Although it's not the oldest place in the United States (that honor belongs to St. Augustine, Fla.), Richmond has its share of old among the new. And some marvelous saves have occurred. But highways, parking lots and lack of planning have robbed us of some unique architectural legacies over the past 30 years. This is an incomplete list of losses.
The "Half Moon" House , 10450 Cherokee Road. Razed in 2004 . Haigh Jamgochian, the architect of the Markel "Reynolds Wrap" building near Willow Lawn, designed this house in 1967 for renowned Richmond used-car salesman Howard "Mad Man Dapper Dan" Hughes. He wanted "something out of this world" for his wife, Ruby, and three daughters.
The 3,834-square-foot crescent offered a splendid river panorama with its outer wall of glass.
Several years before the house's demolition, former state Sen. Alex McMurtrie Jr. bought the house and allowed it to sit dormant. In 2004, an attorney for McMurtrie explained to this magazine that the house's unusual pie-shaped rooms and lack of depth was suited for an "arty-crafty" person, which his client was not.
The Murphy Hotel (more recently, the Eighth Street Office Building), 807 E. Broad St . Taken down in 2008. The Murphy wasn't luxurious, but it was recognized for its hospitality. The building designed by John Kevan Peebles, architect of the State Capitol's wings, was completed in 1911. The building's condition declined for years under state control. Terracotta ornamentation began cracking and falling onto the street, prompting the erection of an unsightly canopy. Preservationists postponed the destruction date, but they couldn't hold off the wreckers.
Lawrence Chrysler Plymouth "Clam Shell" Showroom , Broad Street and Staples Mill Road . Obliterated in 2001. Architect E. Tucker Carlton in 1965 designed one of the region's most unusual, and rare, examples of "mid-century modern" commercial architecture — an automobile showroom resembling a giant mollusk. The property was acquired by Anthem as part of the parking lot for its new headquarters.
The Larrick Center , (previously the Civil War Centennial Building) . Razed in 2008. This odd domed structure was constructed as a temporary museum for the Civil War Centennial in 1961. The building was ceded to the Medical College of Virginia (now VCU Medical Center), which most recently used it as a dining hall.
The Great Turning Basin of the James River Kanawha Canal . Dug out and covered over 1983-1985 . At the location of the Omni Hotel's underground parking, and beneath the James Center, was the Great Basin, three blocks long, a block wide, and at least 40 feet deep, where canal boats of the pre-Civil War era unloaded cargo and picked up passengers. The developers wouldn't use the unearthed basin as a water amenity. During construction, however, canal enthusiasts were allowed into the muck, and they identified and recorded 63 sunken boats and 48 bateaux.
City Auditorium/VCU Gym stables , behind 911 W. Cary St., 917 Green Alley . Demolished in 2007. VCU acquired the former City Auditorium in 1979 and adapted it for a student gymnasium. Since the overhaul, VCU's student population has grown to some 30,000, with greater needs. City Auditorium is now undergoing the enhancement of a 99,000-square-foot addition.
In the process, the livery stable at 911 Green Alley, subject of a Richmond magazine pictorial in 1998 because of its dramatic residential redesign, was relocated a block away to the Mary Anne Francis Youth Center and still exists there; the 917 Green Alley building was demolished despite protests.
815-829 E. Broad Street . Razed ca. 1993. These late 19th- and early 20th-century buildings included the 1853 Stebbins, Davenport & Co. building that survived the Evacuation Fire of 1865 — but not the administration of Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. A proposed lottery headquarters was to go there. The space now serves as a parking lot for the General Assembly.
Thalhimers Department Store , Seventh and East Broad streets . Demolished in 2004. City officials and boosters of downtown development needed a prime location for a new performing-arts center, and the dormant Thalhimers store — adjacent to the former Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts (originally a Loew's movie palace) — was the obvious choice. The ugly 1950s aluminum sheathing that covered the façade obscured a row of early 20th-century commercial buildings that weren't uncovered to assess their value for preservation. The 1950s walls of the Seventh and Grace street sides were retained.
The Capitol Theatre , Robinson and Broad streets . Destroyed in 1995. The 666-seat Capitol, designed by Carneal & Johnston architects, opened in 1926 as the first of the Neighborhood Theater chain and built almost exclusively by Richmond contractors. By 1966, the fanciful "Spanish veranda garden" interior, designed by Ferruccio Legnaioli, was gone. Richmond movie impresario Ray Bentley started all-night movie jams there. In April 1984, though, competing with multiplexes and a week after the Byrd Theatre reopened, the Capitol went dark. A plan to put a drive-through McDonald's there failed, but not before the place was ripped to pieces.
Varina . Village named around 1680, portions of the district erased from the mid-1990s and ongoing. Rocketts Landing rescued an old wood-products factory for a mixed-use, "new urbanism" project straddling the line of Richmond and Henrico. Rocketts opened the development vista stretching in a crescent from Tree Hill — where in 1607 Captain John Smith may have first met Powhatan — to Wilton and Curles Neck.
As of now, Henrico has no historic-preservation statute. Debates about the county's 2026 Comprehensive Land Use Plan may resolve the issue.