in July 1943, and he received a field promotion to 1st lieutenant during the campaign. The division moved to England in November 1943 to prepare for the Normandy invasion. It was during the D-Day invasion that he was killed.
Jimmie received a Purple Heart, a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) for his actions during the D-Day Invasion.
Medal of Honor Citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, while serving with 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in action near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. First Lieutenant Monteith landed with the initial assault waves on the coast of France under heavy enemy fire. Without regard to his own personal safety he continually moved up and down the beach reorganizing men for further assault. He then led the assault over a narrow protective ledge and across the flat, exposed terrain to the comparative safety of a cliff. Retracing his steps across the field to the beach, he moved over to where two tanks were buttoned up and blind under violent enemy artillery and machinegun fire. Completely exposed to the intense fire, First Lieutenant Monteith led the tanks on foot through a minefield and into firing positions. Under his direction several enemy positions were destroyed. He then rejoined his company and under his leadership his men captured an advantageous position on the hill. Supervising the defense of his newly won position against repeated vicious counterattacks, he continued to ignore his own personal safety, repeatedly crossing the 200 or 300 yards of open terrain under heavy fire to strengthen links in his defensive chain. When the enemy succeeded in completely surrounding First Lieutenant Monteith and his unit and while leading the fight out of the situation, First Lieutenant Monteith was killed by enemy fire. The courage, gallantry, and intrepid leadership displayed by First Lieutenant Monteith is worthy of emulation.
A little more internet researching and we found this excellent article from Virginia Tech Magazine. It includes portions of his letters to home and a few photos.
He seemed to be satisfied with his role in the war: “… I would not change if I were given the chance–even to have some easy job in the rear area. Of course I can’t say that should I ever be lucky enough to have a son that I would want him to go through something like this. But if events forced him I would want him to prove himself…. As for the 1st Division, every time I look at the shoulder insignia (the red one) I get a thrill–there is no better fighting unit in the world. When the Germans were confident of victory on several occasions and all circumstances were against the 1st, the men rose to the occasion and hurled them back in great confusion and disorder…. There is a great feeling of satisfaction that one gets within oneself. I would not change.”
It’s an amazing coincidence that one of our writers was walking a cemetery over 3,000 miles away found a bit of Richmond history. Personally I’m thankful to learn just a little bit about a Richmonder that paid the ultimate price so many years ago on a beach in France.
Must-See RVA! — John Marshall Courts Building
A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.
- 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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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]
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.
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.
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.
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)
- A shout-out to Ray Bonis & Harry Kollatz for their tips and input on the courts building!
- [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.
Must-See RVA! is a regular series
appearing on rocket werks – check it out!
Wayback RVA — Dreyer’s Studio
A Then & Now photo essay of Richmond places from around the area.
611 E. Broad Street
June 2, 1923
Doug & Reg
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!
- Rocket Werks RVA Postcards
- Advertisement from The Flat Hat, College of William & Mary — April 1, 1927 — William & Mary Digital Archive
- ProQuest® Sanborn Maps Geo Edition™
- 611 East Broad Street
(Dreyer’s Studio is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)
Library of Virginia Wants Your Pandemic-Related Sign Photos
The signs of the times are very different from pervious signs.
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.