Guest Commentary: ‘What would Mr. Jefferson do’ with Second Baptist?

Second Baptist Church in Richmond should be preserved

The classical façade of the Second Baptist Church building replicates the Maison Carrée. (BizSense file)

On a balmy Saturday afternoon, Feb. 12, some 100 determined demonstrators rallied in the shadow of the Jefferson Hotel to protest demolition of the former Second Baptist Church next door at 9 W. Franklin St.

“This is a world-class building,” said placard-wielding Michael Phillips, a historian of southern furniture and architecture. “There isn’t a town or city in North America that wouldn’t cherish this building. I’ve heard from people from all over and they think we’re crazy.”

The reaction of folks who care about historical context, economic development and quality of life here has shifted from incredulity to disgust since learning that the City of Richmond has given the green light for Historic Hotels, the owner of the Jefferson, to level the irreplaceable sanctuary that it acquired some 30 years ago. Subsequently, the church has deteriorated from disuse and neglect (note the protective tarpaulin that’s been slapped for some time across the southeast quadrant of the metal roof. Tacky, huh?)

But this resilient landmark, with plenty of life still in it, is an achingly perfect rendition of the Maison Carrée, a 2-4 CE Roman temple that still stands in Nimes, France. Second Baptist was built in 1906 on the eve of the 300th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown in 1607. The congregation and Richmond architecture firm of Noland & Baskervill (now Baskervill) were channeling the classical temple that had in 1785 inspired Thomas Jefferson’s design for Virginia’s Capitol (12 blocks east on Franklin Street).

Wrote Jefferson of the Maison Carrée: “Without contradiction… the most perfect and precious remains of antiquity in existence.” The congregation was also probably saluting Jefferson for authoring the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786 which allowed Baptists, previously persecuted, to worship freely.

The Maison Carrée, a 2-4 CE Roman temple that still stands in Nimes, France.

For 116 years, Second Baptist has stood as a Gilded Age architectural companion to the Jefferson Hotel (built in 1895) and bolstered immeasurably the life and handsome urban texture of West Franklin Street. After the early 1960s when the congregation moved to the far West End, the former church served as a downtown campus of the University of Richmond and later, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. And since 30 years ago, when the grand hotel incorporated a block of North Adams Street into a motor court, the newly-formed plaza has been framed in part by the luxuriant western building facade of the sanctuary. Rarely does one find such graceful melding of two grand, classical-revival structures, architectural chemistry that makes an urban space, well, a place.

Apparently the Jefferson ownership doesn’t see it that way. It is keen on adding more negative spaces to the disfiguring horseshoe of surface parking lots that now mar its environs. Why does the hotel want to demolish a magnificent building that contributes to its immediate surroundings, and could do much more both aesthetically and monetarily, if restored? Talk about dumping in your own front yard. The property could have produced income for the past third of a century.

Other former church sanctuaries nearby in Jackson Ward, Church Hill, and the Fan have been turned into handsome condominiums. In Ginter Park, a former sanctuary at Union Presbyterian Seminary is now a modern library. So when I read the Richmond Times-Dispatch quoting Historic Hotels head William Goodwin saying that he and his organization had tried everything for 30 years to figure out a use for Second Baptist, I wondered: who the heck has Mr. Grinch been talking to? There is nary an old warehouse or gas station, 50 years or older, that the Hoos in Hooville haven’t restored with or without historic tax credits.

The Jefferson management has always known that its property was in a historic district. True, there was a time (in the almost forgotten past) when historic properties weren’t identified or spelled out. Unsophisticated businesspeople, claiming to be blindsided, could hold sway. But there are now layers of architects, architectural historians, urban planners, tax experts, lawyers, civic groups and preservation organizations to lead one through the thicket and rewards of historic preservation and adaptive reuse. So what makes the vaulted Jefferson Hotel exempt from best practices, core local values, and perhaps the law in 2022?

And there’s something else. Historic Hotels’ Goodwin attended graduate school at the University of Virginia and served recently as the rector of that institution’s Board of Visitors. Didn’t any of Mr. Jefferson’s storied architectural influence and legacy rub off? Goodwin might ask: “What would Mr. Jefferson do?”

