Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Richmond Architecture

My favorite surviving building in downtown Richmond (vacant, decaying, and still awaiting the civic improvement that has vaporized most of its semi-historical neighbors) was a small Classical temple probably built just about a century ago for THE MECHANICS BANK (as the gilded Roman lettering carved into the lintel calmly proclaimed). This chain of small, conservative East Bay banks remains in existence, but it must have off-loaded this particular piece of real estate a long time ago. Another casualty of shifting economic geography, as we have seen elsewhere. 

The wall of the warehouse-like utilitarian brick building below – roughly of the same vintage as the nearby derelict bank – faced onto a vacant lot. It had a shocked and vacant look itself, as if still wondering what had happened to the torn-down building that evidently abutted it until fairly recently. 

The carved-stone plaque above (set low into a stucco wall) commemorated the building of the local Post Office in 1938 under Franklin Roosevelt's Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau. This structure must once have abounded in Art Deco detail, judging by surviving fragments, but the price of active survival here has been continuous "improvements" that have effectively erased the original style-statement.

How horrible to be an architect, I often think. In almost every case, the fate of your work is degradation followed by obliteration.