Century-old General Assembly building to be demolished

Century-old General Assembly building to be demolished

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It's the last couple days of the last session for the General Assembly Building. The lawmakers' office building at the corner of Broad and 9th will be demolished and new one built in its place.

And oh, if these walls could talk. Not only is history made inside this building, it has a history of its own.

The ornate part of the building was a bank that built back in 1912. Capitol officials are hoping to preserve some of its facade and incorporate it into the new building.

"It has a really handsome sort of textbook architectural example of the Beaux-Arts style," said Virginia State Capitol Historian Mark Greenough.

He tells us the Lyric Theatre, a red brick building, was built next door.

"You had Vaudeville performing. You had traveling acts coming and going, and by 1917 you had patriotic speeches given by that brick building that was right here," said Greenough.

That means political speeches were delivered on the site long before the General Assembly Building was built.

"Yes, World War I war-time political speeches were going on in what was the Lyric Theatre," he said.

In 1922, an 11-story addition was added on the Broad Street side of the bank building, using some of the same building materials to match the architecture.

"Then in the 1955 period, a courtyard was filled in between this building and the other building on Broad Street. And in 1964, the minimalist, modern annex put up nine stories," said Greenough pointing to the modern half of the building where people enter the building now.

Added Virginia Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar, "The GAB used to be the Life Insurance Company of Virginia.  When they decided to move to the west end of Richmond, the state decided to buy the building."

That was in 1976.  Since then, for the last 40 years, the walls of the GAB have witnessed citizens and lobbyists appealing to lawmakers, waging battles over bills that would become the laws of Virginia.

"They are the committee rooms where the ban on smoking was debated, transportation issues have been debated, health care issues have been debated. If we had film of all of those sessions, it would be an interesting oral history," said Schaar.

But the crowds now overflow the committee rooms. Asbestos, mold, plumbing and HVAC problems are creating health hazards. Schaar remembers a Senator catching one of several birds that had taken up residence inside an office ceiling.

"All of a sudden, a hand came through the ceiling tile and one of the members in the next office said I've got it, I've got it and I'll take it outside and let it loose," she recalled.

This week, legislators and lobbyists have been saying either good riddance or goodbye to the building, some writing on its walls, some taking one last picture on its front steps.

Lawmakers and staff will move this summer to the Pocahontas building.

The new building and an accompanying parking deck across the street are expected to be complete in 2021. Schaar says the new building's style will reflect the historic architecture of Capitol Square.

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