Laburnum Park Historic District
Laburnum Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.[†]
Laburnum Park Historic District comprises an area of approximately 116 acres located in Richmond, Virginia about two miles northwest of the city center. The district is bounded by Brook Road and Hermitage Road, significant north-south thoroughfares, on the west and east respectively; and by Laburnum Avenue and Westwood Avenue on the north and south. The district is primarily residential with several substantial institutions located along its southern edge. Laburnum Park Historic District contains 227 domestic resources and four institutional resources built between 1908 and 1974. The district also contains two structures and four vacant lots. Two-hundred and twenty-seven of the total of 237 resources contribute to the historic context of the district, while ten are non-contributing resources. The non-contributing resources consist of the four vacant lots as well as six residential buildings built after 1957.
The district is characterized by its designed suburban landscape including wide, tree-lined boulevards, substantial building setbacks, and generously sized residential lots. The domestic architecture of the neighborhood is dominated by the Colonial Revival style, however, there is substantial representation of other early 20th century styles including Craftsman, Tudor Revival, and late Victorian houses. The district's dwellings are generally two stories in height and are mainly of brick or frame construction with wood weatherboard, shingle, or stucco cladding. Three substantial institutional complexes occupy the southern edge of the neighborhood. These include a nursing home, a former hospital, and an educational institution. Each of these is composed of a variety of structures that range in style from Georgian Revival to Modernist in design. The buildings range in height from 2.5 to 7 stories. All are constructed in brick. The Laburnum Park Historic District retains its original historic and architectural character, including its integrity of setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association.
The Laburnum Park neighborhood occupies approximately 116 nearly level acres located northwest of Richmond's central business district. It is bounded by Laburnum Avenue, Brook Road, Westwood Avenue, and Hermitage Road. The residential portions of the neighborhood occupy approximately three-quarters of the district's total land area, while the remainder of the neighborhood is dominated by several large institutions including an educational institution, a former city hospital, and a nursing home. The neighborhood's institutional properties all front on Westwood Avenue along the district's southern boundary with the exception of Ginter Park Baptist Church at the corner of Brook Road and Wilmington Avenue.
Laburnum Park was laid out around 1919 in a series of orthogonal streets. The plan includes three, north-south oriented streets, and three avenues that run east to west. In addition, the blocks between Confederate and Palmyra Avenues contain interior alleyways that run east west. The original, primary roadways in Laburnum Park are 80 feet in width except for the boundary streets that measure either 66 feet or 100 feet in width. Each of the three east-west avenues, along with the central north-south street (Gloucester Avenue), incorporates 20-foot-wide grassy median strips that are planted with mature shade trees down the center. These medians are further improved by rustic ornamental wood fencing that has been erected along their outer edges. Sidewalks, grass strips, and curbing divide the private residential lots from the streets. The neighborhood also retains its original, circa-1920, cast-metal street signs. The signs consist of ornamental bases with poles that support two shaped banners that contain the block number and name of the street segments.
The residential lots range in size, but are generally rectilinear in their outline and contain approximately one-half acre of land each. A typical lot is 100 feet wide and 230 feet deep. The exception to this general residential lot configuration appears along West Laburnum Avenue at the north edge of the development. Here the house lots are half the width of the typical Laburnum Park lot. When the neighborhood was developed, the Lakeside Line streetcar tracks ran down the center of Laburnum Avenue, making this location less desirable for residences due to the associated noise. The smaller lots may reflect the necessity of selling these properties at a lower cost to families of more modest means. The houses throughout Laburnum Park conform to a standard setback ranging from 60 to 70 feet depending on the street on which they front. Many of the properties also contain separate domestic outbuildings, the majority of which are detached, single- and double-car garages.
A distinctive feature of the residential portions of the neighborhood is the low berms upon which many of the houses were built. This construction technique may have been employed to alleviate drainage problems caused by the level lots, as well as to create aesthetic interest along the street face by raising the structures slightly above grade.
Laburnum Park contains two historic markers that relate to the area's pre-suburban development period. One of these is a historic mile marker set along the west side of what was once Brook Turnpike. The stone marker notified travelers that they were two miles from Richmond. The other marker is a commemorative plaque that marks the location of portions of Richmond's intermediate defenses during the Civil War. Both of these markers stand along Brook Road between Confederate Avenue and Wilmington Avenue.
Laburnum Park's residential buildings are truly eclectic in their architectural roots. The neighborhood's collection of middle-to-upper-class, single-family dwellings exhibits the full range of popular early 20th century domestic forms and styles, including the Bungalow/Craftsman, Colonial Revival, French Renaissance Revival, Mission Revival, and the Tudor Revival styles. Although the Laburnum Park Historic District exhibits a wide range of architectural styles, it is dominated by the Colonial Revival style. This stylistic influence is by far the most common architectural mode in the district with 160 of its 237 resources associated with it. The second most frequent style is the Bungalow/Craftsman style with 58 examples. Tudor Revival style houses are the third most common type seen in Laburnum Park, with 22 examples.
The building forms occurring within Laburnum Park are as equally diverse as their styles. The most common domestic forms are the American Foursquare; the two- to two-and-one half story, side-gable or hipped roof house (what is known as the Dutch Colonial form); and bungalows or other low-slung structures. These building forms are rendered in a range of materials, the most frequent of which are brick and frame. The houses are clad variously in stucco, wood weatherboard, and wood shingles. The remaining historic roof finishes are predominantly slate and ceramic tile.
The district features an array of decorative details in line with the socio-economic status of the original occupants of the houses. Some of the most common decorative devices seen repeatedly in Laburnum Park are wide overhanging eaves that contain decorative rafter ends, elaborated door hoods or porticos that emphasize the main entrance, prominent decorated dormers, patterned brickwork, and half-timbering.
