Now + Then: Baskervill Turns 120

Architecture’s enduring nature is powerful; it heralds prosperity, honors patronage, celebrates advances and echoes trends. But, most significantly, buildings are where we grow families, educate generations, build companies and gather. Our relationship with buildings actually shapes our cities, our neighborhoods and our communities. The thoughtful assembly of materials—brick, wood, glass, stone—become literal guideposts that reflect our understanding of a community, its unique identity and the needs of its people for a specific moment in time.

But, like seasons, buildings change. Some have many lives. Needs evolve, necessitating dramatic reinvention; yet, some buildings continue to operate under their original calling more than a century later. Over the 120 years, our firm has called Richmond home, we’ve seen first-hand the evolution, growth and transformation of our city and the role architecture has played in it.  Today we’re digging into our archives, reflecting on those projects that have stood the test of time.

Founded in 1911, St. Christopher’s School moved from its original location to its current home in Richmond’s Westhampton neighborhood in 1914, when Baskervill first began work on campus. Chamberlayne Hall, the school’s most notable building and the “focal point of the school’s ‘historic corridor,’”, was completed by Baskervill in 1942. Hailed as “the newest and most modern school building in Richmond” at the time, the three-story, 20,000-SF, Georgian-Revival structure had classrooms, labs, a library, administrative offices, locker rooms and commons area. Today, Chamberlayne Hall is home to St. Christopher’s Upper School and a central part of the school’s thriving campus life.Chamberlayne Hall is cited as a contributing resource to the school’s National Register of Historic Places designation.James and Sallie Dooley were central figures in Richmond and beyond at the height of the Gilded Age—actively participating in the expansion of railways, land development and other business ventures in the southern U.S. Upon her death, Sallie bequeathed $500,000 to purchase a site and build a library in memory of her husband. The Dooley Library was designed in 1928 by Baskervill in the Art Deco style, and opened to the public in 1930. The library took its final form in 1972 with an expansion that tripled the capacity of the library. The Baskervill-designed two-story addition wraps entirely around the original Dooley Library, rendering it invisible from the exterior. The original structure is preserved today as the Dooley Wing within the Library system’s Main Branch.Baskervill had a long relationship with the Dooley family, doing work at their Maymont Estate and designing their summer estate on Afton Mountain, Swannanoa, in 1911.On the heels of the Medical College of Virginia’s centennial celebration in 1938, the Federal Works Agency’s Public Works Administration commissioned MCV Hospital as a new outpost for learning and high-quality care. Dedicated in 1940, the 308,000-SF hospital was, at that time, the tallest building in Richmond and one of the largest hospitals in the South. The Art Deco design is most noted for its unique cross shape and massing, with setbacks on the 12th, 14th and 15th floors. Today, the hospital building is a central part of VCU’s MCV campus, mainly serving academic and administrative purposes for infectious disease, nutrition and psychiatry services, and the Schools of Medicine and Allied Health Professions.On June 25, 1788, The Virginia convention ratified the U.S. Constitution at the hospital site. One of the South’s notable railroads, Seaboard Air Line Railroad Company, relocated their headquarters to Richmond from Norfolk in 1958 to a Baskervill-designed building on West Broad Street. After years of fierce competition, the company merged with Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1967 before finally joining CSX Transportation in 1986. After that, the building housed a number of different tenants including Traveler’s Insurance and the Virginia Department of Taxation. Throughout its many lives, the building’s Moderne architecture has remained a strong example of the period woven into the industrial neighborhood’s architectural fabric. The building’s top floors were converted into apartments in 2011 and the ground floor became retail space. Today, the eight-story building is known as 3600 Centre.The building’s shape was meant to resemble a railroad caboose car – a subtle nod to the business of its owner.Until the late 1980s, global manufacturing and engineering business Robertshaw Controls Company had headquarters offices at 1701 Byrd Ave. for its specialized HVAC and household appliance services business. Baskervill designed the original building for the company in 1961, and returned in 2008 to transform the International-Style building to meet the needs of new owners, the Faison School for Autism. The renovation completely overhauled the entirety of the building’s interior spaces to best support the school’s curriculum and learning objectives, but left the exterior largely untouched. Today, Baskervill’s leading efforts to further expand Faison’s campus with several new buildings envisioned as part of the school’s master plan, which includes an addition to the original building slated for completion in 2018.Robertshaw’s original master control panel - a massive, wall-sized instrument panel in the basement - still exists, entirely intact, exactly as it was when the building was first constructed.

Want to learn more? The Virginia Historical Society has documents and drawings of Baskervill projects dating back to our founding!


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