Perhaps negotiate?

Second Baptist is the perfect complement to the Jefferson Hotel. Or let’s turn that around, the Jefferson Hotel is the perfect complement to the Second Baptist. Can we keep the conversation going?

Second Baptist Church in Richmond should be preserved

The classical façade of the Second Baptist Church building replicates the Maison Carrée. (BizSense file)

On a balmy Saturday afternoon, Feb. 12, some 100 determined demonstrators rallied in the shadow of the Jefferson Hotel to protest demolition of the former Second Baptist Church next door at 9 W. Franklin St.

“This is a world-class building,” said placard-wielding Michael Phillips, a historian of southern furniture and architecture. “There isn’t a town or city in North America that wouldn’t cherish this building. I’ve heard from people from all over and they think we’re crazy.”

The reaction of folks who care about historical context, economic development and quality of life here has shifted from incredulity to disgust since learning that the City of Richmond has given the green light for Historic Hotels, the owner of the Jefferson, to level the irreplaceable sanctuary that it acquired some 30 years ago. Subsequently, the church has deteriorated from disuse and neglect (note the protective tarpaulin that’s been slapped for some time across the southeast quadrant of the metal roof. Tacky, huh?)

But this resilient landmark, with plenty of life still in it, is an achingly perfect rendition of the Maison Carrée, a 2-4 CE Roman temple that still stands in Nimes, France. Second Baptist was built in 1906 on the eve of the 300th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown in 1607. The congregation and Richmond architecture firm of Noland & Baskervill (now Baskervill) were channeling the classical temple that had in 1785 inspired Thomas Jefferson’s design for Virginia’s Capitol (12 blocks east on Franklin Street).

Wrote Jefferson of the Maison Carrée: “Without contradiction… the most perfect and precious remains of antiquity in existence.” The congregation was also probably saluting Jefferson for authoring the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786 which allowed Baptists, previously persecuted, to worship freely.

The Maison Carrée, a 2-4 CE Roman temple that still stands in Nimes, France.

For 116 years, Second Baptist has stood as a Gilded Age architectural companion to the Jefferson Hotel (built in 1895) and bolstered immeasurably the life and handsome urban texture of West Franklin Street. After the early 1960s when the congregation moved to the far West End, the former church served as a downtown campus of the University of Richmond and later, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. And since 30 years ago, when the grand hotel incorporated a block of North Adams Street into a motor court, the newly-formed plaza has been framed in part by the luxuriant western building facade of the sanctuary. Rarely does one find such graceful melding of two grand, classical-revival structures, architectural chemistry that makes an urban space, well, a place.

Apparently the Jefferson ownership doesn’t see it that way. It is keen on adding more negative spaces to the disfiguring horseshoe of surface parking lots that now mar its environs. Why does the hotel want to demolish a magnificent building that contributes to its immediate surroundings, and could do much more both aesthetically and monetarily, if restored? Talk about dumping in your own front yard. The property could have produced income for the past third of a century.

Other former church sanctuaries nearby in Jackson Ward, Church Hill, and the Fan have been turned into handsome condominiums. In Ginter Park, a former sanctuary at Union Presbyterian Seminary is now a modern library. So when I read the Richmond Times-Dispatch quoting Historic Hotels head William Goodwin saying that he and his organization had tried everything for 30 years to figure out a use for Second Baptist, I wondered: who the heck has Mr. Grinch been talking to? There is nary an old warehouse or gas station, 50 years or older, that the Hoos in Hooville haven’t restored with or without historic tax credits.

The Jefferson management has always known that its property was in a historic district. True, there was a time (in the almost forgotten past) when historic properties weren’t identified or spelled out. Unsophisticated businesspeople, claiming to be blindsided, could hold sway. But there are now layers of architects, architectural historians, urban planners, tax experts, lawyers, civic groups and preservation organizations to lead one through the thicket and rewards of historic preservation and adaptive reuse. So what makes the vaulted Jefferson Hotel exempt from best practices, core local values, and perhaps the law in 2022?

