The Lyons-Stanard house at the time of the Westmoreland Club’s residence, in 1927. The image shows the 1902 additions to the back and top of the house. Residences surround the place. Photo courtesy Cook Collection, Valentine Richmond History Center
This is a Richmond story about an honor-pay parking lot and how it got to be that way.Here goes.In 1835, James Gray buys the southeast corner of Sixth and Grace streets, intending to one-up the greatcupola-topped house of Abram Warwick one block west. But Gray’s ambition seems to have exceeded his pocketbook. Come 1839, Gray sells the partially built 601 E. Grace St. and the remaining construction materials to lawyer Robert Stanard, later a Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals judge.This conveyance sends us deep into Richmond lore.
On Feb. 13, 1812, Stanard marries Jane Stith Craig (a daughter of Adam Craig, Richmond’s late-18th-century go-to court clerk, whose Shockoe house still stands at 1812 E. Grace St). Their son, Robert Craig Stanard, becomes a boyhood playmate of young Edgar Allan Poe when the Stanards live on Ninth Street, across from Capitol Square.
Poe develops a massive crush on Jane, Rob’s mom; she gives a sympathetic listen to his unhappiness. Jane Stanard was, he said, “the first, purely ideal love of my soul.” Poe dedicated his poem, “To Helen,” in her memory. It all goes bad: Jane dies insane in 1824. Rob Stanard and Poe make regular pilgrimages to her grave. Poe goes even after he’s married.
Judge Stanard, by accounts an insightful and stern jurist, finishes in stucco the house Gray started. But he lives a mere six years longer. He dies on May 14, 1846. Son Rob follows his father into law and the legislature, and maintains the tradition of entertaining. Poe visits (and borrows $150). During an international tour, novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (Vanity Fair, The Luck of Barry Lyndon) gets a little gathering in his honor there. The lady of the house, Mrs. Martha Pierce Stanard, as a friend recounts years later, boasted that she never read a book. Later, as a merry widow, she’s one of the Confederate capital’s grandest hostesses. Her husband, Rob, dies at age 43 and, like his father, is taken from the house to Shockoe Cemetery.Martha sells the place to William Hamilton MacFarland, deeply invested in civic and business matters and, from 1837 to 1865, president of the Farmer’s Bank. He’s the “king of hospitality” on Grace Street, although at least one person remembers him as “the curly-haired poodle from Richmond, nearly overcome with dignity and fat.”In 1870, MacFarland forms the State Bank of Virginia, but also in that year sells the house at auction. New Orleanian Arthur Penn buys it for his son-in-law, James Lyons, yet another lawyer-legislator “and the handsomest man of his day,” who had studied law under Judge Stanard. When Stanard ascended to the state bench, he passed his practice to Lyons. Historian Mary Wingfield Scott remarks, “Wherever he lived, he entertained as many prominent visitors as Mrs. Robert C. Stanard had done.” He dies, age 81, in 1882.
The house is purchased for $15,000 from the Penns by the 2-year-old Westmoreland Club, formed by former Confederate Gen. Henry “Harry” Heth (pronounced “Heeth”). Heth, of a Chesterfield County coal mining family, commanded the division that went on a shoe-hunting expedition in the little town of Gettysburg, Pa., thereby inciting the big battle. Heth and other former Confederate officers secede from the whippersnappers in the Richmond Club. They name themselves after the home county of Robert E. Lee.
The Westmoreland Club rules forbid whistling, loud conversation, sleeping on the couches or propping feet on the furniture. Its bylaws state that the organization is founded “for the promotion of social intercourse, and for the purpose of maintaining a library and reading-room,” and that there’d be no bar (there ultimately is one), and neither gaming nor dogs are allowed. This leaves talking, of which plenty ensues, as the old soldiers re-fight the battles of their war with gusto.The Virginia Historical Society (VHS) holds meetings in the upstairs rooms for 14 years until moving to the Stewart-Lee House on East Franklin where the Westmoreland Club began. When the Society departs, its art goes too. A committee headed by sculptor and historian Edward V. Valentine procures portraits of renowned Virginians and Confederate heroes. They regard the world from their walls without contradiction.Debutantes in ball gowns swish through the halls, accompanied by their formal-dress beaus. A walnut writing desk from Poe’s journalistic home of the Southern Literary Messenger comes into the collection of the Westmoreland, at his friend’s former home.An early-20th-century Richmond newspaper observes that “probably more State legislation has been launched there than in any other building in Virginia, not even excepting the hotels of Richmond.” In 1902, most of the mansion’s outer buildings are demolished as the rear undergoes expansion for billiard tables, a sun porch and a roof garden.But time catches up to the old guard. By 1937, amid the Great Depression, the house is a bit tattered, and the club’s membership whittled away. The city buys the library; the furnishings disperse to the Valentine Museum, its documents to the VHS; the art, along with a few surviving members, moves to the Commonwealth Club. The Southern Literary Messenger desk is eventually acquired by the Poe Museum.Judge Stanard’s house is dismantled for a parking lot to complement the Loew’s movie palace, the bustling retail colossi of Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimer’s and an Amoco station.The modern Atlantic Life Building, a mix of parking and lower-level commerce, stands from 1950 until 2003, when it is razed to make a recessed pay parking lot. In 2009, for the 1708 Gallery’s second annual InLight exhibition, this lot is used as an outdoor lounge and beer garden, while visual art is projected on nearby walls.On the house’s lot, there is laughter and imbibing — and even, despite the Westmoreland Club’s rules, a few dogs.