A Reorganized and Revitalized PHW

PHW SignPHW operated for several years as a scaled back, volunteer only organization during the period of reorganization. The Board of Directors, led by George and Jeanne Schember, systematically reviewed and fulfilled the outstanding legal and financial obligations, completed and sold the Blues House project at 401-403 S. Kent St., undertook a by-laws revision, and many other minutiae of requirements to running a non-profit organization.

PHW continued its focus on preserving Kent Street, awarding a Facade Improvement Grant to the owner at 317 South Kent Street for exterior improvements and sponsoring several John Kirby Day events to help preserve the Elks Lodge and John Kirby’s home on North Kent Street. The Holiday House Tours continued to be held, and Jennings Revolving Fund covenants were still enforced.

As George Schember neared the end of his term as President of PHW, Howard Kittell, then Executive Director at Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, was brought on board as PHW’s next President. Knowing he could not keep up with George and Jeanne’s level of hands-on, day-to-day commitment to PHW, it was time to hire office staff once again.

Filing Suit In June of 2005, Sandra Bosley became PHW’s Office Administrator. She responded to PHW’s employment ad along with 33 other candidates for this part time position. With her knowledge of the community, self-motivation, computer skills, and outstanding references from the staff of Shenandoah University’s History and Tourism Center, Sandra was a natural fit for the organization. By October of 2005, “[t]he board and volunteers are all in agreement that we would be lost without Sandra.” (1)

PHW was offered the chance to return to the Hexagon House by the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in 2006. PHW gratefully accepted the opportunity to set up offices again in one of the town’s outstanding architectural treasures. The increase in floorspace has made board meetings and social gatherings at PHW vastly more comfortable, and made fun outdoor events like croquet at Annual Meetings a possibility. (2)

In 2007, PHW became one of the leaders speaking out again the demolition of five properties on South Kent Street. The proposal was much contested, going all the way to City Council. PHW fought City Council’s decision to allow for demolition, filing a lawsuit against the City of Winchester, contesting that council failed to consult with the Board of Architectural Review before rendering a decision, which is required by the city’s Zoning Ordinance. (3) Although PHW’s attempts to purchase the properties through the Jennings Revolving Fund were unsuccessful, in the end the buildings in question were sold to another entity and retained.

PHW's 50th Anniversary PartyAbout the same time, the Taylor Hotel suffered a partial collapse, most likely due to rainwater accumulation because of clogged drainage systems. Although not publicly visible, PHW kept in touch with city officials during the years it took to find the right person to rehabilitate the Taylor. (4) The patient approach paid off when the Taylor was completed in 2014, just in time for PHW to host its 50th Anniversary celebration there at the new pavilion, created where the collapsed rubble of the theater and McCrory’s addition had once stood. (5)

There have still been some stinging losses for Winchester’s architectural heritage in recent years, including Ruth’s Tea Room and the Community Food Store on South Kent Street and the partial demolition of the Aulick house on South Braddock Street. If there can be a silver lining to these now-vanished Winchester landmarks, it is that they were lost not to a drive for more parking lots but to “demolition by neglect.” (6)(7)(8) Although a galling issue in its own right and a much more complex issue to combat, it is a far cry from the days when important buildings could be lost in the blink of an eye for a handful of parking spaces.

In some ways PHW has had to start from scratch as an organization in 2003, relearning how we used to be so successful at advocacy, membership events, and fundraising. Nevertheless, we feel we still serve an important role in the community and fill a much wanted and needed niche of providing information about historic preservation and architecture. We plan to serve the community for another fifty years. Thank you for your support and interest in PHW – we could not exist without you!

PHW will officially turn 51 tomorrow, and so with this post we will draw a close to our 50th Anniversary blog posts. There will be a small hiatus while we prepare materials for our blog series, focusing more on the architecture of Winchester.

The End of an Era

Chamber Will Buy Kurtz Building In 1999, PHW began talks with the Chamber of Commerce to sell the Kurtz Building. In January 2001, the deal was completed with a few stipulations. Although the Kurtz Cultural Center and Welcome Center would be closing, PHW would retain office space in the building for a period of time rent free. The Kurtz era officially came to a close on April 21, 2001 with “A Toast and a Tribute,” an event for the volunteers and staff who had poured a decade of time and love into the Cultural Center and Welcome Center.

