Rendering courtesy Keith Van Allen
The proposal published in the Richmond News Leader on Feb. 7, 1914, enhanced by an artist's rendering, suggested a majestic archway at "the extreme western section of Broad Street more than 100 feet in the air and which will span the entire thoroughfare including also the sidewalks. The mammoth structure will bear in large, gilded lettering these words: GATEWAY OF THE SOUTH."
Architect D. Wiley Anderson envisioned the portal into Richmond as a symbol of a renewed and vital New South city. In her biographical monograph, Susan Hume Frazer describes Anderson as "an accomplished building technologist, an excellent draftsman and a competitive regional architect."
Though city building commissioners had apparently not yet approved this elaborate gateway, the announcement name-dropped a raft of powerful supporters, among them clothier Meyer Greentree, pharmacist T.A. Miller, theater developer Moses L. Hofheimer and jewelry merchant William H. Schwarzschild.
At the time, few buildings stood near the proposed site: The columned factory for the Kline Motor Car (where the Greyhound Lines bus station is now), the state fairgrounds and the Home for Incurables stood across Broad from each other near Robinson Street. A few townhouses were scattered along Boulevard south of Broad. The Stonewall Jackson monument wouldn't be installed until 1919.
Anderson had vision, though, and in 1914 came an annexation of 16 square miles of western Henrico and northern Chesterfield counties. The domed eminence of Broad Street Station hadn't yet risen, but the year before, architect John Russell Pope had won the commission. Anderon perhaps considered his gateway a companion to the rail terminal. The plan included observation towers, an information kiosk and a newsstand to provide rental income.
"He did not copy," writes architectural historian Robert P. Winthrop. "It's clear that historic architecture
was just the starting point for his architectural explorations. His buildings are bold, exciting and overblown. Anderson had no interest in reticence, restraint or modesty."
Growing up near Scottsville, Anderson worked for his father in the building trade until his mid-20s. He moved to Richmond in 1888 and married Cora Marshall. They had three children before her 1896 death from unknown causes. One year later, he married Sarah Graves Wilkinson, and they had eight more children.
The year of Cora's death, Anderson began a formative six-year apprenticeship with builder-architect George W. Parsons. Parsons was connected well enough that tobacco magnate and philanthropist Lewis Ginter contracted him to build his Richardson Romanesque mansion at 900 W. Franklin St., designed by Washington, D.C., architect Harvey Page. The relationship became personal enough that Anderson's daughter Aileen became the goddaughter of Grace Arents, Ginter's niece and primary beneficiary.
A combination of personal charm and wit ingratiated Anderson into the city's higher society. He played the piano and sang, prided himself on a natty appearance, and understood the rules of the new wealthy class. Its members hired him to design their urbane mansions.
The pre-World War I years proved to be Anderson's most prolific. He designed numerous handsome and imaginative houses in Ginter Park and North Side. Around 1900, Anderson received the commission for the Smithdeal Business College at Ninth and Broad streets. The towered Italianate stone building remained a prominent landmark until its demolition for the new City Hall. Arents hired Anderson around 1901 to design St. Andrew's School, in Oregon Hill. Anderson also designed several houses of worship during this time, including, in 1914, the notable Hanover Avenue Christian Church, now condominiums.
The same year, he created nine mansions on Monument Avenue. These included the houses of glass manufacturer Moses Binswanger, liquor dealer Arthur Lee Straus and William Schwarzschild.
Anderson's robust designs suited the tastes of the region's nouveau riche, coming at a time of affluence and rapid expansion aided by electric streetcars that followed a national economic crash in the early 1890s. In 1916, however, came the refined sophistication of William Lawrence Bottomley. By then, Anderson had moved his family to a relatively simple house he designed on inherited property straddling the line between Albemarle and Fluvanna counties, prompting the name "Albevanna." The natural springs there provided clean water that he bottled and sold to customers in Richmond and as far away as New York City.
Another project Anderson (and every other major Richmond architect) bid for in 1914 was the 316-foot-high multiuse municipal building for the city courts, auditorium and library, for location between 11th and 12th streets on Broad. The hodge-podge plan languished for years due to City Council wrangling and was eventually rejected. The late-1917 entrance of the United States into World War I diverted resources abroad. These events may have drained attention and money from the Gateway. But personal tragedy may have also eclipsed his ambition.
John Bledsoe, Anderson's eldest son and the presumed inheritor of the business, was killed in action in France on Oct. 14, 1917.
Anderson became the chief architect for the C.S. Sprenkle house-building business of Richmond and engaged in inventions for construction. He died on April 7, 1940.
Almost exactly a century after Anderson proposed his stupendous entrance, there is discussion about improving the city's "gateways." One could then be given to wonder how the presence of the grand gateway at Boulevard and Broad would have affected development near there, and if it would have survived to the present day.