UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
Mendel Mesick Cohen Waite Hall Architects 388 Broadway Albany, New York 12207
I put these ideas to a number of valued professional friends outside the university, most notably to Adele Chatfield-Taylor, the newly appointed head of the National Endowment's Design Arts Program and a respected preservationist, and to Michael Ainslie, then President of the National Trust. They agreed with my assessment and were extraordinarily helpful and supportive in talking out a strategy; and in a relatively short period we, joined by a few other early enthusiasts, fashioned a proposal to the President of the university, Frank Hereford, to create a Lawn Advisory Board made up of interested professionals and lay persons from around the country. (Our model was based on similar groups organized to help Central Park and the Boston Public Gardens.) This group would: a) advise the President and the Board of Visitors (the university's governing body) with respect to the development of programs, policies, and procedures for the restoration, preservation, and maintenance of the historic buildings and grounds (the university's nomenclature for Jefferson's historic precinct including the Stanford White additions at the south end of the Lawn and several other non-Jeffersonian peripheral buildings); b) seek funds, both for endowment and special projects, to carry out this purpose; c) foster further discussion, research, documentation, and publication with respect to the precinct; d) monitor and review the ongoing curatorial management of the property. We intended that these "friends of the Lawn" would work closely with existing and appropriate university committees as well as with The Garden Club of Virginia, which over the last forty years had beautifully restored the Pavilion Gardens and continued to serve as attentive guardians of our "garden district."
For so famous a site there was relatively little coordinated research and/or documentation readily available in one place. Not unlike an illustrious family tree, the complex had been given much lip service but little serious scrutiny - at least by "the family"; there was much mythology but too little knowledge. No completed set of Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) drawings existed nor any comprehensive or coherent record of the changes made to the buildings since their completion. Lacking a proper Historic Structures Report (HSR), there was also no professional preservation plan to guide the maintenance and renovation that was taking place every year on an ad hoc basis to meet both routine maintenance needs and the kind of "up grading" normal to old buildings everywhere which are in continuous use. New baths and kitchens, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, handicap, safety and other code requirements posed significant architectural problems as did changes in use. Historic fabric was being added to, amended, ignored, and in some cases, even destroyed to no set of discernible, commonly agreed upon, or professionally researched guidelines. And, by and large, this was being done by people untrained for this sort of work. (The same Buildings and Grounds crew that worked at the gymnasium might, a week later, appear on the Lawn. And while there were skilled craftsmen among this crew and certain decisions had received considerable professional attention, the Lawn, as a whole, was not being treated as one of our most valued, and most fragile, artifacts. I remember well seeing some of the "slam-bang" work going on and being quite startled.) The demands, particularly in the Pavilions, for the reworking of interior spaces to make them more adaptable to modern uses and equipment was continuous and pressing, and, over the years, this resulted in some quite incongruous architectural treatments. Several of the Hotels, renovated to provide much needed university office space, had little or nothing left of their historic character -a sometimes stunning disparity between inside and out.
This kind of whittling away at historic fabric is, of course, a commonplace at older institutions, and Charlottesville was no exception. The original buildings had been tampered with, altered, even torn down (e.g. the Anatomical Theater) by those who should have been most concerned, a process of "benign neglect" in which ideas of architectural excellence and original intent seemed to have been lost. Indeed the two most gifted architects to build on the Lawn after Jefferson himself, Robert Mills and Stanford White , both made additions of the most profound sort. (Happily Mills' rather ungainly North Front addition to the Rotunda burned down; less happily, this ushered in White, who closed the Lawn's open south end with Cabell Hall and did an elaborate reworking of the Rotunda's interiors. Both were transformations which largely ignored Jefferson. In contrast, White's north end courtyards remain today one of the most successful illusions in American architecture.) In short, the university acquiesced and participated in a policy of inattention and/or radical restructuring in which the ebb and flow of architectural fashion and/or the practical need of the moment called the tune rather than any commitment to preservation of the Jeffersonian ideal (i.e., to the landmark as such). The university loved its Lawn, but, without really knowing it, was continually recasting it.
Frederick D. Nichols, the noted Jefferson scholar and Langhorne Professor at the School of Architecture until 1982 (a school founded in 1919 by Fiske Kimball, who was instrumental in restoring Jefferson's architectural reputation in the 20th Century), was the exception in this history of neglect and intervention. "Freddie" represented the cause of sound custodial management all along and fought a skillful rear-guard action to extract funds from the State and private donors for various scattered projects. His gallant, and underfunded, restoration of the Rotunda to its original Jeffersonian (interior) configuration in honor of the Nation's Bicentennial celebration was literally and figuratively a "landmark" effort-the first serious large-scale restoration on the Lawn following "original intent." It was also a move met with shock on the part of some old alumni and not a few professional preservationists (How dare one destroy Stanford White to restore Jefferson!). Looked at in perspective then, the "time for preservation," which came of age nationally in the 1970s, made it possible to launch a more focused preservation campaign in Charlottesville after 1981; it had as much to do with "the tides of history" as with personalities. Sooner or later this kind of effort would have been made.
