Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Favorite Place

Monticello Arcade, 2005

Norfolk, Virginia, is a city full of history. There are many distinctive historic homes. There’s a church that still has a cannon ball in one wall from a British attack on the city in 1775.

One of my favorite places in downtown Norfolk is the Monticello Arcade. It’s one of two such arcades built in Norfolk during the early Twentieth Century. Though there are times when you might question the wisdom of standing under one of the seemingly loose stones in its City Hall Avenue facade, the Monticello Arcade has been kept together through the years in more or less its original shape. Its neighbor across the street, the Selden Arcade, on the other hand, started out as a smaller, simpler place and has endured many renovations that have obscured any reference to the original look of the place.

It was probably my father who first introduced me to the Monticello Arcade. His office was nearby when I was a child. We would occasionally walk through the two arcades on the way to check out the sights on the Elizabeth River waterfront. In those days, the downtown waterfront was still a working waterfront, alive with ships, tugboats, barges and other working watercraft. The Monticello Arcade’s ground floor was a thriving retail area in those days. As “white flight” and the development of suburban shopping centers siphoned off downtown shoppers, the Arcade’s retail tenants left. The building never closed, but it fell quiet until downtown Norfolk experienced a Renaissance during the early 1980s.

Today thousands of people have moved back downtown. Office buildings, condos, a park, a cruise terminal and a variety of other assets have replaced the working waterfront. There’s giant shopping mall in the middle of downtown that has defied naysayers’ predictions of failure. Downtown streets are full of trendy restaurants and nightspots.

The Monticello Arcade never regained many retail tenants, but its three levels of storefronts and offices are nearly all occupied with attorneys, maritime shipping agencies and other businesses. It’s classic columns, rounded corners and worn wooden handrails and office fronts give the Arcade a feeling of humanity and warmth.

It must be a labor of love to own such an old place. Maintenance is a never-ending task. I was recently contacted by one of the owners who asked to use some of my photographs of the Arcade on a web site. He thought, after looking at my pictures, that I must have a long connection with the Monticello Arcade.

No, I said, just a long love affair.

1 comment:

  1. Wow--That's fabulous! Congratulations on them wanting to use your photos. I love these.

    It sounds great--I guess I've never been to the Arcades. I've always liked Norfolk, but I haven't been in a long time. You've made me want to get back up there.