The closing of the KCC was a tumultuous time in PHW’s history. In addition to closing out the programs and activities, removing exhibit materials, and selling off Gift Shop inventory and fixtures, the PHW offices were relocated inside the Kurtz Building to much smaller quarters.(1) In the midst of this difficult process, PHW was still juggling the Blues House events, the renovation of 401-403 South Kent Street, and internally struggling to adapt from the past focus on the KCC programming back to preservation.

The sale of the Kurtz Building had finally provided PHW the means to ensure the financial longevity of the organization. The trouble arose in regards to what portion of the money should be reserved for preservation projects and what amount should be put toward operating expenses. In 2003, the schism between PHW board members reached its lowest point, resulting in PHW returning to a volunteer only operation and with a deeply reduced board and programming roster.

Times looked bleak for PHW, but the remaining board members committed to reorganizing and revitalizing the organization.

Additional information for this blog post came from PHW minutes from 1999-2003.

Kurtz Cultural Center Programs

Kurtz Cultural Center For almost ten years, the Kurtz Cultural Center offered a diverse range of programs and activities with a number of community partners and traveling exhibits from larger museums. The KCC not only provided high quality exhibits with a particular focus on local history, but also offered a range of supplementary programs like lectures, children’s programming, appraisals from experts, and preservation techniques.

Several exhibits, namely “West of the Blue Ridge,” “A Community at War,” and “Valley Collectors” were well documented and exhibit photos can be viewed in PHW’s Picasa Gallery. Be sure to visit the album on Flickr to see even more exhibit photos from the Kurtz Cultural Center. At least some of the exhibits by year included:

West of the Blue Ridge 1992
Regional Reflections: Juried Art Show
Celebrating Patsy Cline
Manufacturer’s Exposition

The Civil War information center opens
Valley Quilts: A Pieced Tradition
West of the Blue Ridge
A Tradition of Cabinetmakers
Valley Childhood Life
Big Al Carter

Winchester: People, Places and Things1994
James Wood and the Founding of Winchester
Totally Touchable art exhibit
Children’s Heritage poster contest
D-Day 50th Anniversary Exhibit
Quilt by Quilt
Winchester: People, Places and Things
Vanished Winchester
Away, I’m Bound Away
Woodworkers of the Valley
Works of Isaac J. Sanger

Before Freedom Came
Art in Bloom
A Community at War

A Legacy for Winchester1996
Pictures of the World: The Art of the Mapmaker
View Point ’96 by SVAA
A Legacy for Winchester: the Julian Wood Glass Jr. Collection
Art Smart art exhibit
Valley Collectors

Mirage exhibit by Elaine Rebman
Jewish Virginians
Faces of the Past portrait exhibit
Rivers, Fields and Skies exhibit by Wiley Redford Wine
The Tradition Continues: Woodworkers of the Shenandoah Valley

Valley Collectors1998
Like Grass Before the Scythe Civil War relics exhibit
Lee Teeter art exhibit

Realism x 4
George Washington and the Virginia Frontier

The Art of the Frontier Gunsmith

The Kurtz: County Options and Welcome to the Welcome Center

This post is part of the series of history posts in celebration of PHW’s 50th Anniversary year. For the newcomers to this list, you may catch up on the earlier posts in this series at the PHW blog under the tag 50th Anniversary.

Old Town Welcome Center Ribbon CuttingWith the Kurtz Building well on track after the hard hat tour in April 1990, it appeared the Kurtz Cultural Center was ready for smooth sailing. The exterior had been cleaned up — no longer could it be called just an ugly grain warehouse — and the interior was being prepared for its new use as a Cultural Center while retaining as much of its architectural integrity as possible. The basement had been dug out to allow room for a hands-on children’s gallery space. The second and third floors were set aside for gallery and office space. The majority of the first floor was designated for the first official Old Town Welcome Center in Winchester. (1) (2)

As promised, in the fall of 1990, Winchester City Council conveyed the Kurtz Building to PHW. As had been established years before, the conveyance was for the building only, not the land, and Frederick County still retained an option to build on the land. It was well understood that at any time the work PHW put into saving the Kurtz could be undone — although that possibility was remote, it was never glossed over. Thus it was a surprise when the Frederick County Board of Supervisors leveled the accusation that by conveying the building to PHW, the City unilaterally changed the terms of the 1980 City-County agreement. (3)

The Winchester Star suggested an idea to lay the Frederick County building option to rest once and for all by selling the option for $1 to PHW. The option was of limited value to anyone else, particularly since the Kurtz Cultural Center was poised to become a reality. It was suggested that by offering the option at a nominal price, it would show the County’s willingness to see the Kurtz Cultural Center succeed. However, the value of the option that the supervisors reached was $20-25,000. Their counteroffer was that the $20,000 from PHW’s purchase of the option would be put toward preserving Frederick County Civil War sites. (4) (5) (6)

Old Town Welcome Center lapel sticker Unsurprisingly, PHW submitted the only bid — $10 — for the option. (7) The bid was not even considered in 1990, and the issue lingered into 1992, when the County attempted to hinge the building option on annexation agreements between the City and County. (8) Undeterred, PHW continued its work on the Kurtz Cultural Center, even moving the PHW office from the Hexagon House to the Kurtz Building in April 1992. (9)

At last, on June 1, 1992, the Old Town Welcome Center opened at the Kurtz Building. With the welcome center operational, the downtown had a central location for brochures and tours, public restrooms, a gift shop, and the first few exhibits of the Kurtz Cultural Center (10) (11) One month later, the longstanding issue with the Frederick County building option was resolved when Winchester City, Frederick County, and PHW entered into an agreement that the City would release its reversionary clause and conditions from the 1990 deed, and the County would release its option until such a time as the Kurtz Building reverted to City control. The Kurtz Cultural Center was now ready to serve the community without fear of further entanglements in the annexation negotiations.

Kurtz Contracts, Architects, Directors, Demolition Parties, and Fundraising

This post is part of the series of history posts in celebration of PHW’s 50th Anniversary year. For the newcomers to this list, you may catch up on the earlier posts in this series at the PHW blog under the tag 50th Anniversary.

Duct!At long last, in May 1988 the final contract between the City and PHW to allow the organization a chance to find a new use for the “ugly” Kurtz Building was finalized, though with a few important strings attached. The City would not turn over the building to PHW if and until the work was completed on time — should PHW fail to complete the rehabilitation by 1989, the City would not convey the building to PHW. Frederick County still retained building rights for the land surrounding the Kurtz as well. Although unlikely, there was a possibility the County could decide to build on the lot and thereby raze the Kurtz. (1)(2)

Despite the gravity of the situation, spirits at PHW were high and optimism abounded. Thomas Kamstra and Eric Snyder were brought on board as architect and project manager and public input sessions were held with them to plan for the building’s future uses.(3)(4) Elaine Rebman was hired as the director for the Kurtz Cultural Center.(5) And in keeping with PHW’s tradition of hands-on volunteerism, a demolition party manned by volunteers cleared out the interior of the Kurtz.(6)

With this groundwork laid, it was time for PHW to make the most of the opportunity to save the Kurtz.(7) The $100,000 in state money from the Virginia Preservation Fund came through, after being chosen from a pool of 120 other applications. Local businesses and individuals began making contributions for the named rooms in the Kurtz Building, and the fundraising events began with an art show by Geneva Welch and an oriental rug exhibit and sale. Shenandoah University donated a performance of “The Pirates of Penzance” to the fundraising efforts, and PHW was given permission to make prints of the Edward Beyer painting “A View of Winchester,” which is now on display at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.(8) (9)

This pattern continued through 1989 and 1990. PHW was granted an extension for the exterior and structural stabilization phase due to complications from asbestos removal, but the fundraising events continued full steam, with more state grants, more donations from local businesses, and more art, antique, musical, and fashion shows. A playhouse-sized model of the Kurtz Building was even constructed by local high school students and raffled as a fundraiser during the 1989 Potato Hill Street Festival.(10) The project at last began to seem like a reality in April of 1990, when the building was opened for a hard hat tour to show off the structural work and the mysteries uncovered in the building.(11)

Artist's conception of the first floor of the KCC, Nov. 1988

A Plan to Save the Kurtz

Welcome to 2015! We continue our retrospective of PHW in honor of our 50th Anniversary. If you missed earlier installments or need a refresher, you may find all the 50th Anniversary history posts under the tag 50th Anniversary. We continue now with PHW’s efforts to save the Kurtz Building.

