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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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Must-See RVA! — John Marshall Courts Building

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

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May 2020
  • 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.

[ADR] — building in 1981 downtown survey

[ADR] — building in 1981 downtown survey

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.

(Montage) — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, undated

(Montage) — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, undated

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)

May 2020

May 2020

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.

(The Architect’s Newspaper) — McCormick Place, 1969-1971

(The Architect’s Newspaper) — McCormick Place, 1969-1971

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.

(YouTube) — screencap from Helmut Jahn, FAIA Lifetime Achievement Award

(YouTube) — screencap from Helmut Jahn, FAIA Lifetime Achievement Award

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)

May 2020

May 2020

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.

(Newspapers.com) — Helmut Jahn’s MetroWest building in Naperville, Illinois —Chicago Tribune Sunday, March 2, 1986

(Newspapers.com) — Helmut Jahn’s MetroWest building in Naperville, Illinois —Chicago Tribune Sunday, March 2, 1986

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]

May 2020

May 2020

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.

May 2020

May 2020

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.

May 2020

May 2020

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.

(Rocket Werks RVA Postcards) — John Marshall High School

(Rocket Werks RVA Postcards) — John Marshall High School

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)


Note

  • A shout-out to Ray Bonis & Harry Kollatz for their tips and input on the courts building!

Print Sources

  • [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.

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Wayback RVA — Dreyer’s Studio

A Then & Now photo essay of Richmond places from around the area.

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Dreyer’s Studio
611 E. Broad Street
Richmond, VA.

June 2, 1923
Doug & Reg

Little angels.

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!


(Dreyer’s Studio is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


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History

Library of Virginia Wants Your Pandemic-Related Sign Photos

The signs of the times are very different from pervious signs.

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The Library of Virginia is currently collecting images of COVID-19-related signage from the public through a “Signs of the Time: COVID-19 in Virginia” Tumblr page (va-signsofthetime.tumblr.com).

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.

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