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History

Must-See RVA! — Virginia Commission for the Blind

A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.

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April 2020
  • AKA, The Parkwood
  • 3003 Parkwood Avenue
  • Built, 1940-1941, 1958
  • Architects, J. Binford Walford (1940), O. Pendleton Wright (1958)
  • VDHR 127-6808

And a blind man shall lead them.

(Find A Grave) — Lucian Louis Watts — Virginia Legislature Photograph, Virginia House of Delegates 1928

(Find A Grave) — Lucian Louis Watts — Virginia Legislature Photograph, Virginia House of Delegates 1928

L. L. Watts (1888-1974) was singularly instrumental in the development of services for the blind in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the individual most responsible for the successful construction of the Virginia Commission of the Blind building at 3003 Parkwood Avenue in Richmond.

His work influenced educational and training opportunities for blind Virginians across Virginia for more than 30 years, and his legacy has continued to the present day, making him of statewide significance.

Watts was serving as a Superintendent of a railroad construction project when he lost his sight in a dynamite blasting accident in 1913. After recuperating, he attended the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in Staunton, Virginia, and graduated in 1917. He became an instructor at the school and in 1919, he sent an invitation to the alumni of the school and friends of the blind to meet in June to form the Virginia Association of Workers for the Blind.

April 2020 — courtyard

April 2020 — courtyard

In 1920, Watts was appointed to a state commission to investigate the conditions of the blind in Virginia. This temporary commission reported its survey findings to the General Assembly with a recommendation that a permanent Virginia Commission for the Blind be established. The Virginia Commission for the Blind was created on March 23, 1922, through an act of the General Assembly and Watts was chosen as the Executive Secretary of the Commission, a position he was to hold for 34 years.

(Newspapers.com) — Des Moines Register, Tuesday, February 3, 1925 — showing left to right, Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller, & Polly Thomas arriving in Iowa for the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind

(Newspapers.com) — Des Moines Register, Tuesday, February 3, 1925 — showing left to right, Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller, & Polly Thomas arriving in Iowa for the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind

Watts was also involved in the establishment of the American Foundation for the Blind at the convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind held in Vinton, Iowa, in 1921. The American Foundation for the Blind is the national organization most closely associated with Helen Keller, for which she worked for more than 40 years. Watts, with assistance from the American Foundation for the Blind, arranged for Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy to address a joint session of the Virginia House and Senate as part of a “Three Day’s Educational Campaign” on February 12-14, 1924.

(Newspapers.com) — Helen Keller from the Des Moines Register, Sunday, January 25, 1925

(Newspapers.com) — Helen Keller from the Des Moines Register, Sunday, January 25, 1925

The goal of the campaign was to raise awareness of the work of the fledgling Virginia Commission for the Blind and to convince the General Assembly to increase the state appropriation to further its work. Fourteen industries of the blind exhibited in the course of the campaign, which culminated in Helen Keller’s address on February 14. She appealed for increased appropriations and for the continued independence of the Virginia Commission for the Blind. Governor E. Lee Trinkle reported on the effectiveness of the campaign and the enthusiasm Ms. Keller’s address engendered.

(Newspapers.com) — Richmond Times Dispatch, Tuesday, June 27, 1933

(Newspapers.com) — Richmond Times-Dispatch, Tuesday, June 27, 1933

The Virginia Commission for the Blind hosted the 1933 biennial convention of the American Association of Workers for the Blind in Richmond, where Watts was elected first vice-president of this international organization representing blind workers throughout the United States and Canada. When the president of the organization died in 1934, Watts stepped into the role of the chief executive and was elected president at the next biennial convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1935. After the expiration of his term as president, Watts continued to serve on the Board of Directors and as chair of the legislative committee.

(ProQuest® Sanborn Maps Geo Edition™) — Sanborn Insurance Maps of Richmond (1925) — Plate 437 — showing former Gould frame house at 3003 Parkwood

(ProQuest® Sanborn Maps Geo Edition™) — Sanborn Insurance Maps of Richmond (1925) — Plate 437 — showing former Gould frame house at 3003 Parkwood

The offices of the Commission were initially in Charlottesville but relocated to 1228 East Broad Street in Richmond in 1924. In 1931 the administrative offices moved to a frame residence at 3003 Parkwood Avenue. The use of this property was donated to the Virginia Association of Workers for the Blind by Edwin J. Gould of New York. In 1938, the Association was able to purchase the property from the Gould Foundation, on favorable terms, and in December deeded it to the Commonwealth to be used by the Commission for the Blind.

April 2020 — note the absence of the urn ornament on the pedestal at center top that appears in the VDHR nomination photo below

April 2020 — note the absence of the urn ornament on the pedestal at center top that appears in the VDHR nomination photo below

When the City of Richmond’s Fire Department condemned the frame building early in 1939, Mr. Watts, as Executive Director of the Commission, petitioned Governor James H. Price for assistance in replacing the facility. The Governor approved the construction of a new building and authorized the Commission to borrow $16,000 to add to the General Assembly’s appropriation of $30,000, the Works Progress Administration’s allocation of $24,000 and the $10,000 contributed by the Virginia Association of Workers for the Blind.