And there’s something else. Historic Hotels’ Goodwin attended graduate school at the University of Virginia and served recently as the rector of that institution’s Board of Visitors. Didn’t any of Mr. Jefferson’s storied architectural influence and legacy rub off? Goodwin might ask: “What would Mr. Jefferson do?”

Perhaps negotiate?

Second Baptist is the perfect complement to the Jefferson Hotel. Or let’s turn that around, the Jefferson Hotel is the perfect complement to the Second Baptist. Can we keep the conversation going?

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Marcus Omar Squires
Marcus Omar Squires
4 months ago

Great article Ed, your article does make one think that Mr.Goodwin could be a bit more honest as there are most certainly options available for the preservation of this temple. At one time it was discussed that it was going to be used as a wedding venue for the hotel, not sure where that plan went.

Lee Thomas
Lee Thomas
4 months ago

A wedding venue makes SOOOO much more sense than more parking. And seems really obvious

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
4 months ago
Reply to  Lee Thomas

Stictly from a financial view, how would more demand for parking make sense? Wouldn’t a wedding venue just make ithe situation worse?

Stuart L Thomas
Stuart L Thomas
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt Faris

I have family that visit frequently and often stay at the Jefferson. We’ll often do dinner there, are meet up at the hotel before going out for the day/evening. None of us have ever observed any issue with lack of parking.

Coleen Butler Rodriguez
Coleen Butler Rodriguez
4 months ago

Once again, the graceful truth from Mr. Slipek. Hoo will listen?

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
4 months ago

To call Bill Goodwin “Mr. Grinch” is a cheap shot of the highest order. Much of the growth of VCU has been from his contributions and those of his friends. I defend the cause of academic freedom and tenure but I bet the VCU President has a very interesting visit with Mr. Slipek by noon today.

Ed Christina
Ed Christina
4 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

x

Last edited 4 months ago by Ed Christina
Richard Rumrill
Richard Rumrill
4 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

I read this article twice and did not notice the Grinch reference, I was surprised it was there and found that it weakened rather than strengthened Slipek’s analogy. In Slipek’s defense he was using a bit of double-entendre related to a suburban legend that Theodore Dryser (Dr. Seus) bought a house on a hill near Charlottesville to look down on a University that had supposedly not accepted him. Slipek also seems to be playfully mixing up Charlottesville Hoos and Whoville Whos. As one who has been reprimanded by UVA Alumni for asking about the campus or quad (Jeffersons grounds and… Read more »

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
4 months ago

That’s an entertaining rebuttal of my point, especially since I’m a Double Hoo, meaning two degrees. Mr. Goodwin earned his MBA there after he picked up his BS from VT. I suspect he’s the single largest benefactor for both schools as well as VCU. Since VCU’s growth has spurred our local economy, one may tie his contributions directly to the city’s success. Most donors provide their names and expect recognition but Bill Goodwin does it anonymously. He’s no Grinch.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Interesting choice of schools for him — and in many ways SIMILAR places. Both are State schools that attract rich kids from out-of-state (U CO Boulder is another such place) because they are nice, very good schools in nice, safe, expensive towns in beautiful areas (U of VT is better on all measures except quality of education, unless things have changed… being a town on a huge lake with mountains on the other side of the lake is hard to beat — but climate is also a factor) I find it interesting that people could downvote your comment — some… Read more »

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
4 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

A huge lake? Expensive? Where is this mystery town? And both schools have superior, top rated education, depending on the specific degree.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt Faris

AHHHH!!!! SORRY!!! Where I am from, when someone says VT, they mean VERMONT, and the U is in the town where the annoying band was Phish and not Dave Mathews. That is also where the lake is…

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
4 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

Haha. My bad, Shawn.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago

Unfortunately Richard, often this kind of cleverness disguises a bad argument. Frankly, WHO THE HECK KNOWS what Mr. Jefferson would do — and, putting aside that he was not Jesus — I know for a fact that the people of the Founders’ generation, esp the smartest and worldliest ones like Franklin were well aware that they were building the FIRST things and that they were rather poor, provincial copies at best of what had already been built in Europe (and other parts of the world) at the time. I was told at Montpelier that Jefferson told his buddy Madison that… Read more »

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Many of these preservationist types HATE with envy those that can build new things, or enable them to be created.

