The old Victory Shoe Store façade, now SweetFrog frozen yogurt, as it looks today.
The old Victory Shoe Store façade
Two and a half years after the art-deco glass storefront of the old Victory Shoe Store on the Downtown Mall, now home to SweetFrog Frozen Yogurt, was unceremoniously demolished without official approval, the owner of the property has agreed to pay $16,000 to fund an effort to determine which properties on the Downtown Mall have historic value.
Downtown property owner Joe Gieck, the legendary athletic trainer at UVA, claimed the old facade was broken and unsafe, and while he understood why preservation loving folks would be upset, he decided to "err on the side of safety."
Asked via email if he thought the settlement was fair, Gieck says he thinks it was. So, were there any lessons learned from the ordeal?
"Bureaucracy overwhelms," Gieck deadpans.
To appease that bureaucracy, Gieck embarked on a renovation of the façade that his architects determined was more historically accurate than the demolished one. According to architect Kathy Galvin, in her pre-City Councilor days, the demolished store front was part of a 1947 renovation that altered an original 1921 design.
That logic didn't sit well with some historic preservationists, who pointed out that the whole point of preservation is to preserve what is.
"It is lost forever," noted former Board of Architectural Review member Eryn Brennan, "which is a tragedy.”
Gieck's payment was part of a deal worked out with the City Attorney's office, which had been pursuing him with a civil lawsuit at the request of city officials.
That may be small consolation to Ethel Crowe, whose Russian immigrant grandparents, Isaac and Freda Kobre, opened the Victory Shoe Store in 1921. As Crowe told the Hook at the time of the demo, her grandparents oversaw the 1947 remodeling and for the next 60 plus years, including the time that Crowe's parents, Bernie and Tillie (“Miss Tillie,” Crowe says people called her), ran the store.
Crowe and BAR members had argued for a restoration of the art-deco design, with one BAR member calling the replacement design that Geick brought forward a "fishing expedition." BAR member Brian Hogg demanded that Gieck "put back what you took out or come back with a design that better captures the original." Gieck ran with the latter.
"Obviously, it's impossible to replace a lost historic resource, says City preservation planner Mary Joy Scala. "We're pleased that a settlement has been reached and that the matter is finally resolved."