RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Nearly all Confederate monuments in Richmond have come down, but residents in the Fan District say they are still concerned about Confederate iconography that can be found on the front steps of hundreds of homes in the area.
Gold and sometimes charcoal-colored historical markers read “The Fan Area Historic District National Register of Historic Places” which displays the year the home was erected and a silhouette of the Lee Monument. These markers are gaining the attention of residents of the Fan who say these markers should come down along with the monuments.
“The question we have to ask ourselves is do we really want iconography that’s about the war when we really want to live in a peaceful neighborhood?” said Stuart Avenue resident Joe Kutchera.
Most of the markers on display show that the home was constructed in early 1900, however, homes built as recently as a few months ago show markers with the year 2020 engraved on them. Kutchera has lived in his home since 2013, but says he began to notice the marker more after weeks of protests across the city.
“As you can see, on our porch right here is the ‘Fan Area National Register of Historic Places’ and there in the middle of the plaque is the Robert E. Lee statue,” said Kutchera. “What got me thinking about it was not only our plaque, but the plaque nearby on a brand new house. It was an identical plaque, but with the year 2020, and I realized that perhaps this may be the last year that these plaques will be made.”
But the organization responsible for producing and distributing the historic markers says otherwise.
Since 1985 the Fan Women’s Club (FWC) has been offering the plaques to residents in the Fan on Stuart Avenue, Monument Avenue,the streets between Broad and Main, and between Arthur Ashe Boulevard and Harrison Street. The Plaques on Monument Avenue have ‘Monument Avenue Historic District’ engraved on them, but are otherwise identical to the markers located on other streets.
“Members of the Fan Women’s Club worked diligently to have the National Park Service designated the Fan neighborhood into the National Register of Historic Places,” said FWC Public Affair Chair Person Anne Ring. “Once that designation was granted we wanted to commemorate the occasion by selling this plaque.”
Ring says the plaque was designed to highlight the date that the house was built and to acknowledge the role that the Fan home or building had in contributing to the area on the National Register of Historic Places. When a resident requests a plaque, the FWC researches the year the home was built. Once discovered, the plaque is created with the year of that home is engraved, along with the image of the Lee statue.
“Our board has been in the process of reviewing our current design and exploring other possibilities for several months due to popular outcries for perhaps presenting another option than the graphic of the Lee monument,” said Ring. “Some very talented, local Fan artists and graphic designers have offered their designs, and we will be delighted to offer another option to Fan residents who wish to see a different representation on the plaque.”
According to the Department of Historical Resources, the Fan Area Historic District is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Owners in the state and federal listed area can place plaques on their houses or not. There is no mandate from the commonwealth to use historic district plaques.
Though the FWC is working on an alternative design to make available for residents, they say that they will not be forcing residents to remove or replace the current marker from their homes.
“That is a personal choice for the homeowner,” said Ring. “We function as a social group and as such, we thought the responsible thing to do is give our residence the option of choice to all of our members.”
While a release date for the new design has not been announced, Ring says it has moved up in priority in response to actions taken against the monuments in Richmond.
“We have certainly pushed up our timetable from very important to very, very important on the board’s to-do list,” said Ring. “I think it would be safe to say in the next month and hopefully sooner.”
“We are really looking forward to sharing our progress with the Fan and Richmond communities as a whole.”
But Ring adds even after the new design is revealed, the FWC will not retire the Lee Monument design, giving residents the option to leave the old design up or purchase a new plaque with the Lee iconography in the future.
But rather than wait for the FWC to create a new plaque, some residents along Stuart Avenue and the neighboring streets have gone as far as blocking out the image of Lee from the marker, covering the marker with a Black Lives Matter image, or in Kutchera’s case, have removed it altogether.
“In doing more reading about the neighborhood and this particular area in the Fan, it was just surprising how the iconography of the statues on Monument Avenue was really put up with the purpose of intimidating African Americans and attracting white people to the neighborhood so that was quite disheartening, to say the least,” said Kutchera. “I look forward to seeing what will happen next and I hope that it would be replaced if the statue is removed going forward.”
According to FWC, the plaques cost $125 each for the homes located Monument and $100 for all other Fan-area homes. At this time there has been no word given on how much the new design will cost
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