Town down: Roadside motel to bite the dust
The latest mid-century motel to meet its maker? The Town and Country on Pantops, part of which is slated for demolition in the next two weeks, according to Albemarle planner Julia Mahon. Albemarle Hotel LLC, a holding company for developer Charles Hurt, owns the nearly 16-acre site, which will become a mixed-use commercial site with offices and restaurants.
Though some might call the 1955 structure an eyesore, those with an appreciation for mid-century building see it through a different lens.
"It's probably one of the best examples of roadside architecture in that region," says Marc Wagner, the National Register manager for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. He cites the motel's "classical pastiche" and the "vaguely Jeffersonian" portico.
The motel was designed by mid-20th century architect and UVA professor Stanislaw Makielski, who also designed the Jefferson-inspired Aloha restaurant building next door, now home to a Kia dealership.
Wagner lauds Makielski's "almost tongue in cheek" nod to Jefferson, and believes Makielski made the Town & Country cupola over the portico so prominent to attract eager lodgers.
It's increasingly hard to find such buildings along the nation's highways, says Christine Madrid French, vice president of Preservation Piedmont. Locally, roadside architecture is a "disappearing breed," she says, citing the upcoming demolitions of the nearby White House Motel as well as the Airport Motel on Route 29 near Forest Lakes. (A CarMax is planned for the White House Pantops site, and Madrid French says Walgreen's pharmacy is eyeing the Airport Motel site.)
Since the February 3 demolition plan filed with the County names only the westernmost "cottage," French hopes there's time for an in-depth historic study of the entire complex.
And French hopes developers will consider reusing the main structure as part of the development. What are the chances the 50-year-old building will win a reprieve?
"My suspicion is that the entire site will be demolished and restaurants and retail space will be built there some six or eight months down the road," says Katurah Roell, vice president of Hurt's C.W. Hurt Contractors.
Lest anyone accuse his company of historic insensitivity, Roell insists it does take a building's historic value into account before beginning any demolition. As proof, he cites his company's careful restoration of the Aloha.
"That cost more," says Roell, "than tearing it down and putting up a new building."
Roell says several possible tenants have contacted him about the Town and Country site, including grocery stores, car dealerships, and at least one well known restaurant, Guadalajara, whose fourth location could join Pantops newcomers Applebee's, Sticks, Starbuck's, and the Everyday Cafe.
While Wagner says the Town and Country may never earn historic status, he does hope the building will be photographed and otherwise documented before its destruction.
"It's difficult to make a case for keeping it," says Wagner, "but it's probably something you could consider other uses for."
Roell sees the Town and Country a bit differently.
"That," he says matter-of-factly, "is a poor example of any architecture."
Town & Country: slated for demolition
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO