Varsity Hall: On the move

Q: Ace, I read in The Cavalier Daily recently that a building at UVA is going to be moved—the whole building, mind you—sometime this summer. Aside from the question of how it’s possible to move an entire structure, when is this happening, and what does this mean for traffic around the University when it does?—Driver Ed

A: Mary Hughes, landscape architect at the University, confirms that UVA plans on moving Varsity Hall from its current Hospital Drive home to 15th Street, just south of the alley behind the Berringer Mansion, a.k.a. the French House (bonjour!). It’s all part of a plan to make room for an addition to the back of Rouss Hall, where the School of Commerce will be relocated.

All well and good, but Ace couldn’t help but think it was a lot of work to move the building—which has housed the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps since the 1950s—when it could just be, y’know, destroyed. “We went through a great deal of soul-searching about the fate of the building,” Hughes says. “It’s just too significant a structure to demolish.”

Constructed in the 1850s by then-University architect William Pratt, Hughes says Varsity Hall was one of the first, if not the first, purposefully built infirmaries on any college campus in the country. It was also likely used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers fighting in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War, although little documentation exists.

O.K., Ace gets that it’s worth saving. As for when it’ll be moved, that’s unclear. Hughes says the University is shooting for this summer, but that all depends on how the current public bidding process among house-moving companies goes. (That will answer lots of other questions, like cost.)

As for how it will disrupt traffic, Hughes says that she is already working with City of Charlottesville engineer Tony Edwards to make what she figures is a quarter-mile move—part of which will cross Jefferson Park Avenue—as smooth as possible. And while the whole process will likely take two to three months, from getting the structure off of its foundations to settled in its new location, she expects it will only close down JPA for three to five days.

So come this summer, don’t be surprised to see an enormous building wheeled through the University area on a truck. “I’m sure it’s going to be fascinating,” Hughes says. “They say the interior can stay intact. If they move a house you can leave the china in a cabinet.” Ace’ll remember that next time he moves apartments.

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