ONARCHITECTURE- Designated dozen: City to enforce historic preservation?

Demo-mission: The Fry's Spring Service Station on JPA is one of 12 properties the city wants to protect, like it or not, from the wrecking ball.

Following the demolition of the Eugene Bradbury-designed Compton House (a.k.a Beta House) on Maury Avenue late last year, City Council seems poised to reverse a key policy regarding historic designations– a policy change that has already raised the hackles of some property owners and that may affect a major road project.

In January, Council directed the Board of Architectural Review to come up with a list of key historic properties prioritized based on the threat of demolition. The BAR reviewed hundreds of such properties, compiled by city preservation planner Mary Joy Scala, and last week unanimously selected 12 for special protection.  

The list includes, in order, the Former Coca-Cola Bottling Works on 10th Street, Holy Temple Church of God in Christ on Rosser Avenue, McIntire Park, the Patterson Wing of Martha Jefferson Hospital, the former Belmont Hall on Dale Avenue, the Coca-Cola Bottling Company building on Preston, the Wachovia Bank on Emmet Street, the former Monticello Dairy Building on Grady Avenue, the C&O Coal Tower, Zion Union Baptist Church on Preston Avenue, Fry's Spring Service Station on JPA, and the Fry's Spring Beach Club on Jefferson Park Avenue. 

According to Scala, however, the BAR deferred final decisions on McIntire Park and Zion Union Baptist Church.

McIntire Park was deferred so that the BAR could formulate better criteria for recommending historic open spaces like parks and cemeteries, explains BAR vice chair Syd Knight. "Right now, the criteria we're supposed to consider are written to apply to buildings, not landscapes," he says. 

As Scala explains, the Board wants a determination about whether aspects of the park– such as the golf course, the wadding pool, and the Vietnam Memorial (the first such memorial in the country)– deserve protection. Of course, protected status for McIntire Park could mean additional road blocks for the planned Meadowcreek Parkway and Interchange project, which cuts through the golf course and would require moving the memorial.  

As for the Zion Union Baptist Church, says Knight, it's simply a matter of gathering more information about its history.

If City Council, after a joint public hearing with the Planning Commission this summer, okays the list, the properties will be added to the city's current list of 66 Individually Protected Properties (IPP). In essence, an IPP designation protects the property from demolition or alteration by giving the BAR the same review power it would have if the property were located in a designated historic district. 

In the past, City Council asked property owners for their permission to make IPP designations, but the loss of the Compton House "raised concern about other unprotected City landmarks," Scala writes in a staff report on the selected properties. Now it appears that Council is prepared to enforce these IPP designations.

"I'm really excited that these 12 are being discussed," says Scala. "They're really important."

However, even the president of the Fry's Springs Beach Club (#12), a not-for-profit club along Old Lynchburg Road that was originally built as a hotel resort in 1890, admits he's conflicted about the policy change. 

"I see it as generally a positive for us, as one of the main objectives of the club's board is to protect and preserve the property," says Ed Gillaspie.  

However, after speaking with Scala, he bristles at the idea of such a designation being forced on club members. 

"Now, we have the freedom to judge for ourselves what's best for the club," he says, "but the designation means that we'll have to give up our ability to control the property to a governmental entity. That bothers me. I see that as a taking away of our rights." 

For the owners of the circa-1937 Monticello Dairy Building on Grady Avenue (#8), a decidedly for-profit enterprise, the designation is troublesome as well. Like Gillaspie, property manager Mike Morris raises the hot-button issue of "property rights" when discussing the possible designation. 

"The owners understand the City's desire to protect the building," says Morris, "but we're worried about the future development potential of the property."      

Morris says there are no immediate plans to develop the old dairy, but after learning of its inclusion on the list, he says he successfully lobbied Scala's office to designate only the original core of the building to limit restrictions on the development of the rest of the four-acre property. 

"Ideally, we'd like to keep control of the whole property," he admits, "but we're glad the whole building isn't being designated."

Now that historic designation seems imminent, Morris and company appear to be using it to their advantage. They've been lobbying the City to designate the triangle of land in front of the building– which they do not own, and which they worry might be developed– as green space, arguing that it will preserve the "site view" of the newly designated historic Monticello Dairy Building.

Avid architecture-watchers may recall that when he was mayor during the early 21st Century, Maurice Cox attempted to get his fellow City Councilors to support a plan to put condos on that triangle.

Across town, the folks at Martha Jefferson Hospital aren't exactly ecstatic about the designation of the original circa-1929 Patterson Wing (#4) of the hospital. 

The hospital is planning to move to a new location on Pantops in 2012, and is currently seeking to partner with a developer to turn its existing nine-acre Locust Avenue site into a mixed use development. Plans for the existing site, including the Patterson Wing, are still "up in the air," says Hospital spokesperson Steve Bowers.

Still, Bowers says the hospital has "no objection" to the designation, as saving the building appears to be consistent with its own efforts to preserve the neighborhood. 

"We think the Patterson Wing will set a nice architectural tone for the neighborhood," he says.

Still, when ask if he's happy about being selected, Bowers chuckled and called that characterization "a stretch."