What transpired inside the old City Hall Annex, at the northwest corner of 11th and Broad, overcame the unprepossessing looks of the five-story gray stone building. "Drama, tragedy, justice, injustice, pathos, learning, laughter — all these occurred under the roof of the annex," recalled writer Carl Shires in a 1989 Richmond Times-Dispatch essay. "And as if there wasn't enough drama there, the emergency rooms, the morgue and high crimes trials at old City Hall were just down the block or across
The building at 1014-1016 E. Broad St. represented a civic achievement when it housed the Virginia Mechanics Institute, a vocational training school that until 1901 led a nomadic existence. The institute started in 1854 at Ninth and Franklin streets, though the Confederate War Department's need for rooms ended classes there, and, in any case, the Evacuation Fire in April 1865 consumed the building. The institute reconstituted following a public plea for support in 1874, with classes afterward held in various downtown buildings. "From a very small beginning [the institute] has struggled with years of doubt and difficulty, with its fixed purpose before it — the promotion and encouragement of manufactures, the mechanical and useful arts, and the mental and social improvement of the industrial classes," described The Dispatch in 1901.
The institute's new building at 11th and Broad was constructed for $25,000 (about $675,000 in today's dollars), including a bequest of $10,000 from the estate of Richmond philanthropist and tobacco tycoon Lewis Ginter. The cornerstone installation took place during the late afternoon on March 19, 1901, following a torchlit Masonic ceremonial procession by the Joppa Lodge, No. 40. The event involved lodge members, state and city dignitaries, and students.
The school offered classes, according to an advertisement, "in Mathematics, Bookkeeping, Freehand, Architectural and Mechanical Drawing, Manual Training in Woodwork and Pattern-Making, Chemistry, Physics, Electricity, Elementary English Language and Clay Modeling."
Students varied in age from 12 to 35 years, and 95 percent of them were the family earners. Due to partial underwriting by the city, the institute could take in young men over age 15 for $3 a class and $1 for each additional class. Daytime learners took practical shop classes, and night students took science courses. The institute contained mechanical workshops, a library apparently expanded through an Andrew Carnegie donation, an auditorium for free lectures and trade exhibition rooms in
Engineering instructor Collinson Pierrepont Edwards Burgwyn, a Harvard University graduate who created the original plan for Monument Avenue, instructed at the institute. Artist William L. Sheppard taught freehand drawing. Bascom J. Rowlett, an architectural graduate of the school, designed the Mediterranean-style Rixey Court on Monument Avenue (1924), the "Tudorbethan" English Village condominium group on Grove Avenue (1926), and the Tuscan Villa Apartments on the Boulevard (1928).
The institute moved in 1925 to 1000 E. Marshall St., and then in 1943, the school was submerged into the city public system. Richmond's administration sought to place the city's safety, health and welfare departments at the vacant building. The police and traffic courts soon convened there. Lawyers bustled in the hallways outside the judicial rooms as they solicited clients. The reporter Shires told of how the newspaper couldn't print all the $5 fines, as "there would have been no room for the obituaries." The lawyers, knowing this limitation, took aside their clients, who often held respectable jobs, telling them that for an extra $5, they'd keep their names out of the paper.
"There was nothing ornate about the annex," recalled Shires. The building never warmed up, except in the summer, its furnishings came from cast-offs, and due to a "fragile, sensitive disposition," its elevator received the name "Elsie, The Eccentric." Fire Chief John Finnegan Sr. provided cub reporters with rides to big fires. They'd "roar off with the siren screaming to a major incident with a police officer." The maimed and the dead rolled into the nearby Medical College of Virginia emergency rooms and morgue. Chief Medical Examiner Geoffrey T. Mann tested reportorial stomachs, not without enjoyment, while sawing off skull tops and splitting sternums.
By 1963, the city had built a utilitarian (and today decrepit) Health, Safety and Welfare Building at 501 N. Ninth St. The 1968 razing of the stunning 1859 Broad Street Methodist Church and other older houses cleared the 1000 block for parking for medical offices and the unimpressive 1971 City Hall. The annex ended its use as storage. The building was ripped apart in July 1974.