(VDHR) — blueprint for 1941 basement floor plan

(VDHR) — blueprint for 1941 basement floor plan

J. Binford Walford (1891-1956) was selected as the architect and in March, 1940, applied for a permit to construct a two-story building with a basement out of concrete, brick, cinder block and wood with a slate roof.

Walford was associated with O. Pendleton Wright from 1946, forming the practice Walford & Wright, Architects. Around the time he was selected in 1940 to design the new facility for the Virginia Commission for the Blind, he had been active in designing additional academic buildings, dormitories, and a stadium for the campus of the College of William and Mary.

(HipPostcard) — E. Lee Trinkle Library, Mary Washington College, Fredricksburg, Va., circa 1940s

(HipPostcard) — E. Lee Trinkle Library, Mary Washington College, Fredricksburg, Va., circa 1940s

He also designed classrooms, dormitories, and the Trinkle Library at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Converse and Cleveland dormitories at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, and Virginia Hall, Lindsey-Montague Hall, Colson Hall, Langston Hall, and the President’s House at Virginia State University in Ettrick, Virginia. These handsome collegiate buildings, in his assured Colonial Revival style, confirm his place in guiding the architectural character of these Virginia campuses.

[VPVH] — Gould residence prior to 1939

[VPVH] — Gould residence prior to 1939

When demolition of the former Gould residence began in 1939, Watts moved his offices to temporary quarters at 3007 Parkwood Avenue; the women’s department relocated to 3154 Ellwood Avenue. Work progressed sufficiently to allow the executive offices and home work department to move into the new building in March 1941. Work continued until the facility was completed in August, 1941.

(VDHR) — 1941 dedication photo — note the urn ornament atop the central pedestal above the door

(VDHR) — 1941 dedication photo — note the urn ornament atop the central pedestal above the door

The new quarters were formally dedicated on September 25, 1941. Among the speakers was R. S. Hummel, State Administrator of the Works Progress Administration, who offered his congratulations to Watts and the Commission, and to the WPA workers, in recognition of the quality of the work.

(Library of Virginia) — Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr.

(Library of Virginia) — Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr.

In 1958, recognizing the need to expand the facility at 3003 Parkwood Avenue, Governor Almond authorized the expenditure of $193,820 for a major addition that would house a regional Braille lending library to serve the blind residents of Virginia and Maryland. Although Walford had died in 1956, the Commission looked to his firm, Walford & Wright, to guide the expansion.

April 2020 — note the difference in ornamentation of the 1958 entryways & the 1941 entry above

April 2020 — note the difference in ornamentation of the 1958 entryways & the 1941 entry above

The Bass Construction Company applied for a building permit on November 10, 1958, with plans by Walford & Wright, Architects, that would essentially double the size of the building by extending the rear portion of the building and constructing a wing similar in scale and parallel to the portion of the original building fronting on Parkwood Avenue. The addition was designed to be indistinguishable from the original portion, but with simpler treatment of the doors and entrances, and with an exterior basement entrance.

April 2020 — courtyard entryway

April 2020 — courtyard entryway

In 1980, the Virginia Commission for the Blind became the Virginia Department for the Visually Handicapped and relocated to the current offices on Azalea Avenue in Henrico County. The facility at 3003 Parkwood Avenue was sold into private ownership. Plans from 1983 illustrate its conversion to Parkwood Manor, a retirement home. The potential new owner plans to preserve and rehabilitate the former Commission for the Blind as an apartment building. (VDHR)

April 2020

April 2020

A prediction that came true! The former Commission building is known by the moniker The Parkwood, offering luxury apartments for rent.

(Virginia Commission for the Blind is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [VPVH] Virginia’s Program for the Visually Handicapped. John. B. Cunningham. 1940.

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Arts & Entertainment

The Valentine acquires entire photo archive of now-defunct publication Style Weekly

“From ‘Top 40 under 40’ to ‘You’re Very Richmond If…,’ the Style Weekly collection provides a unique perspective on a transformative period in Richmond’s history. It was a key element in supporting the emergence of a new and vital cultural community. It will be a key source as we begin to understand this important moment in our history.”

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The Valentine has added the extensive photograph archive of Style Weekly to its holdings, the Richmond institution announced in a news release this afternoon.

The acquisition follows the Valentine’s mission to collect, preserve and share Richmond history, and strengthens the museum’s focus on objects that represent the city’s most defined narratives and lesser-told stories.

The donation includes the entirety of Style Weekly’s photograph archives, including prints, negatives, slides, and some digital photographs, as well as bound issues of the publication from its founding in 1982 to 2016. The Style collection joins the Valentine’s vast archive of images, manuscripts, books, artifacts, costumes, and textiles.

“This is a major addition to our archives, and an addition we’re excited to utilize to engage Richmond audiences with the city’s history,” says Bill Martin, the Valentine’s Director. “Having a contiguous [photo] archive spanning more than a century will allow us to better present and interpret big-picture Richmond stories.”

