Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Richmond Professional Institute Historic Marker Unveiling, 11 a.m. Wed. Oct. 4th, 2017 - in front of VCU's Founder's Hall, 827 W. Franklin St.

Students from the Red Cross Institute - part of the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health -- and Dr. Henry H. Hibbs, Jr. in front of one of the side entrances to the Virginia State Capitol building, May 1918. 

Come join the 100th anniversary celebration of what became Richmond Professional Institute (RPI) with the unveiling of a historic marker in front of VCU's Founder's Hall at 11 a.m. at 827 W. Franklin St. on Wed., Oct. 4th, 2017. Festivities began at 11:15. More info. HERE.

One century ago on Oct. 4, 1917 the first class was held of what was then called the Richmond School of Social Economy. The school soon became the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health. By 1925 the school moved to Founder's Hall and began an affiliation with the College of William & Mary. In 1939 it was renamed the Richmond Professional Institute - the Richmond Division of the College of William & Mary. In 1962 RPI became an independent institution. It merged with the Medical College of Virginia in 1968 to become Virginia Commonwealth University. 

Learn more about RPI HERE.

- Ray

Monday, September 25, 2017

Murdered in Midstream

With the end of hostilities on November 11, 1918, thousands of wounded Americans could finally ship home for medical treatment, free from the threat of German U-Boats.  As a result, the Army was desperate for hospital space, and entered into an agreement with Richmond College (today known as the University of Richmond).  The professors, staff and students left their new facilities in the far West End of Richmond and returned to the buildings of their old campus, near what is now Virginia Commonwealth University.  In their place, the dormitories and classrooms of the new campus on the wooded tract at the far western end of Grove Avenue would be occupied by doctors, nurses, and hundreds of recovering soldiers.

Westhampton Hospital, now the Westhampton campus of the University of Richmond, ca. 1918.  This photo shows soldiers and an ambulance pulled up to North Court. From “A Gem of a College: The History of Westhampton College 1914-1989” by Claire Millhiser Rosenbaum, 1989.

Among the staff of what was called Westhampton Hospital was Dr. Wilmer Amos Hadley (1882-1921), a specialist in anesthesia gasses and sedatives.  Hadley was born in Kansas, but his home was in Texas, where his parents raised him in the Quaker faith.  Known as an excellent surgeon and anesthesiologist, Hadley would prove to be as completely amoral in his behavior as he was talented in the surgery.  The Quaker doctor’s otherwise pristine trail would eventually lead him to a rural crossroad in western Richmond.  There, at that wooded intersection, Hadley chose the path that eventually brought him inexorably back to Richmond, and to the electric chair.

Dr. Amos Hadley, 1882-1921.  A talented surgeon and anesthesiologist, sociopath and murderer. (author’s collection)

Hadley met a Susan Tinsley and they were married soon afterward in October 1913.  She was twelve years older than her husband, prompting rumors that he had married for money, and although she was talented singer, devoted and beautiful, she came with no fortune.  With Dr. Hadley assignment to Westhampton Hospital, the couple rented an apartment at 2225 West Grace Street, where Mrs. Hadley would routinely said goodbye to her husband in the mornings from the front porch.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch later recounted the sad details of Sue Hadley’s life, noting “Mrs. Hadley is described by Richmond friends as having been about thirty-five years old and exceedingly attractive.  She appeared to be intensely in love with her husband, often dwelling on his arduous duties which kept them apart so much.”   She also mentioned in letters to her sister how proud she was of her husband’s work, but Dr. Hadley’s faithful wife chafed at what he told her were strict regulations keeping family of staff off the hospital grounds.

Susan Tinsley Hadley, (1870-1918).  Devoted to her husband, she became the victim of a heartless murder in his hands.  (author’s collection)

This was actually a ploy to keep his girlfriend and his wife from ever encountering each other.  Wilmer Hadley was in love with a nurse at the hospital and had proposed to her, telling Gladys Mercer that his wife had gone to California and died there.  In fact, Hadley’s whole life became a collection of ham-handed lies about the status of his wife, who was actually wiling away her days on Grace Street.  He told his sister-in-law that Sue had died in Puerto Rico, and told his own mother that he was widowed after Sue died in Richmond of influenza.  Hadley later explained his wife’s absence to their landlady with a story that she ran into some friends and spontaneously decided on a motoring trip with them to Pittsburgh.

For late November, the 24th was a mild day with the high temperature almost 50 degrees under partly cloudy skies.  Dr. Hadley proposed a rare treat for his wife which surely delighted her: dinner out.  They went to the Country Club of Virginia, a location as close as she was ever going to get to Westhampton Hospital - but not far from the river, either.  After eating, they engaged a car to ostensibly take them to a home on the south side of the James, across the Westham Bridge.  They rode down the hill on Cary Street Road from the intersection with Three Chopt until the car became stuck, perhaps in the low land where the River Road Shopping Center stands today.  The couple got out and continued walking west along what is now Westham Station Road.

Sue Hadley must have been thrilled to have this time with her husband.  Perhaps she chatted about upcoming Thanksgiving plans.  Maybe as they walked along under the trees and beside what is now called the James River and Kanawha Canal they talked about going to New York for Christmas, something Sue had mentioned to her landlady.  Maybe she saw this outing as a sign of her husband’s affection returning - but what could his thoughts have been?  He had planned for this moment for some time, and the choice of the Country Club for dinner was not made on a whim.  In his pocket the doctor carried a bottle of whisky that was drugged with chloroform.  In fact, when the question of premeditation was introduced at Hadley’s trial years later, it was discovered he had actually proposed to Nurse Mercer fully a month before this stroll on the 24th. Sue Hadley’s days were numbered for some time.

The crossroads: a hundred years ago two people strolled up to this intersection in Richmond’s West End.  The direction taken at this corner would doom both of them.

What is known from the subsequent trial testimony is, that after walking a short distance they reached the modern intersection of Old Bridge Lane and Westham Station Road.  This was truly the crossroads for both of them. To the right, up Old Bridge Lane, was the hospital, and lights and warmth, and the rational thoughts of duty.  To the left was first a bridge over the canal, some woods in the floodplain, and then only the broad James River moving under the Westham Bridge. The road to the left also led to madness, to betrayal, and to murder. 

After waiting for a C&O coal train to pass, the pair walked by the last possible safe haven, Westham Station, where a few lights indicated somebody was on duty.  They passed the little train station and continued on under the trees until reaching the elevated approach to the Westham Bridge.  Beside the bridge abutment Hadley had stationed a boat, and a man nearby later testified how he assisted the lady into the boat with the distinctively uniformed Hadley, who took the oars. 

There were only two witnesses to what happened next.  One, Sue Hadley, would be dead within minutes, and the horrible details of that boat ride only endured a couple more years before being forever burnt away by electricity arcing through Wilmer Hadley.  We do know that Hadley persuaded his wife to drink some of the drugged whisky, and when she became partly conscious, he used wire to tightly tie weights to her.  When she was found, her gloves had been torn, as though someone had ripped the rings from her fingers - did that rough treatment revive her?  Later, and with some difficulty, the county coroner was able to determine the woman in the river’s eyes had been blue.  Did Sue Hadley’s blue eyes flutter open to helplessly watch her husband, his face grim with determination, as he wired weights to her?  Did those same blue eyes look up at the darkening November sky one last time before her beloved husband rolled Sue Hadley over the edge of the boat and into the water?  …And then it didn’t matter - she was gone in the dark, vanishing into the river that closed around her sinking form, and then moved relentlessly on.

Hadley rowed back to shore and returned to their apartment, telling his landlady that Sue was having “a bully time” with her Pittsburgh friends. He got an empty suitcase and packed her things in it, but Mrs. Clark noticed he threw out all Sue Hadley’s toiletries, combs, and cosmetics.  Seemingly subconsciously determined to carelessly display his guilt in this way across the city, Hadley later went to a Broad Street jewelers and had the diamond removed from a woman’s engagement ring and reset in a man’s ring.  The doctor secured leave from his hospital, called at his apartment one more time and picked up his suitcases - and vanished.

On December 30, 1918, as a momentous year drew to a close, a trapper named Peter Miles found the body of a woman tangled in the roots of a tree on the north bank of the James River, slightly above the Westham Bridge. It was tightly tied at the waist with heavy wire, certainly indicating foul play. As there was also no identification on the body, it was difficult to determine who the badly decomposed and frozen corpse had been.  It was transported to Nelson Funeral Home at 4603 National Cemetery Road in Fulton for autopsy, where a hammer had to be used to break the ice and frozen leaves off the corpse. After several misidentifications, the body of Susan Hadley was finally recognized by her sister from Cincinnati. The identification was made after examination of the dental work and a distinctive bridge on the front teeth. After the body was released by the police, the grieving sister took her sister Susan’s body back to Cincinnati where she is buried in an unmarked grave in Spring Grove Cemetery. Nothing was heard of her husband, Dr. Hadley.

It would be almost two years before Hadley was seen again in Richmond, and this time not as a respected physician but instead on trial for his life. Pursued relentlessly by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, Hadley was alerted that the authorities were about to descend on his parent’s home in Friendswood, Texas where he was residing and he left just before they arrived. Someone in Washington stole Hadley’s military records that might help to identify the fugitive doctor. Despite Hadley’s in-laws spending a large amount of money with the Pinkerton Agency to look for him, months and years went by without any news of the murderer other than occasional sightings.

Hadley after his capture in New Mexico in September, 1921, and his return to Richmond in the hands of the police.  He never left town again. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

The Pinkerton detectives prevailed in September, 1921, when Hadley was finally found on a remote ranch in New Mexico, living in a camouflaged dugout house on the edge of the Painted Desert and calling himself Arthur Westwood. When he was arrested, Hadley had grown a foot-long beard, was described as “ministerial” in his appearance, and deeply tanned.  He told the few locals he had contact with in that desolate part of the state that he was a former soldier, recovering from tuberculous. “Mr. Westwood” generally avoided people and always carried a rifle with him wherever he went. 

Henrico County Sheriff Sydnor and Commonwealth’s Attorney W. W. Beverly boarded a train in Richmond on the night of September 1, 1921 for the long ride to Colorado, where the fugitive was being held. Five days later J. W. Erb, head of the Richmond Pinkertons office received a terse telegram from their Denver office regarding Hadley: “Full Confession Secured. Also admits killing Dr. Griffin. They leave today.”  In his confession, Hadley claimed to have shot a man named Dr. Griffin shortly after he rolled his devoted wife into the James River. Dr. Griffin, he maintained, was paying too much attention to his wife and Hadley took offense. This embellishment of the murder was composed to confuse the matter and introduce a possible defense of jealous rage. The whole “Dr. Griffin” story was dismissed by the prosecution as a smokescreen to avoid the electric chair or as the foundation of an insanity plea, and no trace of “Dr. Griffin’s” existence was ever discovered.  Sydney and Beverly returned to Richmond with Hadley on September 9th and put him in the old Henrico Jail, which still stands at 22nd and Main Streets.

Hadley went on trial on October 25, 1921. One of the saddest moments in the testimony was when Rollin Eppes recalled hauling wood the day of the murder and his wagon was stopped by a Chesapeake and Ohio train rolling through Westham crossing. He saw Hadley (“the man in the Army uniform”) and his wife standing side by side, waiting for the train to go by. In court, Eppes recalled a tender gesture by Sue Hadley.  Standing by her husband, she unconsciously put her arm through his as they stood there: drawing close to her husband to who she was so devoted, and close to her sworn protector who would murder her within the hour.
The bridge over the canal: Rollin Eppes saw Dr. and Mrs. Hadley standing at the far end of this bridge, waiting for a train to pass, and noticed her hook her arm in his.

Hadley faced a wall this kind of damning evidence, including the Denver confession which he later recanted. Despite that, the judge allowed Hadley’s confession to be entered into evidence and it was read aloud in the courtroom. Gladys Mercer, the nurse from Westhampton Hospital, hadn’t heard from Hadley since a warrant was issued for his arrest.  She testified as to her relationship with Dr. Hadley, and produced a watch he had given her for Christmas, 1918. It was engraved, “Gladys, may all the coming years be as bright as this Christmas Day,” but inside the case were also the initials of the original owner, Hadley’s murdered wife.  Various other witnesses painted a picture of Hadley as being both a talented and admired physician as well as a completely amoral and manipulative killer. “Ex-Army Surgeon Displays Scant Interest in Examination of Witnesses” was a headline in one Richmond newspaper, commenting on Hadley’s apathy when faced with his friends, associates, his former lover and his mother in front of him in the courtroom.

The main item of the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on October 27, 1921, was the headline the Confederate Veterans had chosen Richmond for their next convention. Below that was the news that Hadley had been convicted of the murder of his wife and was sentenced to death. Hadley maintained his fixed composure throughout the trial that never wavered, never cracked. Even the sight of his aged mother weeping piteously as she testified to her son’s good character did not move Hadley. “The courtroom was packed when the jury returned with a verdict of ‘guilty of murder - in the first degree - as charged in the inditement,’” wrote the Times-Dispatch, but, “…the coolest man who heard this verdict was the man on trial for his life - Dr. Hadley.”

Hadley was executed at 8:00 AM on December 10, 1921, in the Virginia State Penitentiary that once stood on Spring Street.  He made no statement and walked unflinchingly to take his seat in the electric chair: a death as cold and devoid of emotion as the heartless murder of his wife years before. Later that day his body was sent to L. T. Christian funeral home at Boulevard and Park Avenue, and a Richmond newspaper noted Hadley was expected to be returned to Texas for burial. 

That apparently was not the case. Instead, Hadley found a spot among the thousands in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery. He is buried in a plot by himself, his small grave marker oddly marked with only his initials. The stone itself is a trapezoid which appears to just be just sitting on the ground. The inscription, “The Lord Is My Shepherd” seems almost like a toss-away line and a banal addition in the face of the glaringly truncated identification.  Amid the richly marked tombs of thousands of Richmonders, the granite obelisks and marble mausoleums, Haley’s solitary plot looks like the tomb of a murderer and its cheap marker like it was deliberately inscribed to first dim and then forever lose the memory of the man in the grave.

The grave marker of Wilmer Amos Hadley in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.  All alone in a plot, his grave stone is oddly marked only with his initials and dates.

Perhaps that intersection of Old Westham Road and Old Bridge Lane is where the tiny echoes from the lost lives of the philandering doctor and his hapless wife can best be heard.  Standing there now, you have to wonder about Hadley’s mindset when he reached the same spot. He was familiar with the area and knew the implication of the crossroad as he and his wife neared it.  Was Hadley sweating in his wool uniform, dreading the arrival at what he knew was surely the crossroads of his life, or did he feel only the icy determination and grim purposefulness of the sociopath? 

There beside the little bridge over the canal, you can almost see the gentleman in his Army trench coat and the lady in the tan raincoat. They stand there as they wait, unable to talk to each other over the sound of the passing coal train. Perhaps you will watch for that tiny, crystalline moment when Sue Hadley slid her arm in her husband’s, recorded and now recalled a century after it took place. Now, it can be seen clearly as the embodiment of the relationship between these two doomed people: a warm and trusting gesture returned with quiet deceit and implacable malevolence. 

Theirs is a story told in that instant, an instant nevertheless that still reverberates through Richmond history. It is an instant that, even now, after a hundred years, we can still only marvel at such an incredibly heartless betrayal. Nor do the decades dim the feeling of overwhelming pity for the cruelly deceived victim, murdered in midstream on the James.

-- Selden. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Richmond Planet speaks - What did the African American newspaper of Richmond say about the Robert E. Lee Monument in 1890?

The Robert E. Lee Monument on Richmond's Monument Avenue was unveiled on May 29, 1890. The Richmond Planet, the city's leading African American newspaper of the time, published two items during the month of May of 1890 concerning the monument. It clearly made its view of the monument known. These two brief articles are worth reading today as we debate what to do about the monuments and statutes built to honor the memory of the Confederate States of America - the "nation" that was created to preserve slavery and that fought the United States of America and lost. Can you just imagine what Richmond's African Americans had to think - many of them born into slavery - as the monuments to the "Lost Cause" were slowly erected in the city?

The article above, taken from Chronicling America, was published on May 10, 1890.

And from the day after the unveiling:  

The article above, taken from Chronicling America, was published on May 31, 1890.
"The South may revere the memory of its chieftains. It takes the wrong steps in doing so, and proceeds too far in every similar celebration. 

It serves to retard its progress in the country and forges heavier chains with which to be bound. All is over." - Richmond Planet, May 31, 1890.
Read more about the Richmond Planet HERE.

UPDATE - just saw this - excellent coverage of the Richmond Planet and other Richmond newspapers and their coverage of the Lee Monument  entitled "Complicated History: The Memorial to Robert E. Lee in Richmond,"by Claire Johnson, Virginia Newspaper Project Intern.  Great job by Ms. Johnson. This was posted on the Library of Virginia's Fit To Print blog on the library's Virginia Newspaper Project. 

What should we do with the statutes and monuments of Monument Ave.?  I suggest putting them in a park outside the city. Soon. - Ray. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

When Dirigible Airships filled Richmond's skies - Aerial Views of Richmond taken from Airships, September 1920.

Aerial view of Capitol Square taken from a dirigible airship.

A dealer on eBay was recently selling a set of aerial views of Richmond taken from a dirigible/airship in 1920. Those images are presented here. It is possible that the date listed on the images, 9/3/20, is incorrect because accounts from the Richmond Times-Dispatch note that two airships visited Richmond and took images of the city in early October 1920 during the State Fair. It is also possible that the date is correct and that airship trips to Richmond occurred in both months. I could not find any mention of the early September visit in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I am still researching that issue but I wanted to present the aerial views as soon as I could. Enjoy. I will update this blog post as soon as I get more information. 

Click on each image for a larger view. 

Written at the bottom of each image is the following text: "From Airship Z-D, U.S. By Photo School L.F. 9/3/20 50 C.M."  L.F. stands for Langley Field. The "Airship Z-D" was also called "ZDUS-1" or, simply, The Zodiac. Two Zodiac airships were purchased by the U.S. Navy from the French airship firm the Société Zodiac company circa but were transferred to the U.S. Army. One of the Zodiacs, the one that visited Richmond in 1920, operated out of the Langley Field airbase in Hampton, Virginia. I assume the aerial views presented here are only a portion of the images taken during their trip. I hope to locate the others.

The Zodiac airship was what Richmonders saw in the sky in 1920. As stated here, it was 264 feet long, 49.5 feet in diameter and was powered by two Liberty 12 engines. 

Image of the airship hanger at Langley Field, National Service, 1921.

Image of the Zodiac airship from a silent film entitled "The Call of the Air" circa 1922 produced by the U.S. Army Air Service that is available on You Tube. It's worth watching. 

An image of the Zodiac airship from the National Archives, 1921.

The image above is from National Service, March of 1921,
describing the three airships based at Langley Field. 

The text above is from the Oct. 18, 1920 issue of the journal Aircraft Journal. It is not clear from the article exactly when the airship The Zodiac visited Richmond. On the aerial images of Richmond shown in this blog they are dated Sept. 3, 1920. Or could the article in Aircraft Journal be referring to early October of 1920 when articles referring to a visit by the Zodiac were published (see below) in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on October 6th of 1920?

According to the article, the airship The Zodiac, which was then the largest airship in the United States, flew from Langley Field to Richmond under the command of Captain Dale Mabry - who would later die piloting the airship The Roma when it crashed in Norfolk on Feb. 21, 1922. It was considered the greatest disaster in American aeronautics up to that time and resulted in 34 deaths. Earlier this year the Virginia Department of Historic Resources approved  time and resulted in 34 deaths. Earlier this year, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources approved a historic marker that will be unveiled later this year. It reads: 
"The U.S. Army dirigible Roma crashed and exploded just west of here during a test flight on 21 Feb. 1922. The crash, the deadliest involving a U.S. hydrogen airship, killed 34 of the 45 officers, crewmen, and civilians on board. Roma, purchased from the Italian government, was based at Langley Field in Hampton and had been plagued with troubles since arriving in the United States in 1921. An investigation blamed the heavy loss of life on the use of hydrogen, a highly inflammable gas. After 1922, U.S. airships were inflated with helium. In later years, the story of Roma was largely forgotten.”

Advertisements for the Sate Fair, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct. 3, 1920.

The airship appeared at the State Fair which ran Oct. 4 - 14th in Richmond. Two airships appeared in Richmond that week including the Zodiac.

Image of article from page one of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct. 6, 1920.

The article above notes that aerial views of the city were taken by the two dirigibles, including the Zodiac, and that the images would be on exhibition at the Army recruiting station on Broad Street. 

And now the images:

View of Richmond's downtown area. 

View of the Fan District, Broad Street Station
(now the Science Museum), and the north side of the city. 

The Robert E. Lee Monument and Lee Circle.

Another view of downtown Richmond. 

View of Church Hill and St. John's Church.

A boiler Plant in Richmond - which looks like it was located just south of the James.
Anyone know the name of this area then or now?

Another view of the south of the James boiler plant. 

- Ray.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Alcoa Desisgned House in Richmond

Hobby Hills Farms and Fernleigh, Traylor Estates and Wayland.  You don’t hear these names very often, but these are Richmond neighborhoods in what was once north Chesterfield.  Today they are in the south-west corner of the City of Richmond.  Out beyond the crossroads of old Bon Air, these neighborhoods were the products of the great American automobile commuter culture, of Baby Boom America, and the spread of the city out from what in the late 1950s and 1960s was a declining urban core.

Broadly speaking, the architectural program along the winding streets of these Richmond suburbs were variations on one of two plans: the Ranch-style house, and the Tri-level (sometimes called a “Split Level”).  As two style houses covered what had been the forest, the driveways filled with station wagons and sedans with fins and only the curving roads and oak trees broke up the relentless vista of Ranches and Tri-levels stretching down to the James River.

There are a few bold exceptions to this architectural norm.  One unconventional Richmond home was the Half Moon House, owned by Howard H. Hughes, who operated a successful used car business on Broad Street under the name, “Mad Man Dapper Dan.”  It was designed in 1965 by  a Richmond architect, Haigh Jamogachian, who also designed the round Markel Building near Willow Lawn.  Sadly, Mad Man Dapper Dan’s crescent-shaped home was demolished in 2005 and some oversized mediocrity has taken its place on the banks of the James.

Counter to the usual styles of the Richmond suburbs, a house with unusual styling and materials was constructed on Cedar Grove Road by the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa).  This manufacturing giant was buoyed by increasing development of light-weight building materials.  Their aluminum-clad corporate headquarters, Pittsburgh’s 1953 Alcoa Building, was considered a great success and a showplace of the use of the metal.  In a grand campaign to introduce Americans to the  advantages of aluminum as a residential housing material, twenty-five examples of an aluminum house would eventually be built in locations across the country.
A view of the original Alcoa Care-free home from the original sales brochure.

Alcoa hired Washington, D.C. architect Charles Goodman to design a house that would free the owner from of the high-maintenance of shingled and painted houses.  Goodman had a long record of innovative design in what became known as the Mid-Century Style, having designed Hollin Hills in Northern Virginia in the late 1940s.  VCU student Kimberly Sacra, writing in 2006, noted that that houses of Hollin Hills and the design commissioned by Alcoa shared several common design features, such as large expanses of glass, carefully planned vistas, and similar patterns of interior arrangement.
The gable end of the Care-free home.

Charles Goodman is also credited with the design of Highland Hills, a neighborhood adjacent to the older section of Bon Air.  With their open gables and airy floor plans, carports and wooded setting, the entire neighborhood looks like it is populated by smaller versions of the Care-free house.  These houses were available as prefabricated kits from a company called National Homes, whose Goodman designs could be mixed and matched according to the customer’s needs and the site.  To place the Care-free home campaign in Goodman’s work during this period, his development called Hollin Hills began in 1946, Bon Air’s Highland Hills was created in 1955, and the Care-free house on Cedar Grove Road is 1958.
This is the house that Alcoa built in the Richmond suburbs near Bon Air.

For the Alcoa commission, Goodman was also said to have drawn on surveys and advice from the 1956 Woman’s Congress on Housing, in order to fine-tune his planning on living spaces, privacy, social spaces and private rooms.
In addition to simplicity of floor plan, the Congress determined that a house should lend itself to both private and semi-public family living.  The dining area should be equally accessible to living room, family room, and kitchen so that children may be familiarized  with the polite forms of social living.  The 1,900 square foot Alcoa Care-free Home satisfies these requirements.  It has a living room and family room separated by the dining area, plus a central kitchen, three bedrooms, two baths, heater room, a 288 square foot storage-workroom, and a two-car carport.
Floor plan of the Alcoa Care-free home.
For the stay-at-home mothers of the 1960s, managing and cleaning the house became more and more of a chore as families moved from post-World War II housing into a comparatively sprawling suburban home.  The house was clearly marketed toward this increasingly affluent demographic with the lure of modern living that carried freedom from the tasks of the housewife:
Freedom from backbreaking home maintenance - long the dream of the housewife - comes closer to reality Sunday with the opening of the Alcoa Care-Free Home…More than 80 per cent of this structure can be kept clean with a damp cloth, due to architect Charles M. Goodman’s careful selection of materials and the development of new ideas and products by Aluminum Company of America.
Detail of decorative aluminum screen on the windows of the Care-free home.
The Care-free house campaign was begun in 1957 with much fanfare, and Alcoa vowed the house design would be “the most talked about home in America this fall.”  The company lavished promotional money on the campaign, starting with a four-page advertisement that ran in House Beautiful and Better Homes and Gardens.  Artwork of the house and photographs were distributed to hand out.  Thirty decorative aluminum butterflies “of assorted sizes” were distributed for eye-catching window dressing in department stores and a hundred thousand color brochures were printed extolling the virtues of aluminum and the stylish house the metal could produce.

Instead of high-maintenance gutters, the Care-free
home has aluminum rain diverters along the roof edge.

Relatively rare in most Richmond homes but a tantalizing element of care-free life in summertime Virginia was central air conditioning in the Alcoa homes.  In contrast to an era where electric fans were the principal weapon against summer heat, the General Electric Corporation and architect Goodman named central air as an essential part of “good living” in the Eisenhower era:

G. E. Year-Round Air Conditioner, made by the Home Heating and Cooling Department in Tyler, Texas, is featured in the twenty-five Alcoa Care-Free Homes that are being shown this September and October in selected cities through the country…considered to be a necessity in finer homes today, Year-Round Air Conditioning is demanded by the public as one of the requisites to good living according to Charles M. Goodman, architect for the Alcoa Care-Free Homes.

Richmond housewives toured the Care-free house and Kimberly Sacra reported the reactions of members of organizations like the Three Chopt Woman’s Club when the low, modern house was open for inspection.  Many of the ladies were taken aback by the deep purple and gold anodized aluminum panels, but even the most conservative Richmond housewife could appreciate the easily cleaned surfaces and convenience of the galley-style kitchen.  The very latest electrical appliances were used in the Alcoa house, and the women who toured the house marveled at the high-tech, push-button conveniences.  

An interior view of the Care-free home from the original sales brochure produced by Alcoa.

The distinctive Alcoa house was a landmark on Cedar Grove Road and universally known in the neighborhood as “the aluminum house.”  Like the surrounding neighborhood, the Richmond example of the Alcoa Care-free house is well preserved and has changed little. In fact, comparing the Richmond example to images the original sales material shows very few modifications to the house since it was built.  In contrast, changes have been observed in other examples of the Alcoa design, such as the completely understandable conversion of the carport into a garage in the Minnesota house.  The house built in the state of Washington has enclosed the “garden court” with skylights, perhaps another regional adaptation for rainy Portland.
The carports of the Care-free house in Minneapolis
have been converted to garages because of the Minnesota winters.

Ten years after the campaign ended and twenty-three houses had been built all over America, Alcoa returned to the subject of the Care-free home in another ad campaign.  The advertisement extolled the timeless of the design and the durable material from so much of it had been constructed.  Alcoa said the design had proven the application of aluminum for building materials and had led to a world of new uses for the metal.  Nevertheless, the Richmond house and the other twenty-two identical homes may have helped develop and shepherd applications of aluminum for building materials such as siding and gutters and roofing. 

This Alcoa ad, still extolling the design and modern
materials, ran ten years after the Care-free houses were built.

Richmond’s “aluminum house” has remained little more than an architectural curiosity for sixty years, but never heralded the coming of a new wave of Mid-Century housing in stoutly Colonial Revival Richmond as we clung to our Ranches and Tri-levels. Even today, the house’s purple aluminum panels and modern design still speak seductively of a more innocent age, and the lure of an illusive, “care-free” life in the Richmond suburbs.

- Selden. 


NOTE: the Alcoa house on Cedar Grove Road is a private residence and not open to the public.