Although the majority of the dwellings can be described as predominantly Colonial Revival in their influences, the examples are quite diverse and eclectic in their forms and designs. Laburnum's Colonial Revival style houses range in age and form from 1910, Colonial-Queen Anne hybrids to fully developed, Colonial Williamsburg reproductions of the 1930s. Many of the houses exhibit multiple stylistic influences, blending Craftsman forms with academic Colonial Revival detailing or Tudor Revival touches. A handful of examples draw from more exotic traditions, including the Mission Revival style and the French Renaissance revival mode.
There are several notable dwellings within the district. The earliest remaining house in the district is Joseph and Isobel Bryan's Laburnum House. Laburnum remains intact as part of the Richmond Memorial Hospital complex. Designed by the New York firm of Parish & Schroeder in 1908, the Laburnum House replaced the Bryan's first house, an ornate, Queen Anne style brick dwelling that burned down in 1906. The present Laburnum house exhibits an elaborate Classical Revival design. Built in Flemish bond brick, the 2-1/2-story dwelling is dominated by its monumental two-story front portico that is supported by six massive limestone columns.
Built in 1911 by Joseph and Isobel Bryan's son, Jonathan Bryan, "The Hermitage," formerly known as "Nonchalance," is a striking example of early 20th century Colonial Revival style architecture. The original central portion of the brick building features a rigorously symmetrical facade, a Federal Revival-style porch, and detailed decorative brickwork. The house was renamed The Hermitage by the Bauer family who lived there during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1948, the house was sold and converted for use as the Virginia Methodist Home For the Aged. This institution is now known as The Hermitage Nursing Home.
The earliest residences built in the Laburnum Park suburb pro-date World War I and reflect the still-emerging fashion for Colonial Revival-style houses. The earliest of these appear to be transitional, late Victorian era structures heavily influenced by the Colonial Revival mode. Among these few examples is the dwelling at 1207 Confederate Avenue. Built circa 1915, this substantial stuccoed frame house features a typical asymmetrical Victorian form, but with clearly Colonial-inspired details. The popularity of the Colonial Revival mode grew out of the architecture exhibited at the Worlds Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893, and from the 1906 Jamestown Exposition in Virginia. Both expositions featured predominantly classically derived architecture, and emphasized the patriotic connections between this architectural style and America's roots.
Laburnum Park contains a number of architect-designed residences. Notable among these are the 24 frame and stucco dwellings that noted Virginia architect Charles Morrison Robinson designed for the Laburnum Corporation in 1919. Known as Laburnum Court, this residential enclave is an early example of a Cooperative housing model where the owners hold shares in a common corporation.
Erected as a promotional ploy by its developers, Laburnum Court was aimed at promoting the sale of building lots in the new Laburnum Park suburb. Laburnum Court was designed around an open court set at the center of the block. The court contains two community buildings, a garage and a power plant. The occupants of the surrounding houses share these cooperatively. The houses themselves display an array of decorative features that render the essentially identical houses in various styles. The architectural detailing ranges in influence from the Dutch Colonial Revival mode to Tudor Revival, Craftsman, and Mediterranean Revival influences.
Charles Robinson designed at least one additional residence in Laburnum Park, the large frame Tudor Revival style house at 1411 Wilmington Avenue. According to the city's building permit records Robinson designed this house in 1922.
In addition to the architects involved in the design of Laburnum Park houses, there were several active builders and developers that played a major role in developing the suburb. Among these were Davis Brothers, General Contractors and real estate developers, Muhleman and Kahoe, developers, architects, and contractors. Both of these firms were well known throughout Richmond as suburban real estate developers and residential contractors.
A series of Laburnum Park houses that were designed and erected by Muhleman and Kahoe circa 1923 illustrate the complete range of styles and forms typical of Laburnum Park. These houses occupy the south side of the 1600 block of Confederate Avenue and the north side of the 1600 block of Palmyra Avenue. These two block faces contain representative examples of the Tudor Revival-style cottage (1606 Palmyra Avenue, the Dutch Colonial Revival style (1613 Confederate Avenue), a simple Craftsman- influenced house (1609 Confederate Avenue), and a two-story symmetrical Colonial Revival style residence (1603 Confederate Avenue). Also included among these more typical residences are two distinctive architectural styles. The dwelling at 1608 Palmyra Avenue displays Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival influences, and is one of only a handful of houses derived from this mode in Laburnum Park.The eclectic residence located at 1611 Confederate Avenue displays a distinct French Renaissance Revival flair that is unique to the historic district.
The collection of approximately 230 residential structures located within the Laburnum Park Historic District remain remarkably well preserved. The vast majority of the exterior alterations made to these buildings since they were originally erected are minor and do not jeopardize the historic and architectural integrity of the structures. The most common alterations found here are the replacement of historic roofing materials with modern asphalt and fiberglass shingles, the re-cladding of frame structures with synthetic siding, and window replacements.
The siting and historic relationship between the dwellings and the street remains intact, thus providing visual proof of the origins of this historic suburban neighborhood.
Laburnum Park is home to four major local institutions. Each of these occupies multiple lots within the fabric of the residential neighborhood. While three of the four institutions occupy large tracts facing onto Westwood Avenue along the southern edge of the neighborhood, Ginter Park Baptist Church stands on three standard Laburnum Park lots that are located at the northwest corner of Brook Road and Wilmington Avenue. Erected in 1920, this Gothic Revival church structure was designed from the remains of the Grace Street Baptist Church that was moved to this site. Although altered somewhat from its original configuration, the church is an excellent example of Gothic Revival church architecture with its skintled brickwork, heavy crenellated towers, and lancet stained glass windows.
As mentioned, the Virginia Methodist Home For the Aged, now known as "The Hermitage," occupies the mansion originally erected in 1911 by Jonathan Bryan. Converted for use as a nursing home in 1948, the institution has been expanded several times. The wings extending southeast and southwest from the original central structure were executed in 1951 and 1955.These substantial brick extensions imitate the Colonial Revival style of the original residence.
