For Terrie Gladney Hoelscher ’78, Virginia Hall meant Friday night singalongs at the parlor piano, cramming into the second-floor phone booth and gliding down stairs on a mattress.
“She has good bones, and so much character,” Hoelscher said of the building she and generations of undergrads have called home for more than a century. “My lifelong and closest friendships were made and developed there.”
No doubt, a new era of University of Mary Washington students will find their own brand of mattress-gliding within these walls. A $19 million renovation completed this summer (think paint, polish and preservation) left the building awash in newfangled-ness: soothing central AC, all-keyless entry, a luxurious lounge. But the makeover took care to keep classic touches – big sunny windows, extra-wide stairwells, elegant transoms – intact.
“Everything is old but now it’s new,” said Addie Sage, a sophomore psychology major who’ll live in the 168-bed building as one of several resident assistants providing support to first-year students assigned there.
The brick, columned structure – the third oldest on campus – is conducive to new college arrivals, with collaborative and communal spaces galore. Kitchenettes, study rooms and cozy nooks on each of three levels encourage connections and camaraderie, as do a parlor and seminar room, full-sized kitchen and game room. Plus, the building borders Ball Circle, the “elegant showplace of the University,” said Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker. “Everyone wants to be on Ball Circle.”
Students and faculty from UMW’s Department of Historic Preservation worked with Kjellstrom + Lee Construction, including project engineer Sam Biggers ’16, and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to restore original features during the 14-month renovation.
“I would summarize it in a single word: stewardship,” said Professor of Historic Preservation Christine Henry, who points to the importance of safeguarding the past.
Built on a rise for maximum ventilation and light, the “H”-shaped Virginia Hall began to take form in 1914, in three purposeful phases determined by available funds. The north wing was followed by the center section in the mid-1920s. The south wing came a decade later.
Interpretive panels throughout commemorate the history of the refurbished hall, which once housed the president’s office, college library and living quarters of legendary Dean of Women Nina Bushnell.
The renovation salvaged more than 50 percent of the building’s structure and finishes. Sprawling stone stairways, baseboards and banisters, doorknobs and hardware were revived. Energy-efficient models replaced most of Virginia’s massive windows, but some were hauled offsite and restored, including the original chain mechanism that raises them. An ornate balustrade to match those atop the campus’s other original buildings – Monroe and Willard – will crown the structure.
“I’m thrilled by how the parlor turned out,” said Assistant Dean for Residence Life and Housing David Fleming. “So many comments from students during feedback sessions were centered around preserving the essence of that room. It’s rich, warm and inviting.”
Contemporary touches – giant TV screens, an elevator and other accessibility features, blackout window shades throughout – add a student-centric appeal. The fountain outside the building was also revamped, with new plumbing, spray mechanism, electric and LED lighting.
“Virginia is the perfect hall for first-year students,” said resident assistant Kyra Breslow, a senior English major, who’s also pursuing a master’s degree in education. “The renovations really brought it into the modern era while keeping the old-fashioned charm … right at the heart of UMW.”