Editor’s note: This is the third of three installments about the development of Scott’s Addition. The first part gave a history of the neighborhood’s early years. Part two looked at some of the district’s remaining older buildings. This final chapter is a critique of the area’s new buildings.
Recently, a friend referred to a mutual acquaintance as a “Yimby,” an acronym for “yes, in my backyard.” Apparently, yimbies strongly advocate pumping up residential construction in response to the lack of affordable housing. I get it. Apartment rental and home prices in Richmond and nationwide have risen and inventories are low. But yimbies, I’m told, neither sweat inflated rental fees and home costs, nor demand high architectural and construction standards. They also aren’t overly concerned with such aesthetic considerations as context and historic preservation. It’s build baby, build.
This conversation came to mind last month as I strolled the winding dirt pathways and concrete sidewalks of Scott’s Addition to check out the curb appeal of some of that neighborhood’s new apartment complexes. Residential construction has occurred at a fast clip since the architectural bedrock of the district — stalwart, mostly red brick warehouses and factories — were adapted for apartment and commercial uses; work financed, in part, by historic preservation tax credits.
As I followed West Broad and West Marshall streets and the connecting cross streets, one thing became clear: the architectural mix in Scott’s Addition is a not unpleasant mish-mash of old and new, large and small, serious and funky. But the overall impression that the Addition exudes, with its injection of bright new buildings, breweries, and game arcades, is that of an oceanfront resort town — a place where modest cottages and Depression-era commercial buildings survive like carbuncles as shiny new mid-size hotels inject a modicum of ersatz glamour. Substitute the new apartments near the intersection of West Broad and Summit avenues with modern hotels and it could well be in Virginia Beach at Atlantic Avenue and 32nd Street.
The Summit in Scott’s Addition, a six-story apartment house (with a swimming pool), occupies the southside of the 3000 block facing West Broad. The mass of the street facade is punctured by set-backs that incorporate modest-sized balconies. There are no beach towels hanging on the railings, but the Summit’s purple neon signage and lighting does suggest a huge mosquito zapper. And this may be a stretch, but is this sign a shout-out to the vintage Triple Triangle sign that hangs at the Don’t Look Back-Triple restaurant at 3306 W. Broad? The Summit’s unrelenting ground level facade along Broad is broken with an injection of retail activity, the Cabo Fish Taco eatery. The building’s NGM Summit Market opens onto Summit. But the stark newness of the apartment building is mitigated by its next-door neighbors, the Brunch, Jr. and Supper restaurants. These low-slung eateries with outdoor dining areas are nothing if not beachy with their stylish, elongated, red and black canvas awning that runs parallel to Summit Avenue.
Across the street and backing up to the neighborhood ABC store is The Nest apartments. At 3113 W. Marshall St., it is more subdued and chaste than the Summit, but both were designed by Walter Parks Architects. The Nest, clad in beige panels, is an attractive, tightly configured, U-shaped building that lacks decorative frills. Its balconies are economically contained within the dimensions of the structure itself. There is parking within the building and a branch of Village Bank occupies the ground floor.
Further west, at 3200 W. Broad is The Icon, an apartment complex that is still under construction. This $62 million development and redevelopment was designed by SWA Architects of Richmond. The core of the complex, which occupies the entire block bounded by West Broad, MacTavish, Highpoint and Marshall streets, was the former Quality Inn & Suites, a six-story hotel. It couldn’t claim that George Washington slept there, but The Icon’s promotional material boasts that pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-1987) and his entourage were guests on infrequent visits to Richmond. Their destination was the nearby Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for activities and events connected with contemporary Richmond art collectors Sydney and Frances Lewis.
Perhaps it is Warhol, a 1980s cultural icon, which inspired the hot-mess of 1980s architectural elements that are injected into the exterior of The Icon. The former hotel has been converted to apartments and its exterior painted a sallow hue of yellow. Five one-story-high, rectangular boxes of black- and greenish-tinted glass have been aligned along Broad Street. They appear Darth Vader-sinister at all hours day and night and one wonders what nefarious activities may be going on within them. In contrast to these minimalist, crystalline formations is a second, adjacent apartment building, the Icon Tower. At 12 stories, it is the tallest building in Scott’s Addition. This building has classical aspirations and architectural elements include a rusticated base, shaft and delineated roofline. Capping the building on three sides are some very 1970s and ’80s exclamation points — broken pediments. The Tower, and the nearby parking garage, with similar pediments at the roofline, may be the first neo-Post Modern buildings in Richmond.
A gem of a contemporary building along this stretch that now sits empty (a victim of COVID) is the former Perch restaurant at 2918 W. Broad. Built in 2018 on the site of the former Joy Garden restaurant, the exquisitely detailed eatery was designed by Johannas Design Group. Its double-story entryway is elegant.
But nothing in the sky along this stretch of Scott’s Addition can compete with the WTVR broadcasting tower, a technological wonder that was built in 1953. At a commanding 843 feet high, the tower is almost twice as high as the city’s next largest structure, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Monroe Building on 14th Street at 449 feet high. It appears to be going nowhere.