The RCC’s historical significance is based on its identified importance to the history of the City of Richmond and, in particular, to the City’s historical development in the context of WWII. It was named as a memorial to the Second World War, which was not yet over by the time planning was fully and realistically underway. On August 3 of 1945, the Richmond City Council deemed the name of its future civic center the “Memorial Civic Center.” On August 6 and 9th, respectively, the U.S. launched atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. By mid-August, the War was over.
The RCC’s significance is furthered by its being a singular, local, unified example of the Modernist period and architectural style. The case is strengthened by the RCC’s association to persons important to regional history, including the then Richmond City Manager, Wayne Thompson; the architect Timothy L. Pflueger, who is considered a regional master, who authored the design of the RCC, and which was the last of his designs to be realized; and the landscape architect H. Leland Vaughan.
Rehabilitation of the c1950 RCC was more than a decade in the making. The completed work comprehensively upgraded the historic landscape – the Civic Center Plaza – along with rehabilitation of three of the primary historic structures – the City Hall, the Auditorium, and the former Public Services building, which was adapted to become a City Hall annex, including the relocated City Council chambers.
At the outset of this project, the existing facility was not necessarily a candidate for rehabilitation. As an existing civic center complex, it was unified and modern, but not an obviously excellent example of the Modernist style. Although WWII is an important historical context for the City of Richmond, the RCC dates to the post-WWII years. And by the 1990s, the RCC landscape and buildings were worn, even in part dilapidated. For example, the basement of City Hall, where a lunch room and storage areas were located, flooded regularly. The City Hall structure also posed a seismic risk, eventually requiring its closure. Additionally, the RCC was not identified as an historical resource at any level of consideration. In fact, it had not yet been evaluated.
At the City’s direction, the initial master planning effort recorded the property’s conditions and, at the same time, completed a preliminary historic resource evaluation. Those evaluations identified the RCC’s reuse potential, and also identified it as a potential historic resource. But such determinations were tentative, indicating that, in the eyes of city and professional representatives, there was reuse potential. Whether or not the resource would be retained was up to the community, who were not yet directly involved.
Subsequent public workshops were well and positively attended. At these, options for the future of the RCC were presented and debated. In the course thereof, participants from the community affirmed the retention and rehabilitation of the existing civic center, though their strong sentiments were not driven by historic preservation concerns. Rather, the primary concern was the RCC’s geographic location, where it literally establishes a civic center. Thus, the direction of the project was substantially based on a concern for the surrounding neighborhoods were the RCC to depart, and in that sense was also a confirmation of the importance of the RCC as an emblematic center of the City of Richmond.
In the course of the project, several important alterations were made to the RCC landscape and buildings:
- Redesign of the Civic Center Plaza, yet following the characteristic forms and patterns of the original.
- Infill of the originally open ground floor of the City Hall, allowing for expanded city offices, while undertaking this alteration in a manner that clearly expresses the alteration as an intervention.
- Replacement of windows at the City Hall and former Hall of Justice, with new aluminum windows replicating original designs.
- Reuse of the former Hall of Justice as the City Hall Annex, to include new Council Chambers (the alternative having been to add a new structure alongside the City Hall).
- Removal of the street-side porte-cochere on the east side of the former Hall of Justice.