PHW has reviewed the preliminary structural reports for 411 and 514-520 South Loudoun Street this week. From our reading and conversations, we believe 411 South Loudoun is able to be rehabilitated following some selective (not total) demolition to the rear of the structure. The main block of the house facing Loudoun Street appears to be relatively sound and the issues found are common enough to correct. The rear wing is more deteriorated primarily through water damage, but reconstruction or a new addition to the rear of historic buildings is an acceptable and common way to repurpose historic buildings for new uses and needs.
The townhouses at 514-520 South Loudoun are more deteriorated, but we would like more information from the completed structural reports. Again, it sounds like water and lack of maintenance were the primary sources of deterioration. One of the issues we have circled back to many times at PHW during discussions involving these properties is the unique character of the townhouse facades. While there are a few townhouses of a similar style in Winchester, none have quite the same “San Francisco” feeling as these units with their walk-in basements. One idea that may be worth exploring for the townhouses is a facadectomy, wherein the facade (the most architecturally interesting portion of the building) is retained, and an entirely new structure is built behind. This approach may be particularly useful in this case because the interior of the building may be difficult to work with for modern conveniences, as the units are reported to be very narrow, dominated by staircases, and the rooms quite small inside.
In either case, for both structures, there is no plan by the applicant to rebuild. Philosophically, PHW is opposed to demolition that leaves holes in the streetscape. Given the slow pace of action of these properties throughout almost the entire existence of PHW as an organization, we have little hope should this demolition be approved that anything will be built on this land within the next fifty years. We urge the applicant to finally relinquish these properties to other entities who are willing and able to proceed in meaningful action instead of continuing a slow and painful demolition by neglect.
If you would like to make a statement on these properties, the public hearing for demolition is scheduled for August 18, 4 PM at Rouss City Hall.
In other news, we also watched this presentation from the Thomas Balch Library on African American Genealogy this week. While this is focused on Loudoun County and some of the search resources are not available for Winchester, it can provide ideas for alternative lateral research avenues. If you are on the hunt for more information, you may wish to check out the Virginia Untold website to start or flesh out your search.