Let's Save the Kurtz BuildingAs the period of PHW’s lease on the Kurtz Building was drawing to a close, the plan on how to save the structure and turn it into a productive building once more was unveiled. The plan entailed converting the building into a cultural arts center. The building was acknowledged to be in deteriorated structural condition, and one of the major concerns and criticisms was the cost it would take to rehabilitate the building. PHW vowed not to use city tax dollars, expecting to use state and donated funds for the work, which was spread out over three stages.(1)

The plan caused some of the most heated and protracted back and forth discussion on the fate of the Kurtz Building in the month before the plan was presented to City Council since the Conrad House 25 years before. Along with the support from the preservation community came a determined, yet misinformed, contingent decrying the Kurtz Building project as requiring “several millions” of taxpayer dollars. (2) (3)

Both letters to the editors and additional editorial columns were penned in an effort to clear up the misconceptions on the expected cost (around $566,000) and funding sources (Virginia state taxpayer dollars, but not Winchester City tax dollars).(4)(5) At the same time, another stream of criticism was leveled at the Kurtz for being “ugly” — although no one ever claimed the building’s aesthetics were the sole reason it should be preserved or the basis for its historical significance. (6)

There were still concerns as to Frederick County’s unwillingness to relinquish an option to build on the site, though other Winchester Council members seemed to be swayed by the need for a downtown community center and a cultural arts space.(7) It was enough, at least, to sway the Council to approve the plan, as in the event PHW could not perform the renovation, the Kurtz Building would return to the City and no money would be lost by the City on the endeavor.

The fateful day arrived on May 10, 1988. After hearing the community speak in favor of the plan for a community arts space in downtown Winchester, City Council agreed to sell the Kurtz Building to PHW.(8) As Steve Bauserman was recorded as saying to a reporter after the meeting, “We won.”

'We Won': PHW Gets a Crack at the Kurtz

PHW Leases the Kurtz

PHW racing wreckers to save Kurtz Building The Chamber of Commerce moved into their new office space in the Hollingsworth Mill in the summer of 1987, leaving the Kurtz vacant and in immanent danger of demolition for a plaza around the Joint Judicial Center. (1) The first foray was a petition to City Council to incorporate the Kurtz into the plaza designs.(2) The petition did not seem to gain much traction with the Municipal Buildings Committee, so PHW shifted focus to coming up with a new and relevant use for the building.

As part of PHW’s strategy to save the Kurtz, the organization leased the space and did some minor cleanup and partition wall removal to help people better visualize the interior space. Countless hours of meetings with many other nonprofits and community organizations went into planning for the April 1988 deadline to present a restoration plan to City Council. The idea to save the Kurtz seemed to split the town’s sentiment’s almost evenly, as this building did not have the grandeur of the lost Conrad House or the emotional connection of Old John Kerr. Selling the preservation plan of a warehouse did not lend itself as easily to a sense of urgency and need. Even the building’s intriguing Victorian era additions, its status as the last trace of the commercial center that used to be focused on the land around Rouss City Hall, and its potential to serve as a downtown arts hub was not a draw. (3)

Long JumpKnowing that a strong understanding of the facts was vital to make the case for the building’s retention, PHW partnered with Warren Hofstra to produce oral histories focusing on the Kurtz Building.(4) (5) At the same time, PHW in turn leased the space to other organizations to show the building still had more potential years of service left in it. Perhaps the best remembered of those was the Shawnee Kennel Club, which used the space for winter training and socialization space.(6)

Even as public opinions started to change on the Kurtz, the deadline to present to City Council drew ever nearer. We will continue this tale next week.

The History of the Kurtz Building

Kurtz History As we return to the history of PHW this week, we turn to PHW’s largest preservation activity of the late 1980s into the early 2000s – the Kurtz Building at the corner of Cameron and Boscawen Streets. The Kurtz Building was built by a group of businessmen from Harper’s Ferry to house grain before shipping it by railroad to the mills circa 1836.(1) The lot, advantageously situated at the heart of Winchester’s commercial downtown, was purchased from the Conrad family, who owned the adjoining (and now razed) Conrad House. By 1846, Robert Conrad repurchased the property and leased the building to various commercial enterprises for the next thirty years. In 1877, Captain George Washington Kurtz(2) purchased the building and it became the seat of his furniture, undertaking, and embalming business.

