Charlottesville Community Chalkboard

In downtown Charlottesville, freedom of speech, civic art, and community involvement are sights that you will not miss. Located in front of City Hall is the Charlottesville Community Chalkboard and Podium: A Monument to the First Amendment.  The chalkboard opened in 2006, but plans had been underway long beforehand. According a June 23, 2005 article in “The Hook,” the idea was proposed in 1997. In 2001, the City Council approved the construction of the 54′ long x 7.5′ high chalkboard.  The designers of the monument are architects Peter O’Shea and Robert Winstead.  At first the monument worried city officials since anyone could write anything on it, but it has been a positive contribution to the community. Permanently inscribed on the chalkboard are quotes by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and poet John Milton [see The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression]. Aside from those permanent words, the chalkboard can be erased, washed, and begun anew by anyone. A local high school student, Sasha Soloduhkina, created a time lapse video of the monument. It’s about 3 minutes long and shows the chalkboard being erased and written on by people in the community.

Community Chalkboard

Community Chalkboard

Charlottesville's Community Chalkboard

Charlottesville's Chalkboard

The chalkboard seems like a great addition to the downtown mall. Not only are people shopping and eating and strolling, but they can read the chalkboard and add to it, feeling as though they’ve been a a part of downtown Charlottesville, even for a moment. Of course, there were a variety of messages, some verging on profane, but many were sincere or fun and meant no harm. Because citizens have permission to erase the chalkboard, it allows for community or individual enforced censorship (hopefully only when necessary).

When wandering around the downtown mall a few weeks ago, Vinny, Elyse, and I found these giant chalkboards. At the time, we knew nothing about them or if we were allowed the add to the chalk writings, but since chalk was just sitting on the chalkboard ledge, we figured that it meant the public could join in on the fun. Who can resist chalk and a chalkboard? In the spirit of public expression and a weekend with some of my favorite preservationists I added this:

Flamingos! on the chalkboard.

Flamingos! on the chalkboard.

And then, on the other side, unabashed in self promotion and as sort of an experiment I added this:

Preservation in Pink on the chalkboard

Preservation in Pink on the chalkboard

I would be curious to know if anyone found Preservation in Pink through the chalkboard. Let me know if you did! Are there chalkboards like this anywhere else?


Secret Gardens in Charlottesville

Wednesday September 17 was the United Way’s Day of Caring where thousands of volunteers from area organizations and companies go out into the community for various service projects. The City of Charlottesville was sent to the Monticello Area Community Action Agency for landscaping/yard maintenance. I was looking forward to a morning outdoors away from the office and getting some exercise so I could later rationalize my decision not to go to the gym. The day ended up being more than that, it turned out to be a ‘secret garden, this is why I love preservation’ type of day. It turns out where the school now stands was once a large manor estate. All that remains of this parcel of land’s former identity are a series of terraced gardens separated by field stone walls dating to about the 1910s.

When we arrived that day all we saw was vast overgrowth and the promise that we may find some cool things. By the end of the day, Charlottesville workers and State Farm Insurance workers had cleared out level upon level of gardens. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of what the gardens look like (I may have to ‘visit’ the grounds to get some). Roughly, they start at the top of a large hill and then descend down the hill towards what is now Schenks Branch Creek. A rock wall wraps around the entire property with a foot trail running along the wall. The manor house is now completely gone along with this large pond that was once on the property. (I can understand tearing down a house, but how does a pond just disappear?!)

The coolest part of the whole day was getting to see all the other volunteers begin to critically examine the history of a place and realize that things may not always be what they seem, but that with a little sweat (literally in this case), the past is just waiting for its secrets to be uncovered.

-Missy Celii

A Preservation Planner’s Inner Struggle

Friday while driving into work, for some reason, all the cranes in downtown Charlottesville seemed particularly noticeable to me and I found myself caught in the age old preservation/planner power struggle. I started trying to imagine what the skyline of “Cville” will look like when the new towers (dear god at nine stories you can almost touch the heavens!) are built. I couldn’t help but get excited to think about being able to see a place I love from far away. I remember being a child and getting giddy when I saw the New York skyline in the distance and knowing that I would soon be there and the awesome feeling of watching the buildings ‘grow’ as we drove closer. Yet at the same time, I can’t help but wonder how different the downtown will be. Our BAR (Board of Architectural Review) is very level headed and makes some really good decisions, so I know any new building will be scrutinized and adapted to be the best possible design possible, but still how will the sense of place, time, and scale change when all the new buildings are finally erected?

The Hook.

Cranes in Downtown Charlottesville. Source: The Hook.

Pondering this all day, I think -for me – preservation is more the big picture. Some would argue that it’s the buildings that make the downtown mall (well really the bricks make the mall, but you know what I mean), but that is not what makes downtown (or any downtown for that matter) special. It’s the way the buildings are arranged and the way they create the feeling of knowing you are ‘somewhere’ worth being. There is a there there. Will this really be changed by making the buildings taller? I don’t think so. I’m as saddened to see an old building torn down or facaded as the next preservationist, but sometimes I don’t think it is such a tragedy assuming they are replaced with another building that respects the balance of public/private space, complementing design, and the relationship to the street that the previous building had. But even as I write this, can such things ever truly be replaced? New York and Chicago for example, have some truly stunning skyscrapers today, but what about the ones from before. It makes me sick to think of all the Sullivans, McKims, Meads, and Whites, etc. that were torn down to make room for today’s skyscrapers. And what of those said lost treasures, what architectural gems did they destroy in their construction? Similarly, what new technology and design will one day lead us to tear down the Empire State Building or Sears Tower?

I think I should also note, that while the preservationist inside of me is sad to see the loss of any building or material artifact of our past, the environmentalist wants to do a back flip. Keep development where it belongs, which is on top of where it already exists. As the old saying goes, ‘farmland lost is farmland lost forever.’ These new residential, office, and commercial units need to go somewhere, so doesn’t it make sense to put them where development has already happened instead of green fields on the edge of town? And taking a step back to put things in context, what is more important, some old buildings or our children’s future resources? Makes it hard to argue for the buildings. The bottom line is that development needs to happen within the already established footprint of cities in order to ensure the long term sustainability of us all. As preservationists, it is our job to now figure out how to keep development within these existing bounds while protecting our limited historical resources. Not an easy thing to do, but I have faith that our passions and dedications will make it happen.

-Missy Celii

Editor’s note: For more information here is a link to an article about a construction in the downtown mall, in The Hook, Charlottesville’s newspaper. Note that the image credit belongs to this link.