While students at the University have witnessed construction and restoration of the Academical Village in recent years, such projects have been occurring for the past two centuries. An 1826 letter, written by Edgar Allan Poe to his stepfather John Allan, is part of an online exhibit at the University called “Arise and Build!” and mentions the construction of the Rotunda.
“They have nearly finished the Rotunda--The pillars of the Portico are completed and it greatly improves the appearance of the whole--The books are removed into the library--and we have a very fine collection,” Poe said.
Since Poe’s letter, many more renovation and restoration projects have been completed at the University, particularly for the Rotunda. In 1851, about twenty-five years after Poe’s letter, an architect named Robert Mills designed the completion of an annex on the north side of the Rotunda. By 1856, the project was complete, and an annex stretched the Rotunda to where University Avenue is today.
After a fire in 1895 destroyed the annex, architect Stanford White redesigned the building to include a larger dome room, though the building was later restored to more closely match Jefferson’s original design in 1976. Since then, various preservation and restoration projects have maintained the Academical Village and surrounding grounds.
Preservation v. Restoration v. Renovation
Preservation, restoration and renovation, three methods of maintaining historic spaces like the University, are separate processes, though the terms are often incorrectly used interchangeably.
As defined by the National Park Service, restoration seeks to keep structures as historically accurate as possible, while renovation or rehabilitation “acknowledges the need to alter or add to a historic property to meet continuing or changing uses while retaining the property’s historic character.”
Grace Wills, a 2017 graduate of the Architecture School, notes the difference between restoration and preservation.
“Restoration would imply returning something back to its original or ‘correct’ state, which can open up a whole can of worms depending on who gets to define ‘correct,’” Wills said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Preservation is more of a way to keep the objects of our history alive and contemporarily meaningful, without being beholden to a particular definition.”
Jody Lahendro, Supervisory Historic Preservation Architect for the University, said the project recently completed at the Rotunda was a renovation, not a restoration.
“In 1976, the University restored the Rotunda’s interior to Jefferson’s design,” Lahendro said. “Our recent work renovated the building to update infrastructure, add additional underground mechanical space, replace leaking roofing, and repair deterioration.”
Despite this, Lahendro said some minor elements of the recent project, including the replacement of the 1896 marble capitals with ones that matched Jefferson’s original material of choice, could be termed restoration.
The Rotunda’s recent project cost was $58.5 million, which included payments for construction, furnishings, consultant fees and management.
Other Projects at the University
Grace and Architecture graduate student Andrew Marshall are among a small group of Historic Preservation students at the University. Marshall said his program is primarily based in theory and practice, but many students in it garner experience through local projects.
“For the last few years, the Summer Design Institute (SDI) students have worked at Birdwood Plantation employing a series of preservation trades and tools to understand the architectural and landscape history of the early 19th century property,” Marshall said in an email statement.
Marshall also said students have done research associated with projects on the Lawn and the Anatomical Theater, which was a building used to teach anatomy. It sat on McCormick Road adjacent to Alderman Library.
“I expect our greatest contributions to the preservation of the campus will come after we graduate and begin to practice in the field,” Marshall said.
There are also several other people at the University dedicated to historic preservation besides Architecture students and Office of the Architect employees. Lahendro said many of them are in the Facilities Management department.
“Within Facilities Management there many tradespeople — electricians, plumbers, carpenters, sheet metal, etc. For masons, there are about 20,” Lahendro said. “About a third of FM’s masons have the specialized skills to work on historic preservation/restoration projects.”
University Masons are responsible for preservation of many important parts of the University, such as the Academical Village and Carr’s Hill. Lahendro said preservation masons also work on other historical projects at the University, such as projects on Monroe House, Carr’s Hill, Montebello and Morea.
“Besides maintenance of historic masonry, involving repointing and replacement of deteriorated brick, our preservation masons have performed the work for renovation projects at Pavilions II, III, IX and X, as well as Hotel A,” Lahendro said.
Importance of Historic Projects at the University
Historic projects at the University have many distinct purposes and draw stark, varying opinions from students. Marshall said each restoration project begins with a Statement of Significance — a written culmination of many decisions about the process of restoration and questions about the purpose of the project.
“What will the building's function be after the restoration? What are the needs of such a function?” Marshall said, listing examples of significance factors to consider. “How much historic fabric will be comprised to restore the building? What period would a completed restoration seek to present? How important is the structure to the history of the University of Virginia?”
Marshall said while blanket statements supporting or opposing historical projects based on their cost is difficult, factors such as those addressed in statements of significance can help inform an individual’s opinion.
“I would argue the value of maintaining and restoring historic structures is often well worth the cost,” Marshall said. “Such a connection demands both an understanding of past modes of design and construction in both theory and practice.”
“At some point, buildings become so old that preserving them is probably more expensive than tearing them down and starting fresh. That's also the quickest way to tear the soul out of the built fabric of our society,” Willis said. “The history of objects matters. It reminds us of who we are and what we've learned.”