Kurtz HistoryThe Kurtz Building, as 2 N. Cameron has come to be known, was expanded several times. The most visible expansion is the circa 1880 Second Empire style tower addition to the north, said to be used for the funerary functions. Several additions were made to the rear in the 1920s and 1940s. Lucy Kurtz, the daughter of George Kurtz, assumed the family business in 1926. The furniture business was gradually phased out at this point, leaving only the funerary services until the business was finally closed in 1968, after 100 years of operation by the Kurtz family.(3) In 1968, she sold the Kurtz Building to the City of Winchester. Afterward, the space was used by physicians and the Chamber of Commerce, and briefly the county judges occupied the space during the construction of the Joint Judicial Center behind the Kurtz Building.

The fear had always been in the back of people’s minds since the demolition of the Conrad House in 1970 that the Kurtz Building would likely suffer the same fate once there was no other use for the space. After the completion of the Joint Judicial Center, Winchester City and Frederick County had tentatively agreed to install a plaza in the space between Rouss City Hall and the Joint Judicial Center. Designs for this plaza were drawn up in 1984. One of those plans called for the demolition of the Kurtz Building.

Kurtz History Although the city was ready to proceed with the plaza construction, the matter was complicated by the county’s unwillingness to provide a commitment. The building was also still the home of the Chamber of Commerce, at least until the renovation of the Hollingsworth Mill was complete. The breathing space allowed PHW the time to perform a study on the Kurtz Building, which determined there was still life left in the building. The findings were presented to Winchester’s Finance and Municipal Buildings committee representatives in 1985. The presentation garnered a cool reception, as the committee felt they had no need for the space at the Kurtz, and if it could not be used for government purposes it should not be leased out to tenants. It was even suggested PHW make an inventory of salvageable items in the structure, as it was very likely to be demolished.(4)

The story could have ended there, but as we will see in the upcoming weeks, there is much more to this tale of an “ugly warehouse.”

The Hexagon House Gala

Hexagon House Cocktail Gala At the end of 1985, PHW was able to make one of its most significant Revolving Fund purchases. The building in question was the Hexagon House, the unique six-sided structure at 530 Amherst Street. Through the early 1980s, the building had transitioned away from residential use to office space. Plans were formulated to build an entirely new medical structure in the front yard, essentially blocking the now iconic view of the “yellow house on the hill.” The plan did not materialize, but it was clear that the Hexagon House was facing dire pressures on its historic integrity.

Although the purchase price was far above what PHW could normally afford for a Revolving Fund purchase, the acquisition was possible because a buyer was waiting in the wings – Julian Wood Glass, Jr. In addition, he extended the generous offer for PHW to utilize the building for office space – an offer that has continued today through the Glass-Glen Burnie Foundation and the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

The Hexagon House was a substantial bump up in floor space from PHW’s first office at 8 East Cork Street. To help furnish the building, PHW hosted a three day gala in April of 1986 much in the spirit of the Holiday House Tours. The house was decorated by a number of antique dealers and interior decorators. Friday evening was an invitation-only cocktail buffet, and Saturday and Sunday were open house tours for the public. The weekend raised just under $5,000.00, and netted several donated furnishings. The refrigerator, donated by Mary Henkel, is still serving PHW to this day!

View images from the Cocktail Buffet at Flickr.

Friday Photos: PHW’s 50th Aniversary Celebration

PHW's 50th Anniversary Party Happy Friday! The PHW history posts are on a brief hiatus during this busy behind the scenes period of activity on the Holiday House Tour. But never fear, there are still plenty of images and history to be shared from PHW’s collections.

This week, we take a look at some very recent PHW history, our 50th Anniversary Celebration at the Taylor Pavilion on September 19. It was universally praised as one of PHW’s best events in years, and we hope you were able to attend. If you missed it, you can get a little glimpse into the activities and atmosphere that night with some candid shots of the action. Special thanks to Becky Parrish, caterer from “A Matter of Taste,” and the Robert Larson Trio who provided our live music for the evening. We are also indebted to our friends at the Winchester Little Theatre, who loaned us four fabulous volunteers — Don Vachon, Karen Marjarov, and Jim and Kendra Getaz — for the check in table so that the PHW board members could enjoy the fruits of their labors.

View the album on Flickr.