Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Death of a Richmond Landmark - the Murphy's Hotel Annex.

With the 2006 completion of the building that goes by the unwieldy title of the “Spotswood W. Robinson, III and Robert R. Merhige, Jr. Federal Courthouse” that occupies the 700 block of East Broad Street, it is difficult to recall the buildings that once stood there.  Anchoring the eastern end of the block of three and four-story Italianate store buildings that dated for the most part from the 1890s was the Murphy’s Hotel Annex. Built in 1902, the Annex was originally connected to the main hotel by a graceful steel pedestrian bridge above Eighth Street.

Visitors to Richmond once paused and admired the view down
Eighth Street from the arched windows of the Murphy’s Hotel pedestrian bridge.
(click on images for a larger view)

That original hotel on the eastern side of Eighth Street, grandly titled “Murphy’s European Hotel” but smaller than the Annex that complemented it, was torn down and replaced in 1911 by a Classical eleven-story building designed by John Kevan Peebles.  In 1939 the Annex was sold and the bridge removed.  The larger hotel later changed its name to the Hotel King Carter, then became the Ninth Street Office Building for the Commonwealth of Virginia before its eventual demolition.  It has now been replaced by a vacant lot - another hugely inappropriate urban prairie filled with surface parking, signaling to all our lack of regard for the past and denigrating Richmond’s grand boulevard.

Postcard image ca. 1905.

By the late 1990s the Annex was in poor condition, with its deteriorating cornice removed and most of the building vacant except for a CVS drug store on the first floor.  Its sooty and stained facade were emblematic of the decline of Broad Street, once Richmonds premier shopping district, but now the victim of suburban sprawl and declining property values.

The slow death of the Murphys Annex took many months.

Condemnation and demolition began around 2000.  Because of the timber beam construction as opposed to a steel framework, the Annex had to be demolished piecemeal, almost by hand, for safety reasons.  It descended to ground level over a number of months, probably much at the pace that had seen it first proudly rise a hundred years before.  Behind it on the Grace Street side of the block, another John Kevan Peebles design, the seven-story Capitol Hotel (built 1916), had already been demolished as well an ornate 1916 garage building by architect Carl Ruhrmund.

 Demolition of the building.

Today, Murphy’s Hotel is also gone and the entire complex of Mr. Murphy’s hotels and stores has vanished as though they never existed, replaced by the Federal Courthouse.  One of the few remnants of the Annex still exists: a small section of the Greek key decorative belt that once ran around the ground floor.  What appears to be carved stone is actually a hollow cast concrete block, a fitting metaphor for the permanence of much of the once imposing but now vanished nineteenth-century architecture of Broad Street.

- Selden.



Jeff said...

Great article. I always have wondered about this hotel. Here are several photos that I took of 1911 building and its demolition.

Here is a interesting PDF showing the planned replacement of the 1911 building.

steve said...

Nice Blog ! I am so grateful Bookworm Central is a Virginia Book Fair company. We do two book fairs a year and were burnt out on the vendor our community used in the past. We were definitely excited to learn Bookworm is a Northern Virginia Book Fair company, as it is very important to us to support local companies that provide a great service. Bookworm thank you for being a company we can be proud to partner with

Ray and Selden said...

Thanks for the images Jeff!!!

Frankie said...

Today, while unwrapping some long-packed-away Christmas ornaments, I found a Murphy Hotel, Richmond, VA dishtowel. I was curious about the place and happy to find your interesting article. I can assume that my little dishtowel is pre-1950. I'm going to enjoy using it!