Mono deco: History debate on Water Street

Did you ever notice– perhaps while waiting for that second margarita out on the patio– that Mono Loco is a gem of architectural history? The one-story, cayenne and green copper patina-painted edifice was actually built as an old church garage back in 1935 in the Art Deco style. After petrol, eateries serving fried chicken, pizza, and big beefy burritos were all served at 200 W. Main Street before Barbara Shifflett transformed it into the mainly Cuban eatery Mono Loco in 1996.

There are only four other examples of Art Deco in this brick-and-column-besieged town: the 1939 Coca Cola Bottling Plant on Preston Avenue, Richmond Camera (once a gas station) on High Street, the former Ben Franklin store (now Stacey Hall) on W. Main, and W.A. Hartman Memorials on E. Market.

Why so few? UVA Professor Emeritus of Architecture K. Edward Lay, author of The Architecture of Jefferson Country, gives a pretty convincing answer.

"The influence of Jefferson in the Federal Period and the popular return of classicism and other traditional styles at the turn of the 20th century here usurped the prevalence of other styles that were influencing architecture elsewhere at this time." In other words, Monticello muffled moderne.

Which explains, in part, why the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) denied Mono Loco's proposal for an addition at its April 15th meeting. The BAR, which reviews all visible changes to the exterior of designated buildings in its attempts to "safeguard and preserve elements of the city's cultural, social, economic, political and architectural history," worried that the enlarged dining room and re-worked patio would obscure the art deco facade. So it was back to the drawing board for architects Fred Wolf and Dave Ackerman of Wolf Ackerman Design.

The modernizing team spent a month re-working their design to make it more BAR-able. "The first plan was respectful of the building, we felt, but we scaled the addition down a bit in our second plan and used more of the existing structure," Ackerman tells Dish.

Whatever they did, it worked. The new proposal, which includes a new dining room facing east with khaki-colored stucco walls and a copper roof and a patio reworked with lots of steel, was approved at BAR's May 20 meeting. No word yet on when construction will begin.

As for Ackerman, the BAR's rejection might have made him go a little loco, but he now, reluctantly, concedes that the second plan is better than the original.

"But that doesn't mean I want the BAR to deny all of my proposed designs the first time, " he says, half-jokingly. Ackerman also let us in on a little insider's advice: whether a plan is accepted depends largely on make-up of the Board on a scheduled review date. "Professors from the Architectural School tend to be the most sympathetic," he says.

There must have been more than a few profs at the BAR's review of Wolf Ackerman's proposal for the renovation-expansion of Rapture last year, because it passed with flying colors the first time 'round. In case you hadn't heard, Rapture's newly acquired posterior is transforming into a steel-and-glass-adorned dance club of the highest caliber.

"It's very cool," says Rapture co-owner Mike Rodi of the design. "It's in the style of real clubby clubs– unlike anything else in Charlottesville."

The enormous club will feature glass floors, a steel staircase, a cast resin bar lit from underneath and– yippeee!– new bathrooms accessible to diners as well as dancers. So when will the doors of R2 open onto 3rd Street? "If we're not done by August, I'll kill myself." Rodi says.

Others who've recently passed the BAR? Metro's new sign made the grade, as did Meri Jane Carter's new steel crèpe cart, which should be stocking the Downtown Mall with these sweet and savory French delights by late July.