Located at the northwest corner of Westwood Avenue and Brook Road, the campus of the General Assembly's Training School For Lay Workers, now the Presbyterian School for Christian Education (PSCE) and the Baptist Theological Seminary, contains six institutional buildings that range in date from 1921 to 1967. The architecture of the campus is predominantly Georgian Revival in style with one stripped classical modern building.
Finally, the seven-story brick and concrete Richmond Memorial Hospital building occupies the 1400 block of Westwood Avenue. Designed in a stark modernist vein, the building is characterized by its boxy form, cutout windows framed by cast concrete surrounds, and a five-story, limestone-clad, concave tower-like structure that fronts the building. The front tower is the hospital's most distinctive architectural feature; it also contains the city's memorial chapel that is dedicated to Richmond's World War II heroes. Completed in 1957, the Richmond Memorial Hospital was chartered in 1947 and originally designed in 1949 by a team of architects that included the Cincinnati firm of Samuel Hannaford & Sons and Richmond architects, Baskervill & Son.
Baskervill & Son also designed two substantial additions to the Richmond Memorial Hospital complex. The first of these was the 1961 Richmond Memorial Hospital Nursing School, a 3-story freestanding brick building designed in a severe Classical style. The second significant Baskervill & Son extension was the Sheltering Arms Hospital addition. Founded in 1889, Sheltering Arms was a Richmond charitable medical facility that offered free care to indigent patients. In 1964, the hospital relocated from downtown to the Richmond Memorial campus in order to take advantage of its modern facilities. Completed in 1964, the 2-story brick addition connected directly to the Richmond Memorial Hospital on both floors. The addition features a Stripped Classical entry portico, simple limestone detailing, and grounds originally laid out by noted Virginia landscape architect, Charles Gillette.
Laburnum Park's institutional buildings remain in very good condition. Although most have been expanded numerous times over the years, the buildings retain their original architectural character and continue to reflect their original styles and uses.
The Laburnum Park Historic District in Richmond, Virginia is significant both for its status as one of the city's early "streetcar suburbs" and as home to several important local institutions. The 16-block area located in Richmond's "North Side" is home to an outstanding collection of middle- and upper class residential architecture of the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. The district is also associated historically with several important public service institutions. These include the first nursing home established by the Methodist church in Virginia, the Presbyterian church's first secular training academy in the state, and the Richmond Memorial Hospital complex, built as the city's official World War II memorial dedicated to those who served and died in that war. Laburnum Park, therefore, derives its significance from its distinctive collection of early 20th century residential buildings set within a designed suburban landscape (Criterion C), its historic relation to the broad suburban development patterns of the early decades of the 20th century (Criterion A), and its connection to several institutions of both local and statewide significance (Criterion A). As Richmond's only official World War II memorial, the Richmond Memorial Hospital (1954-1957) is of exceptional local importance. Thus, it meets the additional standards set forth for properties that are less than fifty years of age (Criteria Consideration G).
Until the 20th century, the property now occupied by the Laburnum Park neighborhood was part of a large rural tract located in Henrico County, Virginia. Located on a high plateau between the James and Chickahominy Rivers, the land was cultivated for agricultural uses during much of the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the mid-18th century, the area was traversed by an early colonial-era track called Brook Road, named after a small watercourse known simply as "The Brook" that ran through the area. Brook Road served as one of the main routes that extended north of Richmond and was a major commercial artery for the farms north and west of the city. In 1812, the Virginia General Assembly established the Brook Turnpike Company to improve the road. During the early 19th century, a substantial tavern was established along Brook Road near its intersection with today's Westwood Avenue. Known as Paradise Inn, the roadhouse served Brook Road's numerous travelers.
During the Civil War, the defensive importance of Brook Road was underscored by the Confederate forces' construction of a portion of the city's intermediate defenses, a series of trenches and earthworks defended by canon, along the road. The Brook Road fortifications played a key role in repelling the forces of Union General Kilpatrick's attempted raid on Richmond in March 1864. The fortifications were located partially within the present boundaries of Laburnum Park at what is now the northwest intersection of Brook Road and Confederate Avenue. The defenses appear on the Laburnum Corporation's 1919 promotional maps of the new suburb, and continued in existence until 1929 when the first houses were built on the eastern end of the 1200 block of Confederate Avenue. Today, a bronze plaque set on the west side of Brook Road between Confederate and Wilmington Avenues commemorates the defense of Richmond at this site.
"Laburnum" & the Bryan Family
The once-agricultural area north of Richmond began to change in character during the 19th century. During the second half of the 19th century, several affluent Richmonders established country residences in the areas that bordered Brook Road. These country estates included the home of Colonel John Mayo, a prominent 19th century businessman in Richmond. Known as the "Hermitage," Mayo's estate was located near where the Broad Street Station (now the Children's Science Museum) was erected.
James Lyon's "Laburnum," located in present-day Laburnum Park, was another prominent estate north of the city. Lyon was a prominent Richmond attorney who had acquired the Paradise Inn property prior to 1860. He demolished the tavern and built a dwelling house there, calling it "Laburnum." Several Civil War notables were entertained at Laburnum during Lyon's tenure, including General Robert E.Lee and Sarah Knox Taylor Davis, the daughter of President Zachary Taylor and the wife of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President. A March 1864 fire destroyed Laburnum, forcing Lyon to move to the city where he owned a hotel.
Lyon's Laburnum house was rebuilt on a smaller scale following the 1864 fire. At the time that Joseph and Isobel Bryan purchased the property in 1883, the house was described by the Bryans' son as "a rather small and modest little house, with latticed woodwork pillars on the porch." When the Bryans purchased the former Lyon estate, it had changed hands and was owned by Grey Skipwith of Henrico County. The Bryans bought the house and surrounding acres for $7,250.
