Beta House blues? Council blocks $21 million bond issue
Contrary to a front page headline in the Daily Progress yesterday that read, "Council Blocks Sale of Beta House" (they have since corrected the headline online, although Google did capture the original) Council did not block the sale of the property on which the Robert Compton House, a.k.a Beta House sits; the Jefferson Scholars Foundation bought the property in February for $3 million. Council did, however, block the Foundation's access to the $21 million in bond financing already approved by the County's Industrial Development Authority.
As this week's On Architecture column explains, preservationists are concerned that the Foundation plans to demolish the Compton House to make way for its new $21 million headquarters. According to UVA architectural historian Daniel Bluestone, Foundation president James Wright has known about these concerns for some time; indeed, Bluestone says he let Wright know of the importance of the house, designed by famed local architect Eugene Bradbury, shortly after he learned of the sale in February.
However, at last Monday's City Council meeting, Wright showed little concern for the building, saying, "We are not, as a foundation, in the business of historic preservation," according to an archived video of the meeting. Wright, who appears agitated by Council's decision to block the low-interest financing, said the Foundation had not yet decided what to do with the building, or even if preserving it would be a priority. Bob Moje of VMDO architects, who will be designing the new headquarters, also spoke, saying without an investigation into the "viability" of the house, it was too early to say if it should be saved.
"They said they didn't know what they were going to do," Mayor David Brown told the Hook. "And we said, well, come back when you do know."
Initially, Brown had thought there was little the city or county could do to stop the demolition of the Compton House, considering it's not been designated historic or located in an historic district. However, as the Mayor and his fellow councilors learned, because the property is located in the city, federal law requires that the city endorse the bond financing by the county before it can be approved.
"It's definitely a significant historic structure," says Brown. "And we want to know what they plan to do before we approve the bond issue."