James Dickinson photos
Body heat melts an ice bar, so every four to six months it will get re-carved, club owner Paul Blacker says. He's named his new venue Infuzion, and it'll open in a former sprinkler-system assembly plant in the fall. Infuzion will have a live music lounge, a dance floor with a DJ booth 8 feet above it, its own house dancers on Saturday nights, and three separate bars including the frozen one where parka-bundled patrons may sip specialty vodka drinks.
This isn't a hip club for Shockoe, the Fan or even Manchester. It's in Scott's Addition, the newest of cool.
Scott's Addition is a 20-square-block, 152-acre collection of notable mid-20th-century factory buildings and a few residences. The district is tucked behind North Boulevard and West Broad Street and bounded by the I-195 and the Acca railroad yard. You may never have heard of "the Addition," though you may have gone past or even among its numerous low-slung industrial buildings, perhaps to buy roses at the Flower Market, get your rugs cleaned at Mercer's, drop off laundry at Puritan Cleaners or slurp a shake at the iconic Dairy Bar.
As Richmond's exurbs grew with residents and office parks in the 1980s and '90s, many of the Addition's too-big buildings sat on the edge of viable commercial use. They were vast, unairconditioned and not divided into offices. But in recent years, sweet proximity to almost everything and the neighborhood's qualities are making those aging hulks attractive.
"These buildings became functionally obsolete," explains Seth McMillan of French Consulting, which is developing the former Breyer Ice Cream factory at 1610 Altamont Ave. "People moved out. Now we're seeing businesses bringing in cleaner uses, office and technology, coinciding with the rediscovery of the neighborhood."
The three central avenues in Scott's Addition describe high places and perspective: Summit, Highpoint and Altamont. Thing is, the neighborhood is flat. Between 1930 and 1960, when about 800 people lived there, this was a tough, white, working-class neighborhood. The kind of place, a former newspaper delivery boy recalled with humorous hyperbole, where German shepherd dogs walked in pairs.
The Sphinx, the Acropolis…
Standing on the rooftop deck of his Riverstone General Contractor firm, David S. Wheeler admires the panorama: the onion-shaped tower of Adams Camera, the iconographic Coca-Cola bottle, the Diamond baseball stadium's curve giving its namesake shine in the afternoon sun, the rotunda of the Science Museum of Virginia and the Interbake Foods/FFV 1930s Deco cookie factory.
Wheeler points out the Coca-Cola bottling factory, which will be converted to commercial use, and additional buildings where other contractors, architects and design firms have hung their shingle or will soon. Some 14 conversion or renovation projects are either ongoing or in the pipeline throughout Scott's Addition and along North Boulevard. The most anticipated is the 16-screen "Movieland at Boulevard Square" scheduled to open in 2008 by New York-based Bow Tie Partners. It will go in the space occupied by the Richmond Steel building at Leigh Street and the Boulevard.
Before coming to Scott's Addition, Wheeler set up shop in suburban office parks. People thought his latest move an odd choice. He found his graffiti-tagged building in shambles, a space that bands used for rehearsals. When Wheeler first saw the former sprinkler factory in 2006, he thought that all the building needed was somebody with imagination and determination. Riverstone opened shop there in January. The first floor of his building will house Blacker's Infuzion club.
"I'm surprised that most people haven't ever heard of Scott's Addition," Wheeler says. "When I give directions to people, they're kind of mystified, until they see what's going on here."
Georgetown Before Georgetown
Among the Addition's 400 businesses are Astra Design, the Richmond Volleyball Club, outdoor furniture maker McKinnon and Harris, Brass Beds of Virginia, and Sgt. Santa's Workshop.
The Scott's Addition Business Association got the community on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, sparking the current development buzz. The designation allows for national and state historic tax credits in addition to tax abatements for city buildings older than 25 years.
Hannah Foreman, a Richmond employee benefits consultant, was renting on Cutshaw Avenue and for two years made real estate her hobby. She went to open houses and studied the condominium and the apartment markets. Foreman learned about the new Summit Lofts condominiums.
Here, the former warehouse for the National Radiator Company, built in 1925, had undergone the neighborhood's first dramatic conversion. It has 14 residential units featuring 25-foot ceilings, windows and skylights.
