News & Features » Miscellany

Part Two

Brick by Brick


Glave's recent European trip reflects a lifetime fascination with cities and how physical spaces work.

Born in Chicago where his father worked as a store planner and designer for Sears Roebuck, he was awestruck by the skyscrapers and the Wrigley Building.

In 1942, the elder Glave became a store planner for Thalhimers, the former department store. He moved his wife and their five sons to Virginia where he envisioned rearing the boys in a wholesome farm setting.

"Every Sunday, we'd visit prospective farms all around Richmond," remembers Glave. "That's what got me interested in old buildings."

The Glaves settled on a farm near Ashland: "As soon as my father saw the barn — it was a style he'd known as a boy in Wisconsin, not a typical Virginia barn — his eyes lit up."

The Glaves raised Angus cattle, horses, pigs and chickens. Each boy had specific responsibilities. James raised the chickens. "They are the filthiest animals known to man," he says laughing and with a characteristic twinkle in his eye. "That's why we live on Park Avenue," he says, referring to the handsome, contemporary art- and crafts-filled Fan townhouse where he and his wife, Patricia, reared their two daughters and a son, now grown.

Whenever young Glave, however, ventured from Hanover into town he'd love standing at the corner of Ninth and Main streets and gazing up at Richmond's tall buildings: "It was the closest thing to Chicago."

Completing Ashland's Henry Clay High School in 1950 and after a year at Randolph-Macon College, Glave entered architecture school at the University of Virginia. "They did teach you how to make a building work," he says. "That bathrooms had to be next to bathrooms and bedrooms next to bedrooms, but there was little thought process there then. It wasn't strong on design."

In 1955 after graduating from Virginia, Glave began a three-year military tour in navigation air intelligence in the Navy. For six months he was stationed in Naples, Italy, where he lived in town and savored one of Europe's most picturesque cities— equal part ancient, medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and neoclassical. While other Italian towns he visited were memorable, Rome was it. "Arriving at the central train station where the Roman wall went right through the station, I saw how that kind of thing can work — incorporating all civilizations in one."

Back in the United States and while still in the service, in June 1958, Glave married Patricia McKenna, a Hollins grad from Latrobe, Pa.

The newlyweds moved to Philadelphia, where Jim enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to do graduate work under Louis Kahn. Today, the late-modern master's expressive use of concrete is highly admired in such far-flung places as the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Ca., Dallas' Kimball Museum and the government buildings in Dacca, Pakistan.

"Kahn told us, 'I assume you know how to make a building work, I will show you how to use light and form,'" says Glave.

After Penn, the Glaves moved to Manhattan in 1959 where Jim joined Felheimer & Wagner, an old-line firm. The Glaves moved to Richmond in 1961, and Jim went to work for the prominent Richmond architectural firm of Marcellus Wright and Son.

Glave's first big job was designing the Life of Virginia addition at Ninth and Broad (now the General Assembly Building). "I really enjoyed designing that building and wandering around Capitol Square at night to get the scale right," he says. In 1965, however, yearning to strike out on his own, Glave and another of the firm's young architects, William Newman, secured a Monroe Ward carriage house rent-free and began practicing as Glave Newman.

The firm got a big break when the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority hired it to survey the Washington Park and Randolph neighborhoods for urban renewal projects. The young firm subsequently oversaw moving 60 houses out of the path of the highly controversial downtown expressway. Glave was appointed to the city planning commission where he served for nine years. He became friends with Jesse Fleming, an executive at Consolidated Bank & Trust, one of the nation's oldest black-owned banks. Glave designed the bank headquarters at First and Marshall streets, its first signature building — decidedly modern, glass and brick.

Such political and design activity put the firm "in the thick of Richmond politics," says Glave, "with all the ranting and raving going on."

"We gained from his public exposure," says former partner Anderson of Glave's high personal visibility.

In addition to design, the firm also undertook major planning projects, including Virginia Commonwealth University's first master plan. It proposed linking buildings with above-the-street passages. "In retrospect, that [pedestrian] bridge across Main Street was a mistake," says Glave, referring to the link between the business school building and Oliver Hall near Main and Harrison streets that detracted from sidewalk activity.

[image-1](Scott Elmquist / Style Weekly)Theater Row at Eighth and Broad streets, which rises above the former Colonial Theater. Otherwise, Glave's career has been nothing if not all about enhancing pedestrian vitality.

If Glave's design for The Engineers Club, at 16 E. Franklin St., with its bizarre, cascading glass roofline missed the mark, the firm redeemed itself with its mostly glass Virginia Credit Union building which lords over the Powhite expressway (designed by Randolph Holmes). And although the firm designed the S&K corporate headquarters in Glen Allen and a handful of Arboretum buildings, the firm's trademark remains rooted in projects that reinforce existing urban fabrics.

"We were doing adaptive reuse before the term was invented," says Anderson. "That was the most important thing that we did."

"Glave, Newman and Anderson, as individuals, thought of their personal responsibilities to the city," says architect Will Scribner. "They were very, very engaged in the urban scene whereas their peers were engaged in the Commonwealth Club and the Country Club of Virginia. It's no accident that certain projects [like Consolidated Bank & Trust] went to Glave Newman Anderson."

"It was a rich experience, an emotion was there," says DePasquale. "There was a belief that this is a firm that can make a difference. We had a social conscience. In addition to youth and energy, it was a caring group. It couldn't have been a happier home."

Glave, Newman, Anderson and their associates were socially conscious and strong designers, but the three original principals admit that a strong business sense wasn't always their strength. Too many hours put in, too many changes late in the game.

"There was a casualness about the firm," says DePasquale. "I learned what not to do. What I learned about running a practice is that there has to be business discipline."

Glave agrees: "We were two studios, then three studios, passing responsibilities around. But a collegial system doesn't work, there was no management. We may have done our clients a service, we did ourselves a disservice."

"It's a balancing act," he says. "The passion of architecture gets in the way."

Glave says that today the firm is strengthened by a keen appreciation and understanding of what each of the 26 players can do: "It's a wonderful staff, they all know what their strengths are and we play off those strengths. It's a wonderful place to work. It's a family."

On a recent, sunny morning, Jim Glave and Randy Holmes are seated at a square table in heavy oak chairs, the kind seen in old movie courtrooms like "To Kill A Mockingbird." Through good-sized windows, one can see the checkerboard grid of downtown. Glave and Holmes take a mental inventory of potential architectural and adaptive reuse opportunities.

"There's much work to be done in Jackson Ward," Glave says, referring to areas north of downtown. "The housing stock is a helluva lot better than what we've got in the Fan. The biotech area is going to take care of itself," he says.

"Franklin Street is saved," says Glave, adding that infill buildings, including individual houses, could be built in vacant places spreading southward from the Jefferson Hotel. "You can build a townhouse much cheaper than restoring one in the Fan."

Then, shifting their conversation to suburban development, Holmes, a native of South Hill in Southside Virginia, is adamant: "We must stop suburban sprawl, period. Instead, we need to densify. If not, we'll continue to vacate space as we move toward Powhatan. The closer suburbs will rot like an apple core.

"Richmond already has what people are looking for — beautiful neighborhoods, parks, the riverfront, a tightly built downtown. That's our unique opportunity." Holmes also lauds Richmond's museums and performing arts groups for their leadership in creating interesting architecture.

As Holmes speaks, it's clear he's raring to move forward and thinks that Richmond has plenty of architectural talent. "Every town needs to build great buildings," he says. "Things that speak to people. But I don't think we have to go to a Frank Gehry and get something like he did in Bilbao. They did that well, but we've got to design things that are connected to the environment, places that are catalysts for beauty in the urban environment.

"You can't forget the design of buildings," says Holmes. "We are writing history in bricks and mortar."

Jump to Part 1, 2,

Add a comment