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The General Assembly Building at the corner of Broad and Ninth Streets, facing Capitol Square, reflects the last century of architectural evolution of public architecture of downtown Richmond, considered by some to be the finest assemblage of 20th century architecture in downtown Richmond.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the GAB and why is it important?

 

  • Located along Broad Street between the open lot of the former Murphy Hotel site and Old City Hall, the General Assembly Building (GAB) is recently has been used to house the General Assembly members’ offices and meeting spaces during the legislative session as well as a number of year-round legislative agencies.
  • Facing Capitol Square, it interacts with both the Virginia State Capitol and grounds and serves as one of the many buildings on Broad Street that form the gateway into downtown Richmond.
  • From its 1912 beginnings as the Life of Virginia Building, to the classically-refined 1923 high-rise addition accessible from Broad Street, to the concrete and steel-frame Modernist addition of 1965, the GAB complex represents the architectural evolution of public architecture in downtown Richmond.
    • Alfred Charles Bossom of Clinton and Russell, a well-known architectural firm in New York, designed the 1912 building. This building, the Life of Virginia Building, features three-story tall Corinthian pilasters with American eagles, cherubs, and winged horses. This is the only example of Pegaus in classical columns in all of Richmond. Bossom’s likely source for the Pegasus capitals was Andrea Palladio’s drawing of a Pegasus capital from the Temple of Mars Ultor in Rome.
    • For more information on the history and significance of the GAB, see our architectural history at https://historicrichmond.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Historic-Richmond-GAB-Statement_Final-Aug10-2015-00000002.pdf.
  • The building and its immediate neighbors, as well as Capitol Square’s other historic structures, serve as a lesson for how buildings engage with important public spaces, streets and entrance corridors, and the citizenry.

What is the threat to the GAB?

 

  • The Commonwealth is pursuing the demolition of the GAB in order to construct a new building.
  • Additionally, a parking garage is planned for the open lot that resulted from the demolition of the Murphy Hotel in 2007.
  • In early April 2016, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and General Assembly budget leaders reached an agreement that would allow $2.1 billion in pending capital projects to proceed, along with a long-standing plan to transform the seat of government around Capitol Square (among other items unrelated to the square itself). The deal ended an impasse over the $300 million plan to replace the GAB, build a parking deck for the new facility (on the site of the former Murphy Hotel at 9th and Broad Streets), and renovate Old City Hall.

What does Historic Richmond want to see? What is the solution?

 

  • Recent renovations of the Virginia Capitol, the Patrick Henry Building, and the 9th Street Office Building (the former Richmond Hotel) and earlier work on Old City Hall met high standards for historic preservation while incorporating quality, modern design and efficiency measures.
  • The Commonwealth has the opportunity to achieve similarly high standards for the renovation of the GAB and the design of any associated new structures.
  • Ideally, the Commonwealth would commit to rehabilitate the building rather than demolish it, retaining as much of the original structure as possible and incorporating it into any new design. We believe that the 1912 Life of Virginia façade is particularly important.
  • Any design for new construction in and around Capitol Square deserves careful consideration and the opportunity for input from citizens and organizations committed to preserving Capitol Square’s distinctive historic character.
  • Scale, massing, quality and preservation of the Broad, 9th and Capitol Street streetscapes are important factors, as is the relationship between these buildings and the Virginia Capitol, associate buildings like Old City Hall, and the Capitol Square landscape.
  • Historic Richmond is pleased to already have had a very positive meeting with the Honorable Susan Clarke Schaar, Clerk of the Senate, and the Honorable G. Paul Nardo, Clerk of the House and Keeper of the Rolls of the Commonwealth, to discuss plans for the future of the GAB, including their efforts to save the 1912 façade. We have every expectation of similarly positive meetings with the Clerks in the future and that interested stakeholders, including Historic Richmond, will be allowed to participate in the exterior design process for any new construction in and around Capitol Square at the appropriate time.

What is Historic Richmond’s involvement?

 

  • Historic Richmond has a history of proactively and positively partnering with the Commonwealth on Capitol Square projects going back many decades and including Old City Hall and more recently with the 9th Street Office Building.
  • Historic Richmond has been monitoring developments relating to the GAB and the former Murphy Hotel site for many years. We have written a detailed architectural history of the GAB highlighting the history and architectural significance of the building, which can be found on our website (see link above). Along with other like-minded groups (including Preservation Virginia, Partnership for Smarter Growth, Virginia Conservation Network, and Southern Environmental Law Center), in February 2014 and again in August, 2015, we wrote to General Assembly leaders and the Commonwealth,:
    • urging them to save the 1912 façade of the GAB; and
    • recommending that the design for the parking structure at 9th and Broad Streets (the former Murphy Hotel site) include active ground-floor retail uses and above-ground office space, which would complement nearby public buildings while advancing the economic revitalization of the City, increasing pedestrian activity and improving safety, and, offering the potential for additional revenues or office space to the Commonwealth.

Is it possible to save a façade?

 

  • Yes! Saving a façade is one way to preserve a building and the streetscape. There are a number of ways that a façade can be incorporated into a new structure. In essence, the façade remains and a new building is constructed behind it. Although it is most desirable to save an entire building with its interior space, retaining the façade is preferred over demolition of the entire structure.
  • There are plenty of examples, even right here in Richmond, of façades that have been saved. The Colonial Theater was almost entirely demolished in 1992, but the façade was preserved as the front of an office building, thereby retaining the streetscape of Broad Street’s Theater Row for the public’s enjoyment. Another well-known example is the Hearst Tower in New York City; the original six story building was preserved and acts as a base for a glass and steel tower.

What does it mean to be included on the Preservation Virginia Most Endangered List?

 

  • The goal of Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places Program is to bring greater public awareness of the value of a historic resource. The list engages historic preservation and other community advocates and helps educate about the value of historic resources for preserving the power of the places that make Virginia unique. Inclusion of a resource on the list demonstrates its value to the community in which it resides, which should be viewed as a statement of not only its significance, but also of a commitment by advocates to work to successfully preserve Virginia’s most significant resources.
  • It is important to note that listing of a site is intended to raise public awareness and recommend solutions, and is not a negative characterization.

 

For more information on the history and significance of the GAB, see our architectural history.

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