Joseph Bryan was one of the most affluent and influential of Richmond's businessmen of the post-Civil War era. Born in 1845 in Gloucester County, Virginia, he was the eighth child of John Randolph Bryan and Elizabeth Tucker Coalter. He served in the Confederate Army from 1863 until the end of the Civil War. Following the war, Bryan went into business purchasing and reselling excess government mules. With the money he earned he entered law school at University of Virginia in 1867. After passing the Virginia Bar examination in 1868, Bryan moved to Richmond and married Isobel L. Stewart of Brook Hill in Henrico county.
In addition to practicing law, Bryan was involved in various commercial and manufacturing enterprises in Richmond. He was one of the founders and trustees of the Richmond & West Point Terminal Railway and Warehouse Company, a railroad holding company formed in Richmond in 1880. He also served as president of the Richmond Locomotive Works, a manufacturing company that he and his business partner, William R. Trigg, developed from the former Tanner & Delaney Machine works. At its zenith at the turn of the 20th century, this venture employed 3,000 workers to produce locomotives for both domestic and international markets.
Despite his extensive connections with commerce and manufacturing ventures in Richmond, Joseph Bryan is best known as a newspaper publisher. In 1887, Major Lewis Ginter, Bryan's friend and fellow Richmond entrepreneur, gave Bryan his struggling newspaper, The Daily Times. Bryan successfully transformed the small local daily into a major Virginia newspaper on par with The Dispatch, Richmond's leading paper at the time. In 1903, Bryan merged the two rival papers to form The Times Dispatch.
Prior to purchasing Laburnum in 1883, Bryan and his family lived with his wife's family at Brook Hill, the Stewart family estate in Henrico County. In 1882, Bryan began a search for property on which to build a house. Bryan initially explored the possibility of purchasing or building a residence within the city limits in order to be closer to his business interests. However, Isobel Bryan, preferred to remain outside the city near her family home at Brook Hill. Eventually, the family purchased the Laburnum estate on Brook Road.
The Bryans began improving the property by landscaping and building an elaborate, 2-1/2-story brick Victorian house. The house was an eclectic mix of English medieval influences with its multiple steep pitched gables, decorative brick pattern work, and use of highly ornamental wood and ironwork. It was equipped with the most modern devices such as a steam pump that pumped water to tanks in the attic, and gasoline burning lights that were lit by incandescent mantels. In January 1906, this "Laburnum" burned. The Bryans immediately set about rebuilding their home on the same site. They hired the New York firm of Parish & Schroeder to design their new residence. Containing 50 rooms, 17 bathrooms, and electric passenger and freight elevators, the grandiose building was considered one of the most luxurious residences in Richmond at the time it was completed. The house was a triumph of the fashionable Colonial Revival style, popularized by the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Designed in a highly academic Neoclassical Revival design, the building featured Flemish bond brickwork with struck mortar joints, a monumental two-story front portico supported by six massive limestone columns, and an ornate door surround featuring a scrolled broken pediment. The interiors were elaborately finished with mahogany woodwork, marble mantels, parquet floors, and decorative plasterwork.
The new Laburnum house was completed early in 1908. Joseph Bryan died later that year, leaving the house to Isobel Stewart Bryan and their eldest son, John Stewart Bryan. The younger Bryan was a prominent figure in Richmond. He succeeded his father as publisher and editor of The Times-Dispatch and played an active role in the commercial and cultural affairs of the city. He lived at Laburnum until his death in 1944. There he entertained numerous national and international dignitaries including, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York; Lady Nancy Astor, a native Virginian and the first woman to serve as a member of the British Parliament; and British Prime Ministers Lloyd George and Winston Churchill.
After John Stewart Bryan's death in 1944, his son, David Tennant Bryan inherited Laburnum. Like his parents and grandparents before him, D. Tennant Bryan was actively involved in the community and in 1949 he donated his family's Laburnum estate for the site of the planned Richmond Memorial Hospital. He also played a key role in the completion of this institution, serving on the hospital's steering committee and leading its fundraising campaign.
Joseph Bryan's second son, Jonathan Bryan, married in 1911 and erected a large Colonial Revival style mansion on a portion of the Laburnum estate. Sited at the northeast corner of Westwood Avenue and Hermitage Road, Jonathan Bryan called his new residence "Nonchalance." Nonchalance had several owners prior to being sold to the Virginia Methodist Church. The church established their first nursing home on the property in 1948. Now known as The Hermitage, the facility continues to provide residential care for the elderly.
Development of Richmond's northern suburbs was long hampered by the topography between the high and level plateau to the north and the city on the river to the south. A deep ravine cut by Bacon's Quarter Branch acted as a physical barrier to the northward expansion of the city. Although Brook Road traversed the area from the Colonial period, easy access to the vicinity was limited to those who could afford carriages. Thus, prior to the 1890s, the areas north of Bacon's Quarter Branch were either farms or the summer retreats of Richmond's most affluent citizens
Joseph Bryan and Lewis Ginter were Richmond's wealthiest citizens when they established their residences in what would later be called the North Side. Major Lewis Ginter made his fortune as co-founder of the Allen & Ginter Tobacco Works. In 1890, Allen & Ginter merged with four other leading tobacco ventures to form the American Tobacco Company. After the consolidation, Ginter remained a director in the venture, but relinquished his status as chief executive officer. When Ginter sold his tobacco company, he and several partners, including his friend and personal attorney, Joseph Bryan, began purchasing large tracts of land north of the city. The plan was to develop this still rural area into a thriving residential suburb of Richmond. Integral to Ginter's vision was the availability of convenient and economical transportation to his suburb. In Richmond, as in many cities across the nation, streetcar lines were built by investors with the purpose of drawing potential buyers to their real estate ventures located outside the city's core. Often these lines were built in conjunction with amusement destinations that drew people out of the city and past the residential lots of newly created suburbs. This was exactly the model that Ginter followed.
