Beta House comes down
Despite strong objections from local preservationists as well as from City Council, who denied additional bond financing to the Jefferson Scholars Foundation because they were not satisfied with efforts to consider preserving the Compton House (a.ka. Beta House), the Eugene Bradbury-designed private residence and fraternity house was reduced to a pile of rubble today.
To see recent photos of Beta House before the demo, click here.
From the start, the Jefferson Scholars seemed to show little interest in preserving the building at 124 Maury Avenue, despite repeated efforts from preservation activists like architectural historian Daniel Bluestone, who says he tried a number of times to contact Foundation president James Wright to encourage him to preserve the house. Bluestone says Wright never responded.
"We are not, as a foundation, in the business of historic preservation," Wright told City Council members at a September 17 meeting. Wright– who, according to several Council members, appeared physically agitated by Council's decision to block the requested financing– said then that the Foundation had not decided what to do with the building.
"It's definitely a significant historic structure," Mayor David Brown later told the Hook, "and we want to know what they plan to do before we approve the bond issue."
Following a diagnosis from project architect Bob Moje of VMDO Architects– who declared the house was too damaged to make historic renovation practical– the Jefferson Scholars Foundation applied for a permit to demolish the house. The Foundation also chose to avoid another confrontation with City Council by seeking additional funding elsewhere.
Although Moje admitted the structure was sound, he said the interior had been "decimated by 50 years of fraternity use." Moje described stair treads completely worn away, rooms haphazardly reconfigured, and completely unworkable electrical and plumbing systems.
"You wouldn't be restoring the house, you'd be recreating it," he said, "and to what purpose?"
That elicited a strong response from Preservation Piedmont's Aaron Wunsch, who pointed out that Moje was hardly a neutral judge, as his firm stood to make millions from the estimated $21 million project, a new headquarters for the Foundation.
"If he'd wanted to work this building into VMDO's design, he could easily have done so. Instead, he's given your readers an unpleasant display of partisanship bordering on hackery," Wunsch wrote in a letter to the Hook. " If this house is a patient on life support, Bob Moje is as qualified to pronounce on its condition as Bill Frist was to pronounce on Terri Schiavo's."