The approved design for the faÃ?Â§ade of the former Victory Shoe store is a victory for the circa 1921 original facade. PHOTO COURTESY GALVIN ARCHITECTS
The 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.
The 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.
...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.