Art-deco ditched: Mauled facade to get historic treatment

onarch-victory-design0913The approved design for the fa�§ade of the former Victory Shoe store is a victory for the circa 1921 original facade. PHOTO COURTESY GALVIN ARCHITECTS
onarch-victory-design0913The approved design for the fa§ade of the former Victory Shoe store is a victory for the circa 1921 original fa§ade. PHOTO COURTESY GALVIN ARCHITECTS

Last November, city officials called the un-permitted demolition of the art-deco inspired fa§ade of the former Victory Shoe Store on the Downtown Mall 'inexcusable,’ the unique curved glass panels destroyed 'irreplaceable,’ and sought to fine property owner Joe Gieck and force him to rebuild what was destroyed. Outraged Architectural Review Board members called it a “big loss” and an “extremely unique, and a special part of the Mall.” And that was nothing compared to how a family member of the original owners felt.

“It has made me so sick, I can’t tell you what it has done to us,” said Ethel Crowe, whose Russian immigrant grandparents, Isaac and Freda Kobre, opened the store at 219 West Main Street in 1921.

While the City’s Attorney’s office has yet to make a decision about levying a fine, the BAR has changed course and approved a new fa§ade design that looks nothing like the one that was destroyed.

Has an un-permitted demolition led, ironically, to a more historically accurate fa§ade?

When Gieck and property manager Bill Rice faced the BAR during the debacle, they pointed out that the demolished facade wasn’t original to the building, that it had actually been added in 1947 and altered several times since then. BAR members gave them two options: put back what they took out or come back with a design proposal that better captures the 1921 original.

After that confrontation, Gieck hired local architect Kathy Galvin and former city planner Ashley Cooper to craft a design proposal. The two researched the history of the store-front and determined that re-creating the 1921 fa§ade was actually the more appropriate choice.

“The original 1921 fa§ade actually fits in better with the Mall, if you look at it,” says Cooper.

victoryshoestore-webThe circa 1947 art deco renovation of the fa§ade was a familiar image on the Downtown Mall... HISTORIC PHOTO

"Along the block, the Victory Shoe store building was the “odd one out,” says Galvin, “and we weren’t just rationalizing. Keeping that curved glass design became debatable as time went on.”

Galvin says that a re-creation of the curved glass fa§ade would have been cost-prohibitive, but more importantly, she says, it would not have been true to the original.

Still, Cooper admits that taking the job involved "navigating a delicate situation." As the destruction caused plenty of hurt feelings, Cooper led off with an apology before their February 16 presentation to the BAR.

“This was painful on one level,” says Galvin, “but an opportunity on another. The challenge was to convey [to the BAR] that we were earnest in creating an appropriate fa§ade after the mistake that was made.”

For example, Galvin points out that there was a large false wall above and behind the awning on the building, made of thin wood, where there was once a row of glass panels. Indeed, over the fa§ade of nearby Escaf©, one sees a similar pattern of windows. The new store-front will also echo other classic Mall store-fronts, like the one at New Dominion Bookshop.

onarch-victoryshoestore-web...until it was suddenly demolished over the weekend of November 7 last year. FILE PHOTO BY DAVE MCNAIR

Clearly, BAR members were impressed by the presentation, as Chair Fred Wolf, who had originally suggested that replacement of the art-deco store-front was the only solution, admitted he was impressed with the amount of research and historic detail in the presentation.

Still, while the re-creation of the 1921 fa§ade might make good design sense, wasn’t the unique 1947 art-deco modification the thing that everyone was so upset about losing? The point's not lost on BAR member and Preservation Piedmont president Eryn Brennan.

“Approving this fa§ade doesn’t diminish the outrage I feel about demolishing a historic storefront on the Downtown Mall,” says Brennan. “The demolished facade was the better facade because it was the historic facade–- and it is lost forever, which is a tragedy.”