The urban environment, the quality of workmanship in the building, the price of $220,000, the space ratio (her unit is 1,062 square feet), and the convenience to her office sealed her decision. On Dec. 29. 2006, she moved in with her fiancé, Josh Killian, now the sous chef at Chez Foushee.
"I feel like I've found Georgetown two years before it became Georgetown," she says.
A Separate Reality
The land upon which Scott's Addition rests remained for the most part undeveloped until 1900. An "addition" was the 19th-century term for a suburb and was designated by the majority property owner. Descendants of Gen. Winfield and Maria Mayo Scott owned the majority of the Addition's parcels through the end of the 19th century. (See below)
In 1909 North Sheppard Street was extended, bringing a sewer line along with it into the Addition. Row apartments built there came with indoor bathrooms, which was not the norm, especially in the Addition. In the 1930s, these apartments were hives of bootlegging and prostitution.
When the Addition was annexed from Henrico County into Richmond, it was along the trolley lines and accessible by rail. This arrangement would've seemed ideal for homesteading, but instead Scott's Addition eventually had the highest concentration of industry in Richmond.
Kim Chen, an architectural historian and partner at Richmond's Johannas Design Group, prepared the application to put Scott's Addition on the National Register of Historic Places. "Much of early zoning was a not-so-veiled attempt to segregate housing by race and class," she wrote in the application. "One tool was the expansion of commercial and industrial areas into African-American and lower-rent neighborhoods."
"Scott's A." or the "Addition," as residents called it, operated with its own set of bylaws and social structure. It was shaped like a diamond and at the top was Moore's Field, where the Richmond Colts minor-league baseball team played. The nearby Acca train yards, named for a horse farm once on its northern end, provided an inner-city theme park.
Straight Out of Scott's Addition
Ken Woodcock was born into this neighborhood, raised by his mother, Nellie. The rules of the street proved a challenging dynamic to those his mother preferred that young Ken follow. Backing down from a fight in Scott's Addition meant weakness. "We constantly had fistfights, even with our closest friends," he wrote in his 2000 memoir Scott's Addition.
His account of growing up in the neighberhood reads like a PG-13 version of The Little Rascals. He provides a trove of anecdotes and lessons about growing up in inner-city, white, mid-20th-century Richmond.
"We were poor, but we didn't know it," Woodcock says. "It was only when I got out of the Addition into other neighborhoods that I saw how other people lived."
Woodcock learned about social strata and prejudice through several pointed life lessons.
One concerned the hooded men carrying baseball bats who patrolled the streets at night to "protect" the residents from any blacks who might've wandered into the neighborhood.
One evening toward dusk, while playing daredevil with their bikes, Woodcock and a friend, David Mitchell, observed Tom Morgan, an African-American truck driver for Carter Brothers who was an acquaintance of theirs, pulling in and not able to chat because he needed to complete paperwork and leave the Addition. On his way out of the truck lot, he was accosted by three hooded, bat-wielding men.
The boys watching in the alley decided to act. David distracted one of the three men, then kicked him in the shins and ran. When the other two gave chase, Woodcock tripped them with a rope. Tom bolted.
Woodcock notes that while these men were looking for blacks to beat up, they allowed all manner of moral vices to run rampant on Sheppard Street and other corners of the Addition "without raising a finger to stop it."
Woodcock met his future wife, Kay Johnson, a North Side girl, at the Scott's Addition skating rink, and they wed on Jan. 25, 1958. They had three children, and the couple are now grandparents, five times over.
"I still get royalties from that little book," Woodcock muses. "I don't know why, but apparently some people out there are interested in Scott's Addition."
Hot on Tax Credits
Much of Ken Woodcock's Scott's Addition — the diners, the grocery stores, and residences — exist now through his memory imprinted upon pages. Heavy commerce for which the city zoned the section, even while Woodcock lived there, ended up sweeping away many neighborhood places.
Yet the notable collection of mid-20th-century commercial architecture wouldn't exist today without the twin strands of neglect and civic revival. Architect Ashley Neville, who has completed historic tax credit documentation on four Addition buildings, says that it wouldn't occur to people in other places to create an historic district out of these kinds of buildings.
