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City, State Jockey Over Shoe Factory

The other shoe hasn't yet dropped on the old Putney Shoe Building on Broad Street.

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The other shoe hasn't yet dropped on the old Putney Shoe Building, a 100-year-old historic Richmond structure on Broad Street that the state has slated for demolition.

Initially scheduled to meet the wrecking ball this month, the building has been spared at least through the beginning of 2010 pending further review of the building's structural integrity and historic significance, says Richmond's community development director, Rachel Flynn, who's been lobbying for its preservation.

Flynn says she got word of the state's decision to delay demolition after Delegate Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, asked about it.

But Julie Langan, an official with the state Department of Historic Resources, says the delay is no indication that the building's out of the woods. In a re-evaluation of the building earlier this month, she says, “our conclusions remain the same that the building is not eligible for the Virginia Landmarks Register.”

The building houses records for the state's film office. Built in 1907, it has a long and storied history.

Designed by Virginia architect James E. R. Carpenter and constructed on the former site of the state fairgrounds, it was modeled after the famed Gare du Nord, a train station in Paris. The Richmond building's interior boasted the largest open expanse of any building in the state, a scale indicated by the two railroad spurs that allowed trains to pull into the building to load freight. The factory floor was on either side of these central tracks.

David Herring, executive director of the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods, called the innovation — a covered central depot — “a stroke of genius” on the part of Carpenter: “I don't know of another building in Richmond where trains pulled in to load up freight. I think that's one of its historic attributes.”

But whether those attributes remain is among reasons why the state hasn't acknowledged the building's significance. In 1982, a renovation by the state Department of Taxation included the addition of two wings for elevators, as well as the application of a stuccolike coating over the exterior.

An evaluation by state historians suggested that the renovation likely destroyed or significantly disrupted the architectural integrity of the building. Langan says the exterior was sandblasted, “a preservation no-no.”

That didn't remove all the historical significance, says Bob Winthrop, a Farmville-based architect and architectural historian, who helped design and oversee the 1982 renovation and says that the work involved “almost no structural changes whatsoever.”

Winthrop, who advocates saving the building, says the answer could be historic tax credits and a public-private partnership. “I know there are developers who are interested in it,” he says. “It has potential — good location. It's adjacent to the Science Museum and you have one of Richmond's most successful neighborhoods [Monument Avenue] on the other side of the street.”


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