A beautiful historic building demolished and replaced by a parking lot is sadly not a unique story for America’s downtowns. Such a tragic story, however, seems more appropriate in the rise of the automobile after World War II, and not in 2022, when the country’s local leaders seek ways to reinvigorate desolate city centers.
Unless hotelier Bill Goodwin can be persuaded to pursue adaptive reuse or his demolition permit is revoked in less than a month, a parking lot could replace the towering neoclassical Second Baptist Church in the Monroe neighborhood of Richmond.
Paving heaven, setting up a parking lot
For more than a century, a Franklin Street address has taken with it a certain hiding place in Richmond. Picturesque apartments, grand mansions and stately institutions offer a glimpse of the pomp and prosperity that defined the rebirth of the former Confederate capital. As racist fears of school integration and white flight drained Virginia’s capital city of people and resources, large swaths of Monroe Ward were razed in favor of flat asphalt for parking due to the relative proximity of the neighborhood to the city center.
After decades of destroying Richmond’s fine urban fabric in favor of car storage, the Second Baptist Church is the only structure still standing on the entire block of Franklin Street between Adams and Foushee. Surface lots dominate three entire city blocks around the Jefferson Hotel, but for church owner Bill Goodwin, that may not be enough.
Goodwin purchased Second Baptist in the 1980s with the intention of turning the plot into a parking lot. Built in 1906 by renowned architectural firm Noland and Baskervill, the church’s Greco-Roman design modeling the Virginia State Capitol was deemed too historically significant to be lost by Richmond’s Commission of Architectural Review. In 1992, Goodwin successfully lobbied the City Council to reverse the commission’s decision and issue a “Certificate of Opportunity” to allow the property to be razed.
The price of the repair
In February 2022, the City of Richmond decided that the 30-year-old demolition permit was still valid. A day later, Historic Richmond issued an alert that the property was again in danger. The uproar of residents confused over how such a grand structure could become a parking lot sparked a wave of protests that saw hundreds of people march past the Jefferson Hotel and call for a boycott of the hotel, which is also owned by Goodwin. The kerfuffle also led council members Stephanie Lynch of the 5th District and Andreas Addison of the 1st District to become involved, eventually negotiating a 90-day stay over the demolition of the church.
How does a three-decade-old demolition permit remain valid today?
It shouldn’t according to Lynch. “If Second Baptist is torn down, you will never be able to recreate this line of historic Noland and Baskerville buildings that are unique to Richmond,” she said. “If this structure were to be demonstrated, it would be the first, as all other organizations have pursued adaptive reuse to maintain the character of the West Franklin Street Historic District.”
The nearly three-month reprieve gave Historic Richmond time to review plans for the building and do an in-person site assessment to come up with options for adaptive reuse instead of total demolition. With the 90-day period ending on May 19, this list of alternatives is expected as early as next week.
The decades of neglect under Goodwin’s ownership have done Second Baptist no service. The Richmond Historic Site Tour was delayed due to the need for asbestos mitigation, and all parties agree that the roof has structural issues that need to be addressed. Other adaptive reuse renovations of buildings in the historic district proved cheaper and easier because they weren’t allowed to fall into such disrepair.
“No one knows the full cost of adaptive building reuse, but it’s fair to assume that quite a bit of money would have to be invested,” Lynch explained. “It’s cheaper to demonstrate and build a new parking lot, but that’s not the highest or best use of this site. We cannot dictate what developers do on their private property; however, as a city, we should have a say in how buildings conform to an appropriate sense of place in our downtown and historic neighborhoods.
With no easy legal solutions to the situation, Second Baptist’s best hope is that Goodwin accepts one of Historic Richmond’s adaptive reuse ideas. If the architectural gem ends up turning to asphalt, Lynch thinks the city’s residents will quickly regret it: “Historic architecture is one of those things that people don’t always appreciate when it’s there, but They certainly miss her when she’s not around.”