ONARCHITECTURE- Downtown ground: Relics saved, new towers rise

The Mall could be torn up next year, but one of its famous relics is safe and sound. In May, the City auctioned off the Mall's old kiosk (seen here when it was a flower shop), and one lucky bidder now has an unusual pool-side bar.

While the fate of the Mall rests in the balance– later this month City Council will decide whether its bricks will be torn up and replaced next year– one of its long-time fixtures rests safe and sound. 

"It's just going to go away," said chief planner Jim Tolbert, speaking to the Hook in March about the old kiosk in front of CVS ["Scrap heap: Iconic Mall kiosk set for demise, March 20]. "It's going to be removed and scrapped... but if someone wanted it, if they'd be willing to haul it away, they could take it."

That little blurb prompted a half-dozen calls to the Hook editorial office from people hoping to take Tolbert up on his offer. And Tolbert said he fielded a dozen calls on his own. 

"I just wanted it for my backyard," said downtown resident Pete Rainey, one of the folks who contacted the Hook. "I thought it would look kind of cool back there."

However, by mid-April, the City had removed the custom-made structure and changed its mind about giving it away, opting instead to take bids. 

Rightly so. In addition to being custom-built by Gaston & Wyatt cabinet makers with western red cedar and capped with a copper roof and counter (the structure cost $15,000-$20,000), the kiosk was actually one of the first "developments" on the Mall. 

In the early 1990s, developer Lee Danielson– who's now backing the $30 million Landmark Hotel with investor Halsey Minor– secured permission from the city for the kiosk, and SNL Financial founder Reid Nagle paid to have it built (its design was actually based on a sketch Danileson gave the builders) and hired someone to run it as a newsstand. 

Eventually, Nagle– busy growing SNL into a worldwide financial info company– donated the kiosk to the City.

Since then, it's been many things– a tobacco shop, a gift shop, a news stand again– and most recently a flower shop. One time, Orbit Billiards owner Andrew Vaughan tried turning it into a happening nightspot, but he wasn't able to secure a liquor license. 

For the last two years, it was home to Secret Gardens, a flower shop owned by local musician and flower designer Betty Jo Dominick. But Dominick, who called it a "magnet for loitering" and said it simply wasn't "economically feasible" to operate out of the kiosk, finally called it quits.  

In a sealed-bid auction in early May, three bids were finally submitted, and Keswick resident Richard Hewitt walked away with the structure for $2,011. Like Rainey, Hewitt wanted it for his backyard, to use as a pool-side bar.

Now that it's there, Hewitt says he's busy "admiring" the famous Charlottesville artifact, which he admits was more difficult to transport than he had imagined.  

"I'm happy it found a good home," he says.

If and when the City decides to tear up and replace the bricks on the Mall, there could be another opportunity to snag a few old Mall icons. 

During the last public meeting on the proposed Mall renovation, Tolbert assured the crowd that the existing brick would be re-used, and even floated the idea of a kiosk-like give-away.

"We could take them to the street ends," he said of the old bricks, "...and say, 'come get it, take all you want.'"

Unless, of course, there's enough public interest in the idea:" "A dollar a brick, do I hear two dollars a brick? Going once, going twice...."  

Invasion of the cranes

Recently, this massive crane being used to construct the nine-story Landmark Hotel went up over Water Street. Now City officials say two more big cranes will arrive in the next few months.

Last week, city spokesperson Ric Barrick told us that the massive crane in place to build the nine-story, $30 million Landmark Hotel (who say's there's recession?) on the Mall, was the biggest one ever involved in a Charlottesville construction project. 

Now Barrick says it won't be the only one. 

"We should be adding two cranes in the next few months," he says, "one at Waterhouse and one at ACAC. So our skyline is likely to be altered for a while."

For one, Barrick is talking about the nine-story Waterhouse condo complex on Water Street, a long-awaited project that also provided a crane sighting last year (lead architect Bill Atwood was spotted hanging from a tether on a boom while surveying the future construction site). He's also talking about the five-story building next to the downtown ACAC. A joint venture between ACAC's Phil Wendel and Coran Capshaw, the $3.9-million, mixed-use structure has began rising in April at the corner of Monticello Avenue and South First Street.

Naturally, with news of collapsing cranes in New York still fresh in our minds, there's been some concern about the safety of these mega-machines. Indeed, when you stand close to the massive one over the Landmark Hotel site, it appears to be defying gravity.  

Still, Barrick says not to worry.

"Our understanding is that the cranes that have had problems in New York were not free-standing as this one is," he says. "They attached to a building, and the collapses, according to the hotel contractor, happened when they were adding parts or taking away parts, an operation not required with the different type of crane involved with the Landmark."

Barrick says the crane has been certified by the contractor, and that an independent firm has already inspected it in accordance with Occupational Safety & Health Administration guidelines, and will do so again in a few months. The Landmark crane, says Barrick, will be used on site for another six months. 

Still, the massive cranes soon to be hovering around the Mall could be unsettling, not only for the imagined/perceived dangers they pose, but for the proof they provide that our little town is finally reaching skyward.


1 comment

It's a shame that the structure went to a wealthy county resident instead of being re-used in a city park. Staff should have put their heads together and found a great use for it.

Who knows where the bricks will end up... Perhaps as part of a courtyard on an estate? The stones of the recently demolished much-loved Woolen Mills dam will also probably be sold to someone with bunches of money, instead of staying in the area where they belong.

It's such a shame to see the City and developers squander assets time and time again.