From the outset President Hereford and his Vice President for Development, Marion Peavey, recognized the importance of what we were proposing and gave it their whole-hearted support, Peavey throwing the weight of his experience and office behind the organization of the outside group and the staffing of its activities. The Board of Visitors formally approved our proposal in 1983 and the small initial group of supporters was enlarged and "enfranchised" in 1984. President Robert O'Neil, who was inaugurated in 1986, has carried forward enthusiastically with the university's commitment and is today at the center of our current campaign.
We had to start slowly, with limited funds, to promote our cause and here our small group proved enormously helpful. Early on, Samuel Reed, then President of American Heritage Magazine (and an original Board Member), engaged the noted preservationist James Marston Fitch (who became a Board Member) to do a piece on the Lawn, which was superb and well-illustrated in itself but, more importantly for our purposes, served as a necessary opening promotional piece, a start at getting the message out to a national audience. Other pieces appearedin M Magazine (thanks also to Reed), the Washington Post , the New York Times , and these, together with a series of carefully planned Rotunda dinners in Charlottesville, meetings in New York (hosted by Charlie Brown at his new AT&T headquarters), and talks by the likes of Philip Johnson, Tom Wolfe, and Vincent Scully, began to stir interest and support outside of Virginia. The Board, renamed the Jeffersonian Restoration Advisory Board, was fortunate during this time to gain as its chairman Peter Lawson-Johnston, an alumnus of the college and President of the Guggenheim Museum. He along with Vice Chairman FitzGerald Bemiss of Richmond, Peavey's development staff, and other energetic and generous Board Members, launched a fund raising effort which secured not only important private donations but major matching grants from the Kresge Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Currently a full-fledged campaign is underway to raise $10 million dollars for endowment and restoration purposes -one that is crucial to the Lawn's future.
From the start, however, it was Adele Chatfield-Taylor who had stressed that a first and critical step was the commissioning of a proper Historic Structures Report for the Historic Buildings and Grounds. She also championed the idea of the appointment of a University Preservation Architect for the Lawn, to replace Fred Nichols who had become an Emeritus Professor. In 1983 Murray Howard, a professional preservationist, was hired to fill this role, and in 1987, with a seed money grant from the NEA, Mendel Mesick Cohen Waite Hall Architects, one of the nation's leading preservation firms, was selected to prepare a plan for a comprehensive restoration for the Lawn as well as the first segment of a Historic Structures Report.
John Mesick's and Jack Waite's careful investigations and exciting findings over the last year, combined with Murray Howard's energetic reorganization of the university's ongoing preservation and maintenance activities, now serve as a foundation on which future restoration and preservation work on the Lawn can be carried forward. I can only thank them and all the others - Board Members, university officials, and outside donors -who have been instrumental in giving reality to our initial proposition. For, without question, the preservation and further study of Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village is extraordinarily rich in promise and significance for the preservation field as a whole and for the university, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Nation. The document which follows is a fine "first chapter" in a national effort on behalf of a truly national monument.
It is encouraging to know that the Founder approves of what we're all up to.
JAQUELIN T. ROBERTSON, FAIA, AICP Charlottesville, Virginia
Fundamental to such curatorship is research -of written documents, drawings, photographs and, most important of all, building fabric itself. Only a comprehensive analysis of all sources will allow truly informed decisions on matters of preservation, restoration, and use. The research task is considerable, requiring a commitment of several years and many people, yielding new insights and fresh appraisals.
Towards such ends the university retained the architectural firm of Mendel Mesick Cohen Waite Hall of Albany, New York, to prepare the first phase of a comprehensive Historic Structures Report for the entire Academical Village and a prototype Historic Structure Report for Pavilion I. Their charge was to identify documentary sources and initiate research of all accessible materials, to examine the site, and to give advice on future care of the entire ensemble. Their assignment is the first effort of its type for Jefferson's planned community.
The consulting team, led by John G. Waite and John I Mesick, quickly demonstrated the appropriateness of its methodology and the individual strengths of its members as restoration architects, building conservators, and curators. Throughout, we have been nourished by serious discussions of both problems and opportunities, in an intellectual atmosphere free to examine all possibilities. Through such experiences, we intend that everyone's imaginations remain supple, avoiding the doctrinaire. And the studies have been sensitive to our educational aims, including both architecture students and craftsmen as legitimate members of the restoration laboratory that has been developing at the university during the 1980s.
We are truly encouraged by the work of Mendel Mesick Cohen Waite Hall during 1987 and believe it will prove its value many times over. The university is indebted to the Design Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts for their financial support as well as their encouragement throughout the preparation of this landmark study. We urge all who believe in the value of the Academical Village to share in the spirit of the report and to support continuation of the restoration effort.
JAMES MURRAY HOWARD , AIA Architect for the Historic Buildings and Grounds