Historic Richmond learned last night that the City of Richmond has changed its position and plans to issue a demolition permit for the historic Second Baptist Church.
Since we first learned about the filing of the demolition permit in October 2021, Historic Richmond reached out to the Jefferson Hotel and its owners informally and formally with offers to partner with them to assist with the adaptive reuse of the Second Baptist Church building and to explore nontraditional preservation approaches for the structure and the façade. We were rebuffed. In addition, due to its architectural significance, we nominated the historic Second Baptist Church building for the Preservation Virginia and National Trust’s most endangered lists. Today, we have exhausted our legal options.
For preservationists, this was always an uphill David v. Goliath battle. We did have a small slingshot – there is a legal process for review of proposed demolitions of buildings in City Old & Historic Districts. The City took away that slingshot. Why? The shadow of Goliath was looming over City Hall.
There is no prohibition on demolishing buildings in Richmond. But any proposed demolition of the relatively few historic buildings in City Old and Historic Districts must be reviewed by the Commission of Architectural Review. This process contemplates review of structural issues and also includes an escape hatch for building owners who have unsuccessfully offered their buildings for sale for an adaptive reuse or relocation. There is another escape hatch in the form of a right to appeal to City Council. This process is fair and reasonable and applies to all owners of buildings in City Old and Historic Districts.
Second Baptist Church is in a City Old and Historic District. The legal process requires its proposed demolition to be reviewed by the Commission of Architectural Review. This position has been clearly and repeatedly articulated both privately and publicly by the City and has been reported by the press.
Why not proceed through the Commission of Architectural Review? The recent photos of the interior that we have seen on public social media sites reveal the neglect and failure to properly maintain the building by the owners, but they also reveal a building that is not structurally unsound. This building can be saved.
You might say that rehabilitation is expensive. Perhaps, but this building – because it is listed on the state and national historic registers – is eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits. Let’s take a look at costs. Demolition has costs, not only in the physical demolition but also in the cost of adding those materials to our landfills. For an adaptive reuse, a general rule of thumb is that the building will cost $250 per square foot to rehab. Based on City tax records, that would result in a rehab cost of just over $4 million. A tax credit rehabilitation could offset 45% (or $1.8 million) of qualified rehabilitation expenses, reducing the cost to approximately $2.2 million. That is a significant financial incentive for rehabilitation! (We note that we offered to partner with the owners in developing solutions, which could have further reduced costs.)
What will replace this high quality work of architecture? Another void on our urban landscape. Our city has seen many excellent historic rehabilitations of downtown’s unique and diverse architecture – from the National Theatre to the Dominion Energy Center adding vibrant cultural life to the residential rehabs of the Edison in the Old Vepco Building, the Stumpf Hotel and the Hotel John Marshall bringing new residents to downtown. Yet there are blocks and blocks of vacant surface parking zoned for high density mixed use – many owned by the owners of Second Baptist – that continue to sit vacant, while sapping the life out of downtown Richmond.
Historic districts bring tourism dollars. There are too many references to Richmond in the travel magazines to mention here, but they all mention the charm, the restaurants and the arts and culture scene based in our historic districts. Historic districts enhance the visitor experience to Richmond. According to Richmond Region Tourism, historic sites and landmarks, restaurants and museums were the most important aspects of the Richmond experience in motivating previous visitors to select Richmond as a destination. The hotels in Richmond are packed, despite the pandemic, as visitors come to enjoy our unique historic districts.
What is the real issue here? Process matters. These processes were put in place because the community wanted them. This City Old and Historic District was created with the approval of its property owners and this owner bought into the district after its creation. The larger Richmond community reaffirmed the importance of historic preservation in the Richmond 300, the City’s master plan. City Hall seems to be ignoring this fact not only in this situation but also in their elimination of a preservation planning department.
We note that this Goliath has significant financial resources and could have easily funded the costs of rehabilitation. And it is indeed ironic that this Goliath – who goes by the name of “Historic Hotels of Richmond LLC” – will trade on the name “historic” while demolishing one of our best historic architectural resources. Process matters – we can’t apply the rules to all the Davids out there, but give Goliath a free pass.
If you care about the imminent loss of this beautiful historic resource, please:
(1) contact the Mayor and your City Council representative to register your concern that the City of Richmond failed to follow the appropriate process for review by the Commission of Architectural Review for proposed demolitions in City Old & Historic Districts; and
(2) contact the Jefferson Hotel to register your dismay at the demolition of this historic architectural landmark.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney Phone: 804-646-7970 [email protected]
Richmond City Council Members:
The Honorable Andreas D. Addison (1st District) [email protected]
The Honorable Katherine Jordan (2nd District) [email protected]
The Honorable Ann-Frances Lambert (3rd District) [email protected]
The Honorable Kristen Nye Larson (4th District) [email protected]
The Honorable Stephanie A. Lynch (5th District) [email protected]
The Honorable Ellen F. Robertson (6th District) [email protected]
The Honorable Cynthia I. Newbille (7th District) [email protected]
The Honorable Reva M. Trammell (8th District) [email protected]
The Honorable Michael J. Jones (9th District) [email protected]
Director of Communications
101 West Franklin Street
Richmond, VA 23220
Cell Phone: (804)283-1594
For more information about the historic Second Baptist Church building, its architectural significance as part of the Franklin Street streetscape, and the importance of historic preservation for a vibrant city, please see more information on our website, here.
About Second Baptist Church: The 1906 Second Baptist Church sanctuary was designed by William C. Noland of Noland and Baskervill, one of Richmond’s prominent architects and founder of the firm that is now known as Baskervill. The historic Second Baptist sanctuary building, a monumental neoclassic temple with a columned portico, is considered the finest design of its kind in Richmond. Second Baptist is part of a Franklin Street City Old & Historic District created in 1977 and expanded in 1987 to protect an eclectic and glamorous array of historic civic and residential architecture. Second Baptist is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which describes the building as “one of the most architecturally correct porticoes in the city. The design is derived directly from a Roman temple. It is the most distinguished progeny of Jefferson’s Capitol in Richmond.” Today, Second Baptist’s classical façade is a striking landmark on Franklin Street. Many consider Franklin Street to be the essence of Richmond with its fine buildings defining the architectural character of Richmond. Franklin Street never looked better with Monroe Park and VCU’s Monroe Park Campus, the YMCA, The Women’s Club, The Garden Club of Virginia and Linden Row recently revitalized.
About Historic Richmond. Historic Richmond is a non-profit organization dedicated to shaping the future of Richmond by preserving our distinctive historic character, sparking revitalization and championing our past and future architectural legacy. We are champions of the past and passionate fans of its future. Visit HistoricRichmond.com, join us on Facebook, and follow us on Instagram @historicRVA.
FOR MORE DETAILED INFORMATION CLICK HERE.