In 1888, Richmond became the first American city to operate successful electric streetcar lines. The lines flourished due to their speed and economy. In 1891, the construction of a viaduct bridge at First Street carried the streetcars over the Bacon's Quarter Branch ravine. In 1892, Ginter constructed an extension to the North Side. Known as the Lakeside line, the tracks extended from the neighborhood of Barton Heights northward across Brookland Park Boulevard, up Chamberlayne Avenue to Laburnum Avenue, and ended at Lakeside Park, a recreational destination that Ginter built that same year. In 1895, Ginter furthered his investment in his real estate venture in the North Side by donating land to the Union Theological Seminary, which until then had been based near Farmville, Virginia. Ginter wanted to secure the school's relocation to his new suburb. His advertisements heralded the seminary's presence as "one of the surest guarantees of the permanent character of the neighborhood, and of the continuing value of real estate in this section." Ginter also made vast improvements to the main roadways in the area, by constructing and landscaping the suburb's new streets, and installing the most modern drainage and sewer system. George Arents, Ginter's nephew, helped him manage the Sherwood Land Company that Ginter had formed to develop the area.
With Ginter's death in 1897, progress on his planned North Side suburbs abruptly ceased -- the only dwellings standing in the new neighborhood were several workmen's cottages that had been built in 1895. Not until four years later, in 1901, did the Sherwood Land Company, which Arents and Joseph Bryan had reorganized as the Lewis Ginter Land and Improvement Company, begin to make the area east of Brook Road the focus of active residential construction. By 1908, the suburb of "Ginter Park" was a roaring success. The neighborhood was steadily developing as an attractive, affluent neighborhood; by 1912, the suburb boasted as many as 180 residents. That year, its citizens voted to incorporate as an independent town. The success and density of the newly defined neighborhood drew the attention of Richmond's city leaders. In 1914, a large area north of the city, including Ginter Park and the Bryans' Laburnum estate, were annexed to the city.
The success of Ginter Park and other North Side Richmond suburbs likely influenced the Bryan sons, John Stewart and Jonathan Bryan, to pursue residential land development on their father's Laburnum property. Other factors influencing their decision included Jonathan Bryan's association with the renewal of the defunct Richmond-to-Ashland railway line. Established by New York based financier Frank J. Gould in 1903 as the Richmond and Chesapeake Bay Railway, the railway line had been constructed over the right-of-way of the old Brook Turnpike Company and had originally been designed to connect Richmond with Washington. The first and only segment to be built, between Richmond and Ashland, Virginia, opened in 1907. The line ran from a depot on West Broad Street at Laurel Street, northward across a trestle over the Bacon's Branch ravine, and then north on Brook Road past Laburnum. The line closed after only 10 years. In 1919, two years after the railroad's demise, Jonathan Bryan and his partner Oliver J. Sands undertook to revive it. The renewed rail line, under the name of the Richmond-Ashland Railway Company, provided an added attraction to prospective purchasers in North Side suburbs. Although the enterprise was eventually abandoned in 1938, by that time much of the North Side had been developed into a popular and attractive suburb.
Laburnum Park & Laburnum Court Take Shape
Following Joseph Bryan's death, his sons John Stewart and Jonathan Bryan organized a trust in order to continue their late father's business affairs. Chartered in 1912, the Joseph Bryan Trust was authorized to buy and sell real estate, erect buildings, purchase and acquire property, and control and manage related funds. John Stewart Bryan acted as president of the trust, while Jonathan served as vice president. In 1915, the trust amended its charter, changing its name to the Laburnum Corporation. In 1921 the corporation was reorganized again under the name Laburnum Realty Corporation. At this time, Jonathan Bryan took over as president of the company.
The Laburnum Corporation's activities covered "the handling of all classes of real estate, improved and unimproved, city and suburban property, developing and building additions, etc." Its initial development venture involved the improvement and sale of lots divided out of Joseph and Isobel Bryan's original Laburnum estate. The property excluded the Laburnum house and approximately 20 of its surrounding acres. The remainder of the property was laid out in a rectilinear grid of streets lined by half-acre residential lots. Bounded on the north by Laburnum Avenue, on the east by Brook Road, on the south by Westwood Avenue, and on the west by Hermitage Road, the suburb was named Laburnum Park. The street names commemorate important people and places in the life of the Bryans.
While traditional in its use of an orthogonal street grid, the layout of Laburnum Park departed from the earlier Ginter Park suburb to its east in its incorporation of 80-foot wide boulevards with generous landscaped medians throughout the neighborhood. These landscaped boulevards defined each east-west oriented street, as well as the main north-south street, which bisected the suburb. In addition the plan established a substantial building setback of approximately 70 feet. As a result, the planned suburb was intended to be a verdant garden-style environment with leafy shade trees, hedges, grassy yards, and wide, formal boulevards defining the neighborhood. The area was further improved by the addition of tiled drainage ditches that lined the streets.
The Laburnum Corporation had sold 68 of a total of 175 available lots by 1919, however, residential construction did not kept pace and the vast majority of the lots remained vacant. Material and labor shortages caused by World War I slowed progress on suburban development throughout Richmond. In order to entice new residents and spur real estate development in their new suburb, the Laburnum Corporation hired a prominent Virginia architect, Charles M. Robinson, to design a novel cluster of 24 single family homes on the block bounded by Palmyra, Gloucester, Westwood, and Chatham Avenues on the southern edge of Laburnum Park.
Richmond-based architect Charles Morrison Robinson executed numerous commissions across the state. He specialized in school design, and is best known for his work on Virginia college campuses including The College of William and Mary, James Madison University, Radford University, and Virginia State University. Robinson also executed designs for numerous Richmond area schools, including the Ginter Park School erected in 1915. Although his practice focused on school architecture and campus planning, Robinson also worked on residential and commercial projects. Most of the latter projects were located in Richmond.