Even of cities of this size, much of the blgs people want to preserve were built on sites where other obsoleted buildings were removed.

I am not simplistic about this issue, but have pointed out even on this forum in the past that none of these radical historical fetishists mourn the buildings that Louis the XIV tore down to recreate the imperial capital.

Alan Johnson
Alan Johnson
4 months ago

Can we keep the conversation going?” Yes – absolutely there should be several months of additional discussion focusing on how this architectural treasure can be restored for a purpose that benefits the owner and community.


Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago
Reply to  Alan Johnson

Architectural treasure?

John Bates
John Bates
4 months ago

To call Mr. Goodwin a “Grinch” is absurd. Here is a man who has done more for Richmond and its quality of life than any person or group by a factor. Slipek can have his opinions, often as misguided as they are, about architecture, but he should refrain from calling a good man names.

julie weissend
julie weissend
4 months ago

Thank you Ed Slipek! Here’s to “win/win” negotiations where everyone is better off.

Sally Wannabaker
Sally Wannabaker
4 months ago

Goodness forbid that Richmond deny Mr. Goodwin anything. This town is beholden to its golden boys–Ukrops, Goodwins, Gottswalds, Pruitts. We love to talk about change until one of the sacred cows flashes money around and reminds everyone how much they’ve done for the city.

Matt Faris
Matt Faris
4 months ago

I don’t recall ever seeing the Goodwin name flashed around in self-promotion. About the only time I see it is after a major donation to a school of higher education. In my view, he has earned every single accolade that he has received in this state. While there may be negative press somewhere, I haven’t seen it. He certainly doen’t have to remind me how much he’s done for the city and Commonwealth.

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
4 months ago
Reply to  Matt Faris

That’s a fact.

Joel Mieses
Joel Mieses
4 months ago

Demolish a Historical Beautiful Building for A Parking Lot? I guess its just about the bottom line. But a Parking Lot? They can do better.

Peter James
Peter James
4 months ago

I’d been waiting for Ed Slipek to weigh in on this very weighty issue. He hit the nail on the head twice. 1.) Both the hotel and Second Baptist are in a historic district. Time was, that actually meant something. 2.) We absolutely MUST keep the conversation going. Surely there is a solution that does not result in the loss of this one-of-a-kind treasure that is unique not only in RVA city, RVA metro – but in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. Michael Phillips is right: Second Baptist IS a truly world-class building. While I realize that money talks and… Read more »

Cynthia Oliver
Cynthia Oliver
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter James

Let’s hope this is not demolished, as the other one of a kind treasures on the unique Monument Avenue were.

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter James

Ask Slipek if the VCU foundation would like to take possession, and pay for the maintenance and rehab of that building.

Boz Boschen
Boz Boschen
4 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Pretty sure their endowment can handle it, and in fact perhaps they owe the City for what they’ve also torn down without community dialogue.

Peter James
Peter James
4 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Milam

Bruce – given your position in the commercial real estate and RVA business communities and your connections, you might actually be the perfect person to approach VCU about it. Your name carries weight – and frankly, they might actually listen to you. I’m suggesting this in all earnestness, and I am not attempting to be snarky. You’re a well-known and highly-respected major player in the RVA real estate and development communities. Perhaps if you and some of the larger-name preservationists put together a coalition to approach the university, something could be done. You know better than any of us on… Read more »

Bruce Milam
Bruce Milam
4 months ago
Reply to  Peter James

Thank you but I’ll pass. I sincerely believe Goodwin has offered it to them and he gets their attention. The VCU Foundation would need to find an academic purpose for it. The renovations and upkeep will be in the tens of millions. Wouldn’t they do better by applying those donations to providing classrooms, labs, healthcare and research, and dorm buildings? For what purpose would they use that building? Slipek didn’t propose a single worthwhile use for it.

Mary Jane Hogue
Mary Jane Hogue
4 months ago

Thank you, Ed, for weighing in with your “expertise” and “eye” for our City!
The Goodwin’s have done so much, but it would be nice to hear from the City why the process and law that everyone would be held to is not in play in this particular scenario. City Hall, why is this different? No other permit would be viable for 29 years.

