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Downtown

Must-See RVA! — Brinser Building

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

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May 2020
  • 208 East Grace Street
  • Built, 1930
  • Architect, H. Carl Messerschmidt

An overlooked Art Deco gem on Grace

May 2020

May 2020

For O. P. Brinser, Carl Messerschmidt created a jewel of architectural ornamentation. No other small building in the city has such a lavish display of sculpted decoration.

May 2020 — showing early Christian design ornamentation

May 2020 — showing early Christian design ornamentation

The style of the building was assertively modern with vertical pylons and an unusual central entrance. The ornamentation is related peculiarly to early Christian design motifs.

(Getty Images) — Deer, peacocks and grapevines, mosaic in the early Christian basilica in the city of Heraclea Lyncestis

(Getty Images) — Deer, peacocks and grapevines, mosaic in the early Christian basilica in the city of Heraclea Lyncestis

Traditionally, the grapes and vine were symbolic of either holy communion or drinking and revelry. The second interpretation was unlikely in Prohibition era Richmond. The first is inappropriate for a commercial building.

May 2020

May 2020

Art Deco ornamentation is concerned rarely with meaning or symbolism. It has been enjoyed for its decorative properties alone. This is clearly the case here.

[ADR] — building in 1981 downtown survey

[ADR] — building in 1981 downtown survey

The signage on the building is an almost perfect example of what a sign should not be and where it should not be located.

May 2020 — composite showing scarring from previous signage

May 2020 — composite showing scarring from previous signage

Moreover, numerous holes in the superb decoration indicated that this is not the first bad sign. Poor signs defacing fine buildings are a recurrent theme in American downtowns. [ADR]

May 2020

May 2020

Grace Street is littered with cool little buildings like this one — small commercial spaces constructed with actual time spent considering the aesthetics of the thing. Foster Studios or the Cokesbury Building just two blocks away are other examples.

(Brinser Building is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)


Print Sources

  • [ADR] Architecture in Downtown Richmond. Robert P. Winthrop. 1982.

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