Demo Debate 

Demolition of former shoe factory angers preservationists.

Despite protests from Richmond officials, another historic Richmond building may soon fall to the state government wrecking ball.

The Stephen Putney Shoe Co. factory, also once called the New Great Battle Axe Shoe Plant, was hailed as “the most economically arranged shoe plant in the country” when it was in service in the early 1900s.

Now it's been cleared for demolition by the state's Department of Historic Resources. State officials want to replace it with a one-story office building.

It's part of what some city leaders and historic preservationists call a pattern of destruction that has swept away such significant architecture as the Murphy Hotel and the Thalhimers department store building.

“I think what it points out is … the need for much closer communication between the city and the state, particularly on historic buildings,” says David Herring, executive director of the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods. “If the city isn't brought into the process until all these discussions have taken place, then the city doesn't really have much say in the matter.”

Herring and others have advocated for the creation of an independent architect of the Commonwealth to evaluate the historic significance of buildings proposed for demolition. Richmond's recently adopted downtown master plan also cites the need for such a position. Currently, the state's Department of General Services conducts reviews, with additional review contributed by the Department of Historic Resources.

The Putney building, which most recently housed the Virginia Department of Taxation, shares a stretch of Broad Street that includes a number of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, including the C.F. Sauer building and old Broad Street Station. Despite the addition of a stucco material over the building's original brick faAade, it could be restored, says Richmond Director of Community Development Rachel O. Flynn.

“The destruction of this building would forever end the story of the Putney Shoe Company Building,” Flynn writes in a May 14 letter to the state, in which she says demolition “would send the wrong message from the Commonwealth regarding its commitment to historic preservation.”

The letter also criticizes the state's plan to replace the building with a one-story building as “inappropriate” and a “poor use of land in a dense urban location.”

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