Docu-demo: Lumber building gone, but not forgotten
In December, the old Charlottesville Lumber building on Avon Street was lost, demolished in dramatic fashion by Parham Construction. But thanks to members of Preservation Piedmont, it was not forgotten.
Alarmed by such architectural losses, the non-profit launched a program in 2004 called "Document Before Demolish," which seeks to record endangered buildings with photos, field notes, and drawings before they come down. However, because the city has yet to officially adopt the program, Preservation Piedmont members have taken it upon themselves to do the documenting.
Unfortunately for preservationists, the 116-year old lumber building, home to businesses as recently as last spring, fell just yards outside the boundary of the Downtown Architectural Design Control district, which protects the circa-1885 Beck-Cohen building next door. In 2008, the old lumber building also slipped through the cracks of a city-wide effort to protect century-old buildings. According to city preservation planner Mary Joy Scala, the building wasn’t recommended by any of the experts called on during the 2008 survey.
However, according to Preservation Piedmont president Eryn Brennan, the building was surely significant enough to document. While the current owners of the building (the Nunley family, who own Better Living) wouldn’t allow Brennan and her team to go inside, they couldn't stop the researchers from casing the joint from the street–- taking measurements, making drawings, taking photographs, and peering in the windows to try to get an accurate record just a week before the structure went down.
“It’s an unfortunate loss,” says Brennan, “but at least there’s a record of it, of Charlottesville’s modest industrial history.”
Brennan says that numerous additions wrapped around the original timber frame construction of the building, and that the Ã¢â?¬Ë?monitor roof’ on its peak was unique for the period. As Brennan explains, such additions were a way of bringing more light and space to roof-top spaces at a time when wooden roof beams (no metal roof trusses back then) could only span short distances before becoming unsafe.
“If people could have seen a building like this restored,” says Brennan, “it would have been great.”
Skip Willis, a neon artist who keeps his studio in the Beck-Cohen building, of which he is co-owner, wonders why the building next door was so hastily demolished, considering the owners have no immediate plans to develop the property. Nunley family representative Caroline Nunley Satira has said the building was brought down because it was unsafe, but Willis points out that the Better Living mill shop was operating there just a few months before the building was demolished. As Willis opined, the family probably wanted to “get it down as quickly as possible” before anyone tried to enact legal measures to block the demolition.
Regardless, because the building was not protected, the Nunleys had every right to take it down.
Still, as Brennan points out, while moments like this might make a preservationist weep, they are also calls to action.
“Hopefully, it’s this kind of event that becomes a tool for casting our eyes wider to see what’s in danger out there,” she says. “So we can preempt this kind of thing in the future.”