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Starting later this year, eight key buildings in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area will be bathed in soft light from dusk until around midnight if the City of Williamsburg gives its blessing.
The living history museum wants to install the lights sometime this summer on the following buildings: the Governor’s Palace, the Courthouse, the Capitol, the Magazine, the Public Hospital, the George Wythe House, the St. George Tucker House and the Peyton Randolph House.
Colonial Williamsburg Director of Facilities Maintenance Robert Underwood said the light reflected off the sides of the building will resemble the fire effect seen on the poles along Duke of Gloucester Street.
“If you can imagine the light that comes off of that fire that would give a glow on to the building, that is more or less the tone we’re looking for,” he said. “It’s constant. We didn’t want to turn this into a commercial look. We want it to be more natural in nature. We want to be respectful of the architecture and the colonial atmosphere that we create here, and we thought that would be the proper color range.”
The lights on each building will come from fixtures mostly installed in the ground and angled up at the building. Almost all of them will be recessed or hidden in shrubs, so they should not affect the appearance of the buildings other than by the light they cast.
Underwood said the primary reason for seeking the lights is to draw more people into the Historic Area at night.
“Currently the historic area has the appearance of being completely closed, which it generally is not,” he said. “There are tours that go on in the evening. We have stores that are open. We want to bring some life to the area by having an attraction, and we feel that with the beautiful architecture that we have, we’ll draw people into the Historic Area.”
The lights will stay on until 11:30 p.m. or midnight, when other businesses in and around the Historic Area like Merchants Square and Chowning’s Tavern — which was recently rebranded into an alehouse — begin to close.
Underwood said he walked through the Historic Area late last year with Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Mitchell Reiss and a few other ranking staff members to determine which buildings would be suitable for lighting. Reiss first announced his intention to try to get lighting installed on buildings in the Historic Area during a roundtable discussion with reporters in December.
Colonial Williamsburg filed an application to install the lighting with the Williamsburg Architectural Review Board, a group that considers applications to change the appearance of historically sensitive assets in the city. The ARB considered the application at its March 24 meeting and has requested that Colonial Williamsburg install the lights on one building so it can see what they will look like.
After that, Colonial Williamsburg will have to go before the ARB again for formal approval. If the ARB denies the application, Colonial Williamsburg can appeal to Williamsburg City Council to try to get the lights installed.