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Courtesey of: Valentine Richmond History Center
The Strause Collection
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Courtesey of: Valentine Richmond History Center
The Strause Collection
The national grocer Whole Foods and Richmond-based C.F. Sauer Co. go together like cinnamon and cloves. Or something. Last week Whole Foods announced signing a lease on a 40,000-square-foot hunk of property somewhere in what Sauer Properties terms as Sauer Center, a “mixed-use development consisting of new and historic buildings on West Broad Street and Hermitage Road.” If you’re corduroying your brow about the configuration, RVA News helpfully included a parcel map to show the general section.
In play here is the former Virginia Department of Taxation at 2220 W. Broad St. It also resembles the Justice League America headquarters where gather at times of crisis such heroes as Wonder Woman and Aquaman (voiced by Richmond actor Scott Wichmann from a Glen Weldon monologue about the deep sea superfriend, here). And it bears a somewhat down market utilitarian similarity to the Gare du Nord transportation center in Paris.
Nobody is giving the location of the store’s footprint or a potential opening date. The Taxation building is 133,000 square feet. Pleasants Hardware, in the Sauer constellation of properties since 1989, is 41,000 square feet. In addition, Sauer owns the former Sears store at Allen and Broad, out of which it runs three shifts a day that, among other things, make the containers that their spices go into. The company bought this almost featureless 163,000 square foot structure in 1981.
The image below, from the Vintage Richmond blog, not only shows the Sears building with its storefront windows filled with displays, but in the background, a flatiron-shaped building. That structure was demolished to widen Hermitage Road at the Broad Street intersection to better benefit Sears. Within a few years, the store closed in favor of the Cloverleaf Mall location. A-hem.
Sauer, during the past decades, smartly invested in westward expansion. The firm’s real estate division created Sauer Gardens in the Near West End along Monument Avenue and acquired properties that eventually became such sites as the Cary Court Park and Shop (Carytown), Willow Lawn Shopping Center and Libbie Place.
But 2220 W. Broad St. is of particular interest, since when constructed during the early part of the 20th century, it symbolized Richmond’s robust manufacturing component. This served as location of the Stephen Putney Shoe Co.
Samuel Putney traveled from Massachusetts to Richmond in 1817 to sell shoes. His nephew, Stephen Putney, joined the family business that carried his name after the Civil War.
The company prospered, and after 1880 established an industrial plant at Ninth and Perry Streets in Manchester. (For this and following information I'm indebted to the work of the late Tyler Potterfield, historian and senior planner for the city)
Putney outgrew the Manchester plant by 1903 and purchased a piece of the former state fairgrounds, just north of the intersection of West Broad Street and Hermitage Road, that enjoyed convenience to road and rail.
The firm commissioned Richmonder Walter D. Blair, who practiced in New York City, and J. Edwin R. Carpenter, a Norfolk native but Blair business partner, to design the new building.
Blair attended Richmond College (now the University of Richmond) for two years and transferred to the University of Virginia, where, in 1893, he earned bachelor's and master's degrees. The next year, Blair became accepted into the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Architecture. His 1899 competition proved successful for a place at the Écoles des Beaux Arts in Paris. He produced award-winning student work there and graduated in November 1902.
His partnership with J.E.R. Carpenter — a fellow Beaux Arts graduate — commenced the following year in New York City. Blair also became an assistant professor of architecture at Cornell University. Among their collaborations, in 1907 they executed the Stahlman Building in Nasville, Tenn., (converted today into apartments), the American National Bank Building in Pensacola, Florida, the Empire Building of Birmingham, Alabama, (proposed for apartments, too) and “Northway,” an almost identical replica of the Petite Trianon at Versailles, in 1910 for the immensely wealthy Laura Robinson.
Blair had some relation to Putney executive vice president Lewis Harvie Blair. Though a Confederate veteran, Blair held firm opinions contrary to his fellows, such as supporting racial integration of blacks and whites in business and education. He wrote essays, letters and pamphlets expressing his views that dividing the races was neither cost effective and neither good for business prosperity nor citizenship. He wrote and spoke of such matters in 1880s-1890s Jim Crow Richmond.
In 1913, Walter designed Lewis Blair’s Monument Avenue columned Colonial Revival mansion. He then became the only known Confederate veteran — though a contrary and conflicted one — to actually live on that particular street.
Lewis Blair’s house stands, as do three residences of the Putney family, two amid the VCU Health System's Court End campus, the Stephen Putney house adorned by some of the most exquisite wrought iron work in the city, and another at 921 W. Franklin St., also used as offices by VCU.
For the Putney building, Blair and Carpenter adapted J.I. Hittorf’s 1859 Gare du Nord into a simpler three-part façade with a single, glazed entrance archway flanked by two low wings. The building combined a large industrial area as three linked, single-story spaces, illuminated by clerestory windows. A two-story section behind the elevation immediately fronting on Broad Street contained the sales and administrative offices. A large arched opening at the rear of the building allowed entrance for two sections of rail. Two large side aisles, lit by windows and lightwells, were used for work and storage. Stephen Putney died prior to the new Putney building’s 1905 completion.
The Putney Shoe Co. is an example of fireproof construction, featuring bearing walls of brick (with the primary elevation stuccoed) and poured concrete floors, roof and columns. The building’s fireproof construction, emphasis on abundant light, and immediate access to rail lines made it a model of efficiency and safety that the company praised in a hymn to itself: "The most economically arranged shoe plant in the country. Every facility for the saving of time, labor and expense employed. Built of concrete — insurance unnecessary. Entire business (except office) on one big floor — no elevator costs, less force required, systematic arrangement of stock. Double railroad tracks in building for receiving and shipping freight. Bright daylight on every side. Because of our greatly reduced costs of operation and the many Economical Advantages we possess, we can and do make Battle Axe Shoes of Superior Quality over other makes of shoes." Stephen Putney Shoe Co. shipped twice as many cases of shoes annually (over 100,000 cases in 1907) as its competition in Richmond (two private factories in Shockoe Valley and a shop located within the Virginia Penitentiary, near the Tredegar Ironworks). Company advertisements boasted that the plant contained more ground-floor space than any other factory in the South, and that it possessed “every feature known to modern science for the expeditious and economical conduct of our immense business.” By 1909, Richmond was the fifth largest distributor of shoes in the United States (only Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and Baltimore had greater numbers).
Putney Shoe continued on Broad Street until a 1946 sale to retailer Miller and Rhoads to provide space for the store’s mail order center. M&R sold the building to the DMV. Kelly Kerney, a Valentine Richmond History Center researcher, adds that by 1955, Putney established an office and warehouse at 3900 Petersburg Pike. In 1965, the company counted 24 employees with 14 salesmen traveling throughout the South to market 400 styles of shoes. Putney went out of business by 1988 as large chains took over the shoe business and freight rates increased.
After the 2009 move of the Department of Taxation and subsequent purchase by Sauer, the building housed the production offices of the John Adams mini-series and other small films. And I can tell you as an eyewitness, some people of certain years still go by the front doors looking for the tax man.