Martin continues, “From ‘Top 40 under 40’ to ‘You’re Very Richmond If…,’ the Style Weekly collection provides a unique perspective on a transformative period in Richmond’s history. It was a key element in supporting the emergence of a new and vital cultural community. It will be a key source as we begin to understand this important moment in our history.”

“We were thrilled to partner with The Valentine in order to preserve the impactful work of Style Weekly,” said Kris Worrell, editor-in-chief of Virginia Media, the former owner of the magazine. “Now the public will have access to images of Richmond’s vibrant arts, culture, and political scenes, as the city evolved over the past 40 years.”

The Style Weekly collection will take years before it is cataloged, digitized, and publicly accessible. Special project funds will be needed to process this vast new acquisition. Additionally, beginning in late 2021, the Valentine will limit access to all of its holdings during its planned renovation of storage and research facilities.

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Downtown

New Valentine Museum exhibit “Breathing Places” tells the story of Richmond’s carefully crafted greenspaces

The Valentine’s newest exhibition Breathing Places: Park & Recreation in Richmond opens at the museum on May 5th and explores the design, use, and evolution of Richmond’s many parks, recreation areas, and natural spaces.

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The Valentine’s newest exhibition Breathing Places: Park & Recreation in Richmond opens at the museum on May 5th and explores the design, use, and evolution of Richmond’s many parks, recreation areas, and natural spaces. Over the last 170 years, the region has developed and maintained these greenspaces for some residents while limiting and denying access to others. The new exhibition will explore this complex story while providing a window into the ongoing effects on residents today.

“Breathing Places both celebrates and critically examines a central part of community life,” said Christina K. Vida, the Elise H. Wright Curator of General Collections. “As spring approaches and Richmonders with access take to their local parks, fields and yards, it’s the perfect time to explore the histories of those important spaces.”

The exhibition’s title comes from an 1851 recommendation by Richmond’s Committee on Public Squares, which advised “securing breathing places in the midst of the city or convenient to it.” This recommendation would have dramatic (and disproportionate) impacts on Richmonders.

The debut of Breathing Places comes on the heels of the Valentine welcoming visitors back to the museum with new outdoor programming, spring and summer events and more.

“As residents and visitors alike begin to return downtown to enjoy many of the greenspaces they’ve missed for over a year, now is the ideal time to open this exhibition,” said Valentine Director Bill Martin. “Breathing Places is not only an opportunity to fully explore the history of parks and recreation, but to inspire visitors to experience these spaces for themselves while considering how we can improve community access going forward.”

Breathing Places will also include a slideshow of rotating images featuring community-submitted photos. Richmonders (both individuals and organizations) can submit images of themselves, their families or their friends enjoying greenspaces across the region.

Breathing Places: Parks & Recreation in Richmond will be on display on the Lower Level of the Valentine from May 5, 2021 through January 30, 2022.

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Education

Great Depression brought to life through interactive photo collection now available through UR’s Digital Scholarship Lab

Photogrammar is an open-access, web-based tool that allows users to easily navigate and engage with 170,000 photographs taken between 1935-1943.

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The University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab and Distant Viewing Lab has released a new project that gives its users the ability to explore what life was like in America during the Great Depression and World War II.

Photogrammar is an open-access, web-based tool that allows users to easily navigate and engage with 170,000 photographs taken between 1935-1943.

Photos can be browsed by categories that were assigned in the 1940s, from expansive themes like “Work” to far more targeted slices of life, society, and the economy during the Depression era like “Dancing,” “Strikes,” and “Abandoned Mines.” Users can also zero in on photos of their own communities from 80 years ago through an interactive map.

“This project allows anyone to experience some of the most iconic images of the era by photographers like Dorothea Langea and Walker Evans as well as others rarely seen before,” said Lauren Tilton, assistant professor of digital humanities and project director.

“What began as an initiative to support and justify government programs put into place to foster the country’s recovery from the Great Depression, these photographers quickly expanded their vision and set out to document America,” she added.

The image collection was originally digitized in the 1990s by the Library of Congress, and in 2010, Tilton and University of Richmond statistics professor Taylor Arnold began the Photogrammar project with a team at Yale University. Tilton and Arnold joined UR in 2016, and the project has continued to evolve with their guidance, being supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and American Council for Learned Societies.

Photogrammar is the latest installation in UR’s Digital Scholarship Lab’s award-winning American Panaroma: An Atlas of United States History. From immigration and federal urban policy to slavery and electoral politics, American Panorama features data-rich, interactive mapping projects that are a go-to resource for journalists, policymakers, educators, and citizens alike.

“From the moment it launched a decade ago, Photogrammar has been a groundbreaking project,” said Rob Nelson, director of UR’s Digital Scholarship Lab. “The photographic archive behind it offers an incredible window into all aspects of life in Depression-era America. We are very excited to have this new version as part of American Panorama. ”

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