As Brennan points out, whatever is put in its place, whether it is a 1920s facade or a 1940s facade, it’s a reconstruction. Brennan would have preferred–- though she concedes it's unrealistic–- to see the building stabilized and the fa§ade left bare.

“As a reminder that this historic moment is gone forever,” she says, “and that everyone pays the price when a property owner flagrantly disregards protective measures put in place by its own community.”

The new tenant plans on opening a frozen yogurt shop, says Galvin. Construction on the new fa§ade is scheduled to begin sometime in April, and should be completed in the earlier summer.


P.S. to C.C. and others:

I think that some of you may be confusing some nearby properties whose origins and fates differ from that Of Grigg's little office.

"confused" suggested that Milton Grigg's ex-HQ was illegally demolished. The little very-old-style building Grigg designed and built at 910 West Main was demolished in or about 1993. But I believe that City authorities signed off on that demolition.

What they did not sign off on was the demolition, one block further west, of two,small, tall and skinny, very local early 19th century buildings that stood on West Main just west of 10th Street as it became first "the 10th Street connector" and then "Roosevelt Brown Boulevard."

The truly old buildings were demolished by Parham Construction hours after they filed an obviously bogus "application" for demolition late on a Friday afternoon, minutes before they did the deed. They were tried. They paid a fine. It was frittered away -- in my opinion -- when half of it was dropped down the Paramount money pit.

Although people objected to demolishing Milton Grigg's HQ a block east of the early 19th century structures -- and did so in large part because they believed that Grigg's HQ was much, much, much older than it really was -- the demolition was in fact approved by authorities.

To all of this I would just add that all those who attack City authorities for caring too much about history, trees, etc., are not paying anything remotely resemling appropriate attention. When a tree, a creek, an old house, etc. is challenged, City Councilors make huge noise and put on a huge show. But they never, never, EVER, do the right thing subsequently. Please, people, do your homework; follow through.

There was the front of the building that is now the Paramount. Lee Danielson let that one fall down and got a slap but nothing more.

In 2002, there was a well publicized discussion of the brown paint that was to be applied to the exterior of Fellini's. No fine if I recall, but that discussion surely didn't escape the notice of anyone owning property downtown and it would be clear from that that there were rules that would apply to facade removal.

The destruction of the building that used to house Back Alley Disk on Main Street led to a small fine despite both it's age and its association with an important local architect. Floyd Johnson I think, can't recall for sure, nothing to remember it by anymore. Just a slap again. It was done without a permit and hastily, just like the Victory facade. I'm sure others can join in with their memories.

At least the Victory Shoe Store didn't go down in a suspicious fire, which has provide a few opportunities for redevelopment around here. Some buildings, like the one to the left of Miller's on the Mall, almost certainly wouldn't be what they are today if good ole dumb luck, or something like that, hadn't opened up some development opportunities. Moore's Lumber on Carlton was another one of those.

Jim, there were plenty of cautionary tales already, but that didn't stop someone from destroying a protected facade. The biggest problem with those cautionary tales is that they didn't have subplots speaking of very much pain on the part of people who chose to outfox the process. We can hope, but I doubt this one will be any different.

Your chance of getting away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist is much greater if you hire someone with inside connections like "former city planner Ashley Cooper." That's a cynical move on Geick's part. This should be followed closely by anyone who wants to see how things really work around here.


Like what? I'm not being a smart arse, I just can't recall any in 10-15 years that caused this much of an outrcy.

Careful St. Halsey, using your brain is frowned upon around here.

Somebody,-- tear down that tacky, 60's Central Fidelity thing. It was ugly then, and it would take a corrupt politicians to allow for it to be re-used today.

So the project getting tied up for months didn't cost enough for you? This, even if the owner is "wrong," has gone on too long and a large fine now would seem like double jeopardy almost. Maybe if the controls on businesses downtown weren't so tight there wouldn't be so many empty stores. I can think of one that would probably be open right now...

If adults get away with destruction of property, you send a powerful message to kids. There needs to be a significant fine for this behavior.