"A lot of cities don't do that," Neville says. "Richmond is really hot with tax credits. You think every city is like that, and it's not, both in Virginia and in other states."
The Baker Atrium lofts, a French Consulting project, where fire and utility trucks were made, feature balconies thrust into the metal-and-glass atrium where the large vehicles that had outgrown the garages were completed. Some 9,300 pieces of glass were either cleaned or replaced in renovating the atrium. An orange crane once used to haul up engines or sections of fire trucks hangs from the ceiling indicating that the industry that occurred here isn't far away; indeed, Baker moved across the alley.
Not everything in the Addition is going condo or becoming a granite-countered apartment. Chris Stratiou is reviving a 1500-square-foot row house on Leigh Street. The place was a mess. "But I figured, in my life, it's time to get started," he says. He likes the neighborhood, and the couple next door has been here 40 years.
Landscape designer Dennis Brumback tends a nursery nestled by the imposing brick eminence of the old General Baking building at 3200 W. Clay St. A ramshackle arrangement of wooden walls shelters growing plants and a shady willow. The organic and un-industrial nature of his nursery, Brumback says, has annoyed some people and he wonders why.
"I'm bringing in natural, living things as opposed to concrete and asphalt," he says.
Like an Ocean Liner
Along Scott's Addition streets one can see entrances decorated by original glass brick, swooping aluminum awnings and buildings that meet the square curb with graceful curves.
"The Binswanger Glass [now HandCraft] building is like an ocean liner just came and docked in the middle of Scott's Addition," Chen says. In her view, the Binswanger is as good an example of "Moderne" in Richmond as the Model Tobacco building on Jefferson Davis Turnpike. "It's just that nobody ever sees it back there."
Here, too, at 1519 Summit Ave., is Phipps & Bird. Medical College of Virginia teachers Morris Phipps and Lloyd C. Bird founded the medical laboratory supply company in 1925. The firm has been in various places in Richmond, but here makes all kinds of objects, as jovial president Wes Skaperdas explains, roaming from room to room. These buildings were once used by Reynolds Metals to research a number of products, including, he says, the aluminum baseball bat. "And some say the Corvair engine block," he adds with a chuckle.
Things are still made here such as industrial-strength metal brackets, the backs for high-end McKinnon and Harris chaises, which also are crafted in the Addition. Skaperdas is quite proud to show off the new furnace that bakes paint onto the metal.
Furniture maker Harrison Higgins moved late last year from a shop on Broad Street to a warehouse space at 1700 Altamont. Higgins found the building by word of mouth. The relocation required Higgins to put in all new electrical and plumbing, but the result is splendid. "One thing I like is that this isn't on the periphery," he says. "We're convenient to customers and suppliers. And the character of the place suits us."
Hannah Foreman knew the Addition was on the rise, and that's one reason she's living at the Summit.
"I really feel that the people who live in the city should support it," she says. "I love the convenience, eclectic architecture, the outdoor bars, diversity. I grew up in a small universe town in New Kent County. For me, Scott's Addition is the place to be."
Old Fuss and Feathers
Belleville is Scott Addition's westernmost street, and it leads to its origins.
Most of the land was part of a 600-acre 19th-century plantation called the Hermitage, which contained a rambling frame-and-brick mansion that stood in the location of today's Science Museum of Virginia.
Prosperous John Mayo Jr., who owned Mayo's Island and the bridge over it, later moved from the Hermitage in December 1816 to Bellville, which stood near present Lombardy and Grace streets.
At Bellville, on March 11, 1817, Mayo's belle of a daughter, Maria (1789-1862) wed Dinwiddie County native Gen. Winfield Scott (1786-1866). His fondness for dress uniforms and army regulations earned him the nickname of "Old Fuss and Feathers."
From 1841 on, Scott was general-in-chief of the United States Army. He tried to persuade Col. Robert E. Lee to stay in, and then later devised the Anaconda Plan that constricted the Southern Confederacy.
When Mayo Jr. died, the childless couple inherited a portion of properties west of the Hermitage mansion. Nieces and nephews subdivided the land.
Bellville burned in 1841 and the Hermitage in 1857.