W&M Plan to Demolish Century-Old Houses Concerns Locals, Preservationists

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A College of William & Mary plan that calls for the eventual demolition of eight college-owned houses along Jamestown Road has pushed a statewide historical preservation group to add them to its most endangered list.

The houses are located between Cary and Boundary streets and were built in the early 20th century, according to Preservation Virginia, the nonprofit that issues the annual list of historic places in the state it believes are most endangered.

The Hornsby House, pictured here, is one of the houses eventually slated for demolition. There are no immediate plans to demolish the house. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)
The Hornsby House, pictured here, is one of the houses eventually slated for demolition. There are no immediate plans to demolish the house. (Gregory Connolly/WYDaily)

The college has identified the valuable land where the houses are built as the future sites of potential faculty and staff housing and part of a mixed-use development called Jamestown Place.

That development will include several amenities, including a consolidated administration area, a dining hall and a warehouse for the staff members who maintain the college’s grounds.

But for Preservation Virginia and some of the residents of two small neighborhoods behind the houses — Chandler Court and Pollard Park — the plan goes too far.

They believe the college could find a way to repurpose the houses to meet the college’s needs while ensuring the houses remain in place.

“We strongly believe that a good preservation architect following green principles of reusing buildings could find excellent ways to make them either more appropriate for offices or be used as scholars residences or visiting scholar or academic residences,” said Susan Buck, a resident of Pollard Park who has spent her career studying historical conservation in academia.

Buck said the Jamestown Road houses are emblematic of early 20th century construction. They were built between the Civil War and the creation of Colonial Williamsburg, a period often overlooked in the city’s long history.

They also serve as a buffer between the more heavily developed college campus and the residential houses in the two neighborhoods.

“I think for all the neighborhoods that are aligned along the college campus, this type of demolition is a threat to everyone who abuts the campus now,” she said. “It’s a precedent being set for demolishing traditional housing stock and replacing it with institutional buildings.”

Suzanne Seurattan, a spokeswoman for William & Mary, said there are no immediate plans to demolish any of the houses.

“We appreciate and understand the concern about the future of the houses on Jamestown Road,” she wrote in an email. “There is no immediate plan to demolish them. The campus master plan is a 20-year road map for space and facility needs that helps us determine the best use of very finite resources. We will continue to keep the community informed as the plan evolves.”

The master plan identifies three of the houses — located at 232, 228 and 220 Jamestown Road — to be demolished to clear the way for an access road to Jamestown Place. The remaining houses would be demolished over time and replaced with housing “in scale and character with surrounding neighborhood,” according to the plan.

The Williamsburg Planning Commission joined Preservation Virginia and the neighborhood’s residents in opposing the plan at a December meeting, citing the dearth of homes from the early 20th century in the city.

But Anna Martin, William & Mary’s former vice president for administration, told the commission the houses were in poor condition and it would be prohibitively expensive  to repair them. The college does not need to get permission from the city to move ahead with demolition of the houses.

Two of the houses are bungalows, while the rest are built in the American Foursquare style, which emphasizes a boxy, four-sided design.

The houses are the only Historic Triangle site on Preservation Virginia’s list. Other endangered sites include the town of Port Royal, the Taylor-Whittle House in Norfolk and the campus of Sweet Briar College.

Correction 6/3/2015: The land where some of the houses are currently built may be the future site of faculty or staff housing.

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