Antoinette, wasn't Grigg's building on Main actually a renovation of or addition to a much older building.


According to all I've just read and seen -- including Grigg's own drawings for the building -- Milton Grigg designed and built ut from scratch.

He has just spent four years working as a draftsman on the restoration/recreation of Colonial Williamsburg. He was steeped in Early American style and construction techniques. (On his own time, he made some wonderful sketches of both whole buildings and details that interested him.) He was just very good at creating new buildings that looked like old buildings.

AFter Grigg moved his firm to another location, however, subsequent owners did enlarge what he'd built in 1933.

Even if there isn't a fine it has cost the owner plenty by sitting empty for all these months. Getting the right design is more important. The next owner who thinks that losing 6-8 months rent is a significant hit will view this as a cautionary tale to be sure

After giving me a hard time all day, the 1920 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map just deigned to download. In the location of Milton Grigg's 1933 HQ immediately west of 9th Street on West Main, it shows a tall, skinny, two-story wood-frame building -- in other words, something appropriate to the place and time and completely irrelevant to what Milton Grigg designed and built on the site 13 years later.

The handsome little building that many remember as home to Back Alley Disk was designed and built by nationally prominent architect and preservationist Milton LaTour Grigg (1905-1982)in 1933. It served as his office until the 1970s. Floyd E. Johnson, who would establish a distinguished career of his own, was Grigg's partner from 1937 to 1941.

Milton Grigg's life and career, which touched every corner of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, are showcased in the current issue of Magazine of Albemarle County History (the annual publication of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society). Along with many other illustrations, that package of food for preservation thought includes a photograph Grigg himself took of his first headquarters in the 1960s.

I love that we never want to modernize. I keep wondering when slavery is coming back to this village. After all, TJ had slaves and he was always right. Right?

I guess the lack of modernizing explains why 70% of the people on the mall smoke. Nothing like a cig every 10 minutes to perk you right up.

Why did the city remove the canopy covers that were collapsing on the abandoned/empty big buildings attached to Wachovia? Did one of them fall and injure a pedestrian? Oh well. It pains me to see those historic rusty chunks of metal gone. Can we sue?

Dumb me, not the Paramount, the Regal. Don't know what I was thinking there and of course I only noticed as my post popped up.

Jim, there would have been nothing to "drag on so long" had Mr Gieck not destroyed the facade of the building with malice aforethought. Blame the perpetrator, not the governing body that has to help clean up the mess he made.

CC, point taken regarding Ashley Cooper. But there's enough conflict of interest among the BAR members alone to insure that their decisions will always be toothless. Architects aren't going to be too brave if they're worrying about their future commissions from business owners and developers.

There is no doubt that the BAR involvment plays a significant role whenever any business considers opening up downtown. It also plays a big role whenever anyone is thinking of buying real estate there also.

THe board should strive to appear MORE than fair and transpaerent in all its dealings.


I see your point but that's not where my argument stems. I'm sure that given hindsight the facade never would have been destroyed. But he has paid plenty for doing it, and is definitely an example of a good reason not to jump the gun altering any facade downtown. That cautionary tale to future downtown business owners is well documented. It seems it would be in the best interest of most of us not having arguments about it on the internet to get it over with as quickly as possible.

What of the fine, did that ever happen? If not, why?

I agree with Ms Brennan, that Mr Gieck should have been made to restore what he destroyed. While I understand what the BAR is trying to do here, they run the risk of being seen as too wishy-washy. That's the last thing we need need in a town full of "intellectual hatin'" black & white thinking property rights nuts.

I suspect this was a difference of opinion between preservationists and designers. Property owners know they have a good chance of going before the BAR and coming away with a soft tap on the wrist. There needs to be a predictably hard fine and immediate restoration of facade. Every single time.

What's the point of all these ordinances if you aren't going to enforce them . I agree, what about the fine? We need to make people, like Joe Gieck, pay a substantial sum to discourage others from doing this-they know better.