A City Block

In his famous memoirs, Renaissance artist Giorgi Vasari describes the cultural decline that took place during the European Dark Ages:

And the first to fall into decay were painting and sculpture, as being arts that served more for pleasure than for use, while the other—namely, architecture—as being necessary and useful for bodily weal, continued to exist, but no longer in its perfection and excellence.

This seems an apt description of the conditions modern art and architecture. Just looking at the buildings on a single street in Richmond, one gets a microcosm of cultural change.

I start my tour at the city library. The original building was erected in 1930. To the right of the new entrance you can still see the old doorway and interior foyer, with its marble walls and handsome pillars done in a neo-Grecian style. In 1972 this fine edifice was reduced to a mere wing of an enlarged structure—it was ugly even in its heyday.

In stark contrast to this oversized piece of dilapidated modernism is one of the oldest buildings in Richmond, the Crozet House. It is the only original structure left on the block. This handsome but unpretentious Georgian brick home was erected in 1814.  This solidly built structure has endured the vicissitudes of time, weather and wear in a dignified manner. Unlike the crumbling concrete of the nearby library, the bricks darken and mellow with age, adding to the texture and visual interest.

Across the street is a row of storefronts which dates from the turn of the last century. Only one of the buildings was “updated” about forty years ago in the most hideous style imaginable. One of my favorite edifices was the site of a florist shop, as indicated by the sign in Art Nouveau stained glass that still adorns the doorway. The building has been empty as long as I can remember. The last occupant was a junk dealer and for a long time one could see abandoned merchandise in the windows. Fortunately it has since been renovated and repaired, though as yet unleased. It is my hope that over time the traditional architecture of the neighborhood will be preserved and enhanced.

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