In addition to hiring Robinson to design the residences and community buildings, the Laburnum Corporation secured the services of Charles Freeman Gillette, a nationally prominent landscape architect, to design the individual house lots and the common areas of Laburnum Court. Based in Richmond, Gillette was known mainly for his romantic garden designs on the wealthy estates of Virginia's elite. He was a prolific designer, executing designs for all types of residential, commercial, and institutional clients. Although little of his original Laburnum Court landscape design remains intact today, some of the individual plantings still thrive.
Robinson and Gillette's Laburnum Court was a housing cluster that employed a new and innovative form of ownership based on a cooperative model where each owner purchased one of 24 shares in the Laburnum Court Corporation. The shareholders then shared the costs of electricity, heating, and maintenance of public areas. The physical design of Laburnum Court reinforced the cooperative ownership model. The 24 housing units faced outward onto the neighborhood's streets much like the remainder of Laburnum Park. However, a common court or open space was defined at the center of the Laburnum Court block. This court was accessible to each residence and incorporated two community buildings and the recreation area. One of the community buildings housed the heating plant along with a community room above, while the building opposite across the court provided individual garages for each of the residents.
In a bid to characterize Laburnum Park as a progressive and modern suburb and to attract attention to their venture, the Laburnum Corporation actively promoted the Laburnum Court concept by emphasizing it as a place where "social conditions are superior and 'PROGRESS' is the watchword." Advertisements also attested to the healthful and convenient modern features of the houses, the accessibility of the neighborhood via two streetcar lines, the beautiful tree-lined streets, and a common recreational area. Charles M. Robinson, apparently approved of the final outcome -- in the 1920 census, he is listed as residing in one of the Laburnum Court houses while his son lived in another.
The first Laburnum Court model house was completed in July 1919. Each house cost approximately $6,250 to build. The advertised cost was an estimated $10,000 that could be paid like rent and included heating and electricity costs. The houses shared the same basic layout with an entrance hall, living room, dining room, and kitchen with a pantry and breakfast nook on the first floor, and four bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. The exteriors were finished in a variety of materials and in various styles. The exterior claddings included brick, stucco, and wood siding, and the styles ranged from the Dutch Colonial to Mediterranean influenced Craftsman style. Each house boasted custom detailing and modern appliances including an icebox, range, and an early version of a dishwasher. By February 1920, only two Laburnum Court houses remained unsold.
While an architect or builder individually designed many of the houses in Laburnum Park, either the Laburnum Corporation or independent builders erected several groups of homes on a speculative basis. Davis Brothers, General Contractors, a locally active residential building company, erected several residences in Laburnum Park during the 1920s and 1930s. Other local architects and builders active in the neighborhood were Muhlman & Kayhoe, F. Darling & Company, Lindner & Philips, Pond & Williamson, and I.T. Skinner. Construction proceeded at a rapid rate between 1920 and 1930 with a total of approximately 150 houses erected in Laburnum Park. By 1925, the Richmond City Directory listed 116 residences in Laburnum Park, and by 1930, there were a total of 187 residents there. By 1935, the neighborhood was nearly built out.
During the immediate post World War II period, Richmond's population boomed. Between 1940 and 1950 the city's population rose 20 percent to reach over 230,000 people. The growth in population spurred real estate development at the fringes of the city, and drew middle and upper-class residents to the far West End suburbs and outside the city to new residential areas. Many of Richmond's inner residential districts experienced significant population decline. Laburnum Park, however, remained generally stable in population and demographics and remains so to this day.
The early residents of Laburnum Park were upper-middle class professionals who possessed the means to purchase land and build houses. They built homes in Richmond's new outer suburbs to escape the congestion of the inner city; they were drawn by the promise of clean air, open spaces, and healthful living. The convenience of the streetcar and the growing affordability of automobiles provided easy access to the city's business districts, allowing residents of the North Side to commute quickly to the city for work.
Laburnum Park's earliest residents were professional workers. They were doctors, lawyers, and bankers or held salaried positions in Richmond establishments, including the C&O Railroad, the local paper mill, and in the municipal and state governments. Several early Laburnum Park residents were locally prominent individuals who were active in Richmond's political communities. These included Virginia State Senator John J. Wicker, Jr. who lived at 1207 Confederate Avenue; and James Latimore, a noted reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch who lived at 1611 Confederate Avenue.
Institutional Presence In Laburnum Park
The development of an institutional presence was concurrent with Laburnum Park's residential development; indeed, residential development was drawn by the presence of prominent local institutions such as the Union Theological Seminary. As early as 1895, Lewis Ginter foresaw the presence of the Seminary as an integral to his plans to develop an upper class suburban neighborhood. He felt that a prominent educational institution would give the area an air of permanence and civility. Laburnum Park's developers mimicked Ginter's strategy by providing a home for a similar religious educational institution within the confines of their newly formed suburb. Today there are four established institutions within the confines of the historic neighborhood. Throughout the course of its existence the neighborhood's character and development has been intimately linked to these establishments.
The General Assembly's Training School For Lay Workers
In 1919, John Stewart Bryan sold the eastern end of the remaining Laburnum property, approximately six acres of land fronting on Brook Road, to the Presbyterian Church to develop what became known as the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (PSCE). First established in 1914 by the Presbyterian General Assembly, the church's ruling body, the school initially held classes and housed students in two large residences located in Ginter Park.
After purchasing the Laburnum property in 1919 the Presbyterian institution began to construct a Georgian Revival campus that was centered on a central green space or quadrangle. Lament Street was offset and extended to divide the campus from the Laburnum house property. The first building erected on the Campus was George W. Watts Hall, completed in 1922. Located at the southwest corner of the property, this three-story brick Georgian Revival style edifice housed 125 students. The two-story brick Virginia Hall, housing a classroom and dining hall, was completed shortly after Watts Hall and was designed in an even more grandiose Classical Revival mode. These two buildings, along with five faculty houses built in 1924 across Palmyra Avenue, constituted the full extent of the campus until the second half of the 20th century when the school expanded and erected four additional structures between 1952 and 1967, all but one designed in a strict Colonial Revival vein. Today the campus buildings house two different institutions, the original PSCE and the newly formed Baptist Theological Seminary.
While the General Assembly's Training School's choice of location was likely influenced by the proximity of its sponsoring institution, the Union Theological Seminary, its presence in Laburnum Park established an institutional precedent in the area, reflecting the future development pattern of Laburnum Park.
Ginter Park Baptist Church
While smaller in scope then the General Assembly's Training School, the Ginter Park Baptist Church is another important institution that was established in Laburnum Park in 1919. The church was formed in 1916 in response to the desires of the many Baptist residents of Ginter Park and the surrounding suburbs. The present church was built on lot 14, which was located on the northwest corner of Brook Road and Wilmington Avenue. In 1920, the church bought and moved the materials from the former Grace Street Presbyterian Church in Richmond to the Laburnum Park lot. There they re-erected the church in a modified design. The Richmond architecture firm of Hallett & Pratt served as architects for the construction. Completed in 1921, the Ginter Park Baptist Church has since continuously served the surrounding community. The church also purchased and occupied the house at 1204 Wilmington Avenue, using it as a parsonage for many years. The church building has been expanded several times since its original construction, most significantly in 1939 with the addition of the education building, and again in 1951 when a western addition was completed.
Virginia Methodist Home For the Aged -- The Hermitage
Jonathan Bryan's "Nonchalance" house was occupied by a succession of owners throughout the first three decades of its existence. Arthur B. Bauer and his family owned and occupied the house during the second quarter of the 20th century. They renamed the house "The Hermitage" after Colonel John Mayo's early 19th century mansion. When the Laburnum estate was subdivided by the Laburnum Corporation, The Hermitage was set off on its own block bounded by Westwood and Palmyra Avenues on the south and north, and by Hermitage Road and Chatham Street on the west and east.
In 1948, Arthur Bauer's widow sold The Hermitage to the Virginia Methodist Home For the Aged, Inc. Formed in 1945 by the Virginia Annual Conference of the Methodist Church, this organization modeled its work after a home for the aged that the Methodists had founded in Gaithersburg, Maryland in 1926. Led by the Reverend Bernard S. Via of Charlottesville, the home accepted its first resident in 1949. Originally established to house elderly men and women of the Methodist denomination who had no family to care for them, the home has expanded its mission and facilities over the course of the past 50 years. The Hermitage is one of seven elder care facilities currently run by the Virginia United Methodist Homes, Inc. in Virginia.
Richmond Memorial Hospital
In 1949, the Bryan family donated the Laburnum house and its surrounding property to the Community Memorial Hospital of Richmond, Inc. Chartered on November 7, 1947, the Community Memorial Hospital, renamed Richmond Memorial Hospital (RMH) in 1949, became the city's first hospital funded by a mass community fundraising. In addition to serving as one of Richmond's largest open-staffed general hospitals, the city designated both the building and its specially designed chapel as its official World War II memorial.
The impetus to build Richmond Memorial Hospital began during the World War II when the growing shortage of adequate medical facilities and the rapid loss of physicians led to calls for a new hospital for the city. At the time there were only three open-staffed hospitals in Richmond, and these were small and ill equipped to accept additional patients and staff. The growing popularity of hospital care combined with a surging local population caused a severe shortage of hospital facilities in the area. By 1945, local hospitals were experiencing a critical bed shortage. Local newspapers reported that the daily average patient waiting list was more than 300.
At the same time, the federal government was taking steps to address the shortage of medical facilities across the nation. In 1946, Congress enacted legislation that authorized federal grants to states to survey their hospitals and public health centers, to plan construction of additional facilities, and to cover some of the construction costs. Known as the Hill-Burton Act after its congressional sponsors, the legislation was intended to extend and modernize medical facilities that had become obsolete due to lack of capital investment throughout the period of the Great Depression and World War II.
In 1945, Richmond began to address its need for improved medical services by commissioning a survey of existing hospital facilities. The Richmond Community Council, a federation of 80 health and social welfare agencies that planned and coordinated citywide social programs, commissioned the report, which was prepared by a nationally recognized hospital consultant, Dr. Robin C. Buerki. Published in 1946, the survey exposed the need for at least 500 additional hospital beds in the city, along with more complete and modern medical facilities.
Responding to the conclusions drawn from the hospital survey, the Community Council named a steering committee that was led by the Dr. Theodore F. Adams, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Richmond and later president of the Baptist World Alliance. The steering committee was charged with exploring the possibility of erecting a new hospital in Richmond. As mentioned above, D. Tennant Bryan, grandson of Joseph Bryan, served on the steering committee and would later lead its fundraising efforts. In May 1946, lead by Dr. Henry W. Decker, a leading Virginia physician, the Richmond Academy of Medicine formed a 25-member advisory committee to support the Community Council's steering committee. The steering committee's initial plans called for the construction of a "500-bed community hospital, which would be erected through public subscription at an estimated cost of between $3,500,000 and $5,000,000."
Concurrent with the hospital's initial planning stages, a mayoral committee was appointed to explore the concept of the construction of a World War II memorial to Richmond's war dead. Dr. Decker, whose son had died at sea during the war, suggested that the proposed hospital be named Richmond's official World War II memorial. In 1947, the proposal won the support of the memorial committee and was unanimously approved by the City Council and the Board of Aldermen.
In the United States, designating functional buildings as war memorials became commonplace in the post World War I period, with the construction of commemorative libraries, auditoriums, and other civic buildings. Following World War II, a similar movement emerged that advocated the construction of what were called "living memorials." Living memorials were regarded as public works that embodied the American ethos and memorialized the nation's war sacrifices. In the immediate postwar era, municipal auditoriums, stadiums, highways, bridges, and hospitals were built across the country as public memorials.
On November 7, 1947, the Community Memorial Hospital of Richmond was incorporated and authorized to operate a community, non-profit hospital for the care of "all persons, regardless of race, color, or creed." The corporation charter included a statement of intent to erect a "fitting, appropriate and permanent memorial edifice or structure, which shall be so placed in connection with the hospital that it will be evident to all that the hospital is a memorial to those who gave their lives in World War II that others might live." Dr. Adams was named chairman of the board, and Walter S. Robertson was appointed president of the corporation. Several prominent Richmond businessmen were appointed as vice presidents, including D. Tennant Bryan.
The corporation originally intended to initiate its fund drive in 1948. Due to the high cost of construction and the demands of other fundraising campaigns throughout the city, the Hospital's drive was delayed until summer 1949. That year, D. Tennant Bryan opened the drive by donating his grandfather's Laburnum house and the surrounding 14 acres to the corporation as a site for the proposed hospital. He gave the property in memory of his father, John Stewart Bryan, and his grandfather, Joseph Bryan. His letter of offer states:
"It seems to me peculiarly appropriate that 'Laburnum,' which was for 80 years the residence of Joseph Bryan and his son, John Stewart Bryan, both of whom devoted so much of their lives to the betterment of this community, should now become a part of a living memorial to those Richmonders who gave their lives to their country in the Second World War."
All agreed that the location was ideal. The hospital consultant, Dr. Buerki, who had prepared the original 1946 survey of Richmond area hospitals, was retained to advise the site committee on a suitable hospital location. Buerki declared the Laburnum site perfect because it "meets every requirement of location in relation to known population trends, transportation and traffic." Dr. Harry Warthen, one of the medical advisory committee members, praised the location for its size and room for future expansion.
The hospital corporation hired the Cincinnati architecture firm of Samuel Hannaford & Sons to oversee the design of the memorial hospital building. The Hannaford firm, established in 1887, had a nationwide reputation in hospital design and was involved in the design of at least two other Virginia hospitals during the 1950s. Acting as supervisory architects, Hannaford was assisted by the local Richmond firm of Baskervill & Son, Architects. Baskervill & Son had also worked on several hospital buildings in the area, along with other large public projects, including the Virginia State Library building that was completed in 1940.
The initial design of the hospital was completed in 1949 by the two firms. As originally conceived the building was five stories tall and had central air-conditioning. It accommodated 321 patient beds, modern maternity and pediatric departments, emergency and outpatient facilities, laboratories, and a surgical unit. However, this initial design was significantly different from the final building that was completed in 1957. The 1949 scheme included an H-shaped floor plan with wings to the east and west. The planned memorial chapel was located not in a central tower element, as in the final design, but as an attached structure with a traditional chapel layout that was set at the terminus of the hospital's west wing. The exterior of the hospital was designed in the Stripped Classical mode with distinct horizontal bands of windows and vertical, stylized colonnade elements at the entrance and on the front projecting arms of the "H." The design that was eventually built extended the height to seven stories, moved the chapel to a central location, and abandoned the traditional chapel layout. By 1957, the building's styling had changed substantially, becoming more spare and modern in its vocabulary.
During the 1949-1950 fundraising drive, approximately $3,800,000 was raised for the hospital, a sum higher than in any previous charitable endeavor in Richmond. There were more than 33,000 subscribers. Despite the campaign's success, escalating construction costs and the outbreak of the Korean War delayed construction. The hospital corporation had calculated that approximately $2,000,000 in federal hospital funding would be available. However, the Korean conflict reduced the amount of federal funds available and forced the corporation to put its plans on hold for more than a year.
Finally, in 1952 and 1953, federal and state funding became available. These grants amounted to approximately $2.1 million and, along with another short public fundraising campaign, provided enough capital to begin construction. Ground was broken for the construction of Richmond Memorial Hospital on June 22, 1954. In January 1957, when the hospital opened, the seven-story brick and limestone structure contained 411 beds and 66 bassinets. The main hospital block was erected just west of the 1908 Laburnum house. The former mansion was retained and renovated for use as staff lounges, a medical records library, a dining hall, and quarters for resident physicians.
An integral part of its design program was the five-story limestone clad tower that dominated the front entrance facade. The tower contained the "fitting, appropriate and permanent memorial edifice" called for in the corporation's initial charter: a memorial chapel dedicated to the 984 Richmonders who gave their lives during the Second World War. The chapel is located above the ground floor entrance lobby and consists of a simple soaring vertical space that was dominated by a monumental marble tablet engraved with the names of the city's war dead.
The hospital quickly took its place in the community as a vital medical facility and as a living memorial to Richmond's sons and daughters who gave their lives in the war. The hospital reached its capacity much earlier than its managers anticipated. In response, they began almost at once to expand its facilities and programs to meet the needs of Richmond's growing population. Within the first decade of its operation, the hospital made several additions to the building. In 1961, the Richmond Memorial Hospital School of Nursing opened in a freestanding brick structure located on the hospital campus. This facilities served the needs of the community by addressing the shortage of trained nurses in the hospital. The school also fulfilled a portion of the hospital's original 1947 charter that charged the institution with providing medical educational programs for Richmond and Virginia.
In addition, in 1964, Sheltering Arms Hospital, the city's only free charitable hospital facility, moved from its historic quarters on East Clay Street to the Richmond Memorial campus, and was incorporated into the hospital's mission. Founded originally in 1889 to serve the medical needs of indigent residents, Sheltering Arms moved into a new addition made to Richmond Memorial Hospital. By doing so, it was able to take advantage of Richmond Memorial's modern medical facilities.
The Richmond Memorial Hospital complex is a symbol of a vast volunteer effort that produced one of Richmond's first modern hospitals. The non-profit institution was erected as a memorial to Richmond's World War II dead with a mission to serve the entire Richmond community. It immediately began to fulfill its charter by constructing the School of Nursing and providing Sheltering Arms a new physical location to continue its work.
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[†] Adapted From: Johnston, Edna and Smith, Lathryn Gettings, Laburnum Park Historic District: Richmond, Virginia, nomination document, 2000, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.