Beta House forgotten already?

How quickly we forget. In a Daily Progress story today about the new $21 million Jefferson Scholars Foundation headquarters (photo bottom right), a 25,000-square-foot complex to be built on the site of the former Eugene Bradbury-designed Beta House/Compton House (photo left) on Maury Avenue, it's mentioned that the "project drew criticism over the past year from several local historic preservationists who denounced the foundation's decision to demolish a 93-year-old house to make way for the new structure."

And that's it.

In fact, Charlottesville's own preservation and design planner, Mary Joy Scala, called the demolition of the Beta House "a lost opportunity to demonstrate that preservation is the cornerstone of sustainability." Former mayor David Brown suggested that City Council was misled by the Foundation, pointing out that there was no mention of a possible demolition while the group was seeking $18 million in bond financing for the project. Brown told the Hook in January that Council members believed that a foundation bearing Jefferson's name and associated with UVA would surely be dedicated to historic preservation. "Who would have thought it was their intent to tear it down?" he asked.

During a January 7 City Council meeting, Dave Norris, Satyendra Huja, Holly Edwards, and Julian Taliaferro all appeared to be in favor of better protecting historic properties based on the city's experience with the Beta House demo.

Responding to disgruntled preservationists in the crowd, Brown said, "I deeply regret we didn't take a closer look."

The incident also prompted the city to develop a new category of historic oversight, a kind of "historic district lite" to provide a better level of protection for buildings like Beta House. In fact, during that January 7 Council meeting, Scala presented a list of over 100 historic and architecturally significant properties to be considered for protected status, such as the Coca Cola bottling plant on Preston Avenue and the Fry Springs Service Station. "A successful historic preservation program must rely on regulation to prevent worst-case scenarios like destruction of the Beta House," she told Council.

Meanwhile, work is scheduled to begin on the new Jefferson Scholars headquarters this summer. The Foundation is also seeking the coveted gold-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, a nationally recognized standard of excellence for environmentally friendly construction.

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6 comments

It was an old frat house in the very middle of a very central property. Building around it would have made no sense. Moving it would have been exorbitantly expensive, and may have destroyed it anyway. It didn't have the space nor the floor layout to work as anything but a house. I saw a house very much like it on Rugby Road a few days ago.

There should absolutely be a movement to preserve historic structures. Making a stink over a very logical and understandable demolition hurts the cause for buildings that can be adapted and should be saved.

Rugby Rd is no longer safe either....UVA's next move will be to purchase and tear down those old houses calling them 'distressed'.

I'm glad my argument was air-tight enough that you had to move onto a throw-away comment about Rugby Road. Tells me tearing down that house made sense.

And I'll go ahead and dare UVa to buy privately owned, well-maintained houses in the Rugby Road neighborhood. The fight for those would keep UVa from crawling ever bigger.

They'd better hurry. I saw a for sale sign on the Fry's Spring Service Station last week.

Really? An old fraternity house? What is historic about it? Nothing.

What happened to property rights?

What is historic is what has been written about in many previous articles and in many blog discussions. Ignorance is no excuse for ignorant posts. Property rights don't allow us to develop Arlington Cemetery into condominiums. Insipid arguments don't make stupid decisions intelligent.