White House "Leaning" Toward Move 

It is currently nestled amid the growing campus of the VCU Medical Center, and visitors have difficulty finding the museum or places to park, Rawls says.

He says the result has been a decline in business. During the past 10 years, the museum has seen attendance shrink from 77,000 a year to about 55,000 in fiscal 2004, Rawls says. The museum posted a net loss of $393,000 in 2004.

No decision has been made regarding whether to relocate, Rawls says. The board plans to wait until after a legislative subcommittee completes its study of the issue before making a decision, he says. The report is due Nov. 30.

But museum officials appear to be preparing for a move. Rawls says there is no behind-the-scenes maneuvering. During a recent luncheon at the Commonwealth Club for members, he said that the White House almost certainly would relocate.

Two people who attended the luncheon, speaking to Style on condition of anonymity, say Rawls indicated that other economic-development offices in nearby locales had expressed interest in the White House.

There is growing resistance from local historians and preservationists who say that moving the White House would be a devastating blow to Richmond's place in history. Kathleen S. Kilpatrick, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, says moving the house would more than likely lead to its removal from the state and national historic registries.

"To separate it from that location is to separate it from a major factor in its historical significance," she says.

Others wonder if museum officials have jumped to conclusions about the location's viability. VCU is indeed expanding its medical campus — construction has already begun on a new, 16-story, critical care building next to the museum, for example — but university officials have expressed a willingness to work closely with the museum in order to keep it as an amenity for students, patients and faculty.

Some say the attendance dip, especially during the past two years, has more do with the construction work downtown, along East Broad Street.

"All of us in this neighborhood are experiencing some attendance issues," says Bill Martin, director of the nearby Valentine Richmond History Center. Despite its decline in walk-in traffic, Martin says, the museum has managed to maintain a steady flow of visitors by promoting more bus and walking tours. And the Valentine's school-based programs are up 38 percent.

What about national trends? Jim Campi, a spokesman for the Civil War Preservation Trust in Washington, D.C., says attendance is up at Civil War sites across the country. Since 9/11, tourists have been flying less and driving more, to the benefit of Civil War battlefields and museums.

Campi sympathizes with the White House's plight, but says the dip in visitation is "probably more of a marketing issue." He continues, "There are a lot of communities with a lot less Civil War history than Richmond that are doing pretty well marketing their history." — Scott Bass

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