Preservation Planner Outlines How History Is Saved at U.Va.

March 26, 2013

The University of Virginia’s Academical Village, while famous as a historical place, is also a functioning educational space.

Brian Hogg, senior historic preservation planner in U.Va.’s Office of the Architect, explained how U.Va. handles that dual identity to a meeting of the Virginia Historic Resources Board and the State Review Board. The two boards met Thursday in Brooks Hall.

In introducing Hogg, Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, director and state historic preservation officer for the Department of Historic Resources, described U.Va. as a national model in integrating preservation with a working institution.

“Where preservation had been focused on the Academical Village, U.Va. has expanded the sense of responsibility to hundreds of buildings,” she said.

Hogg said the University’s preservation work is a team effort involving people in the Architect’s Office, the administration and in Facilities Management, including highly skilled tradespeople who are adept at taking care of historic buildings. The key, he said, is that they all work well together.

“The organizational chart describes responsibilities which are clear, but the reality is more like a plate of spaghetti where we all do parts of everything,” Hogg said. “It’s a wonderful relationship.”

He said an important tool for the University is its 2007 Historic Preservation Framework Plan, a survey of 123 buildings and 23 landscapes, ranked and given context.

“We looked at their importance in the history of the University and then their architecture, and then their integrity and condition,” Hogg said. “We looked at ‘How does this building help tell the story of the University and how we got where we are?’ ”

Hogg also lauded the work of Rivanna Archaeological Services, a local firm headed by alumni Ben Ford and Steve Thompson that often works with the University on preservation investigations, displaying a map of the archaeological studies it has done on Grounds.

“The archaeology helps us understand the daily life of the University over time,” Hogg said. “It is a useful tool for planning and for explaining history, both the cultural landscape and the evolution of the setting.”

Hogg noted that the meeting’s venue was an example of the power of preservation  advocacy. Brooks Hall, built in the 1870s in the Second Empire style, was an anomaly at a University where the then-existing buildings were originally designed by Thomas Jefferson. Brooks Hall was originally a natural history museum, and now houses the Department of Anthropology of the College of Arts & Sciences.

“It seemed alien and it was on the chopping block for many years,” Hogg said. “In the 1970s, Richard Guy Wilson started arguing for its importance and today it is on the National Register.”

He said the building was paid for by a Northern philanthropist following the Civil War, part of a movement to help struggling Southern institutions re-establish themselves. The University, which never closed during the war, had nonetheless seen its student population drop dramatically.

Brooks Hall was built with the front door facing east. “This was the University’s first gesture toward Charlottesville, which was expanding toward the University,” Hogg said. “Until the 1880s, the University was a very inward-looking place. This was its gesture to the surrounding community.”

Hogg also discussed Varsity Hall, which sat in the footprint of the planned Robertson Hall addition to Rouss Hall, which together were slated to become the new home of the McIntire School of Commerce.

Varsity Hall “was constructed as an infirmary at a time when typhoid had killed a number of students,” he said. “But it has a phenomenal air-handling system that was state-of-the-art at the time and it is one of the oldest buildings in the country purposely built as an infirmary.

“We moved it 120 feet. Now the furnace is on display and the building is used for offices, but we did not lose it.”

Another structure that the University has preserved and restored is Garrett Hall, built in 1909 as U.Va.’s first large dining hall, with a double-height central room in which students ate. In the late 1950s, a larger dining room opened in brand-new Newcomb Hall; Garrett’s open space was cut up and closed off for offices; an annex was added in the 1960s. Over the years, many of Garrett’s features were lost, such as the awnings and iron work over the windows, Hogg said.

Then it was selected to become the first home of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. “The Batten School saw the value of the grand public space,” Hogg said.

The Great Room was restored, with its open space and ornate ceiling. The University’s restoration earned a gold-level certification for meeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.

“We kept the original windows and put a green roof on the annex,” he said. “We restored the remaining original spaces and recreated  the two-story entrance. Modern offices were created where the historic elements had been removed.” The efforts at preservation have been ongoing, and Hogg praised the late J. Murray Howard, hired as the curator of the Academical Village in 1983, for putting together the University’s first historic structure reports.

While some of the buildings have gone through extensive renovations, the pavilions and Lawn rooms are still serving their original function.

“The Lawn is used as it was intended, with students and professors living together,” Hogg said. “It is not a museum. It is integral to the life of the school.”

But as the Lawn evolved, questions arose. “Do we manage it as it has evolved to now, or at the Jefferson moment?” he said.

The decision was made to restore Pavilion X to its Jefferson moment to help advance the discussion on this topic. A parapet that had originally topped the building was removed in the 1890s; in 2010, it was restored. After a paint analysis, the parapet, plus the pavilion’s trim and pillars, were painted “stone color,” matching the original shade.

He noted that when working on the pavilions, craftsmen restore as much as possible. “We found a Mennonite blacksmith in the Valley,” Hogg said. “He recreated all the student room shutter locks for us.”

The big project on hand now is the replacement of the Rotunda’s roof. Hogg recounted a brief history of the Rotunda, including the construction of an ill-fated annex in the 1850s.

He said of the annex held classrooms and an auditorium. But in October 1895, an electrical fire started in the annex and spread to the Rotunda, which then housed the University’s library.

“The dome was made of wood and that caught fire,” Hogg said. “About 20 percent of the books were saved. The fire happened on a Sunday and they held classes the next day.”

In the wake of the fire, which gutted the Rotunda, the University hired the renowned New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White to handle the reconstruction. Stanford White redesigned the Rotunda, using some of Jefferson’s original ideas on the exterior but adding his own features to the interior. The University chose not to rebuild the annex, instead commissioning Rouss, Cocke and Cabell halls to close in the south end of the Lawn and house classroom space.

White’s Rotunda was given a more-fireproof terra cotta dome which was clad in copper. It was supposed to be painted white, Hogg said, but that did not happen and the weathered copper turned a greenish shade.

White also designed the grand plaza on the north side of the Rotunda. “It was the 1890s and the town was growing,” Hogg said. “White created a front entrance to the University.”

He said the Rotunda started losing its function when Alderman Library opened in 1938. The idea of recreating Jefferson’s interior arose in the 1950s, and as the  nation’s bicentennial loomed, University leaders undertook the process of recreating Jefferson’s Rotunda, which was completed in 1976.

In the current work, much of the 1970s design of the Rotunda will be preserved. The building is getting a new copper roof, with the goal of getting the work completed and the scaffolding dismantled before Finals Weekend, May 18-19.

Additional work on the Rotunda will continue for another three years, Hogg noted, about one year for design and two for construction. The next phase includes interior renovations, systems replacement and replacement of the deteriorating capitals atop the building’s columns. “We have to decide what marble to use, and what model to use when carving them,” he said.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications