Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Richmond's Bull Market

In an America that was still far from completely literate, certain buildings, by their form, signal their purpose at a glance. Churches for the most part looked like temples, and civic buildings drew on Classical decoration to signal their gravitas and a dignity in design befitting their importance. Armories, with their crenelated towers, bespoke a martial stronghold and strength appropriate for a civil militia organization and a mandate for civic order. Seldom, though, has a municipal building broadcast its purpose more clearly than the signal from the 1886 Marshall Street Meat Market. 

 Original architectural drawing of Cutshaw's design for the Marshall Street Meat Market,
from the collection of the Library of Virginia. 

A one-story structure whose parapets were lined with large terracotta busts of bulls could only be a meat market, whose purpose complemented where other vendors of fruit, vegetables and fish gathered on Sixth Street. Designed by Richmond City Engineer Wilfred Cutshaw, municipal markets were important at the time. They ensured a sanitary facility to handle perishables like meat, they provided a central location for vendors and residents to meet conveniently, and they allowed City officials to monitor weights and measures, keeping sales uniform and prices fair. At one point, there were three such municipal markets in Richmond: in Shockoe Valley at 17th and Main Street, on Cary Street near VCU, and here on Sixth Street. 

Here is one of two of the Marshall Street Meat Market heads
that survive at the Farmer's Market on Main Street in Shockoe Bottom. 

Richmond architect Gibson Worsham has pointed out that the design of the 1892 Clay Ward Market (now the VCU Cary Street Gym) is in many ways a much larger version of Marshall Street Meat Market. Both buildings bear a resemblance to the Pension Building in Washington, D.C., whose distinctive design must have been well known before it was completed in 1887. The fact the Pension Building was designed by Montgomery Meigs, a civil engineer and general in the U.S. Army, may have made the design even more appealing to Wilfred Cutshaw as a former Confederate army colonel. An astonishing statuary frieze, depicting the U.S. Army on the move, decorates Meigs' building. Cutshaw, forever constrained by his departmental budget, settled on a series of bulls' heads as his distinctive, if less expensive, ornamentation for his much smaller market building.

The former Clay Ward Market, now the V.C.U. Cary Street Gym,
constructed soon after the Marshall Street Meat Market. 

Postcard image of what was then called the City Auditorium, ca. 1910.
Today is this is a modern university gymnasium building at VCU.

The Pension Building of Washington, D.C., built 1887.

A statuary frieze, depicting the U.S. Army on the move, decorates the Pension Building.

A 1913 advertisement for roofing tin in The Architectural Record illustrates what astonishing variety in architecture once enlivened the skyline north of Broad Street. Across the street from the bull-bedecked Meat Market is the 1910 Richmond Blues' Armory, whose stylized turrets rise up above the roofs of this residential section. Even the copywriter who was trying to sell "Target and Arrow" brand roofing points out the interesting statuary that decorates the meat market. 

Advertisement from the Architectural Record, promoting a standing-seam
metal roof used on the Marshall Street Meat Market and the Richmond Blues Armory, 1913.

After almost eighty year's service to the city, the Meat Market was demolished in 1964, and its bricks joined those of so many other interesting Victorian buildings in a Richmond landfill somewhere. Happily, the terracotta bulls' heads were salvaged and later sold by the City. Thirty-four of the heads, weighing 260 pounds apiece, were sold at an auction at the General Services building at Parker Field. 

The terra-cotta bull heads being removed by city workers prior
to demolition of the Meat Market in 1964. 

The bidders were a mixed lot. "I broke a hair appointment to get here," said Mrs. Jeanne Cabell, a sculptress and bidder on the heads. James Dwyer was bidding on them for the owner of a Goochland cattle farm, who wanted a pair for his entrance gates. Mrs. Andrew Metz wanted a bull head for her yard, but fretted about how well it would pair with her new statue of St. Francis. Thirty-four of the bovine busts were sold for a total of $1,710, not counting one that was given to the Valentine and six that were retained by the City for "future use." 

The bull heads were removed and placed on display the day
they were auctioned by the City of Richmond in a parking lot near Parker Field. 

The unworthy successor to the Marshall Street Meat Market is a concrete parking deck, the epitome of the soulless architecture of the automobile age. Happily, some of the survivors from the auction of the terra-cotta herd that once guided Richmonders to make their butcher purchases still exist. Two terracotta bulls can be still be seen at the current Market on 17th Street on Cary Street, now in their one hundred twenty-eighth year of watching Richmonders bustle by their high perch. Two more were found on gateposts in rural Bath County, marking the entrance to an estate. 

This one of two heads used in Bath County at the entrance to an estate. 

One more resides in the basement den of a suburban house in the West End, having once been a garden feature but is now inside, safe from the depredations of nearby U of R frat boys. Somewhere in this city, in gardens and garages, back yards and basements, the remainder of Col. Cutshaw's clay bulls still exist, the only mementos of Richmond's vanished Victorian meat market. 

- Selden. 


Peter Giscombe said...

This is a great posting. Very informative to a lover of market buildings.

rocky said...

We have one of the corner heads and would like to get it back to The City for restoration and display. Any idea how to go about doing this or who to contact?

Peter Giscombe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Giscombe said...

I would contact the folk at the city's Historical Society. Or, if Richmond has a "Preservation Society" they may be able to help.