Howard S Risatti
Howard S Risatti
4 months ago

I read Ed’s article and I whole heartedly agree with him. Also, yes, the structure would make a great wedding venue. What better place to celebrate a sacred event, a wedding, than in a building that traces its origin back to a structure from antiquity that has survived for 2,000 years. The symbolism, not only for the wedding party, is over whelming and the Jefferson Hotel would be wise to realize it if, for no other reason, that the hotel could make even money.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago

I don’t think I will make any friends with this but, even though I would like to see this building saved, and that is it nice — there is a bit of provincialistic hyperbole here. World-class? This building would even be considered REMARKABLE in, say, Chicago — it is rather unremarkably, like MOST Virginia architecture DERIVATIVE. The building it is being compared to, while have a very pleasing set of proportions (Jefferson was right about that) is itself pretty completely derivative — but in a way that is superior to a lot of the original classical ones. What would Jefferson… Read more »

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

I meant to type the bldg would NOT be considered remarkable in Chicago or many, many other places.

Lee Thomas
Lee Thomas
4 months ago
Reply to  Shawn Harper

This is a bit like saying that my victorian tenement rowhouse in Church Hill shouldn’t be preserved because it’s working class housing and there are sooo many other similar examples. The sheer number and similar styling of them is what defines the neighborhood. Point is: a building need not be exceptional to be worthy of preservation.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago
Reply to  Lee Thomas

If you read my comment again, I said that I would like to see this building adaptively reused in some way — at least for now…. I think you kinda re-state my case: I am saying that the author is, uhm, exaggerating his case by saying that the building is somehow exceptional, when even Americans from just about anywhere, including architects, would walk by it without a second glance. Arguments like “this is part of the historic fabric of its neighborhood” are a different argument — and perhaps COULD be applied to this building, though I will admit I don’t… Read more »

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago

BTW, this is HARDLY an exact replication of the Maison Carre — the proportions are wrong, and they MAKE the MC. If one wants to see an ACTUAL impressive and partially original neo-classical bldg in a state capital (half the size of Richmond) take a look at NYS’s Education Building — the one on the left in this picture — it is notable for being the building with the largest number of pillars this big, but is also pleasing in MANY ways —especially, like the state capital to the right, in its DETAILS. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/capital-region/ny-state-of-politics/2020/01/22/new-foundation-aid-formula Meanwhile, this old church looks like… Read more »

Julian Utley
Julian Utley
4 months ago

They sure don’t design and build ’em like this anymore, or at least not very often. What a shame.

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago

Let’s see if I can get MORE downvotes!!! This talk about how the owner of the Jefferson is some kind of guy who hates “positive uses of space” is, uhm…. silly. I remember reading a long time ago that the ownership of the Jefferson said, regarding an adjacent property that they would LOVE to turn it into a park, and even preferably give it to the city — but that homeless people would gravitate toward it and politics would make it hard to enforce public standards there, and that, just considering the Jefferson’s sake as a Hotel, it was better… Read more »

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago

Why is no one asking the question WHY is this guy desiring to tear down this building — does it HAVE to be that he is actually some Phillistine who hates history or whatever the collective opinion here is or the desires to paint the guy as? Excuse the grammar.

Knowing nothing, I would rather see a building that looks this nice to be reused profitably somehow — but what the best use for the land is, I honestly don’t know and would like to see the case for tearing the bldg down

Shawn Harper
Shawn Harper
4 months ago

The idea that Jefferson resembled a modern historic preservationist is so comical that it should be obvious. Jefferson was trendy for his time, and used the limited tools of his time and place — a very provincial place which they were painfully aware of being in. The BEST thing that can be said about Jefferson that modern liberals can understand and applaud is that he was his times’ version of a “Post-modernist” — he had certain ideologies, and was constrained, like all of us, by the tastes and prejudices of his time. But as an architect, he was no Christopher… Read more »

Craig Davis
Craig Davis
4 months ago

Never a good negotiating strategy to start out by insulting your adversary by calling him names. Compromised agreements simply aren’t born that way. But then, maybe that’s why Mr. Slipek teaches and writes about architecture instead of seeing negotiated proposals through to completion.