Downtown warehouse has a colorful history

Since the 1980s, the Pink Warehouse on South Street has been home to local artists of many kinds.
Staff photo Since the 1980s, the Pink Warehouse on South Street has been home to local artists of many kinds. Staff photo

Sandwiched between South Street and some train tracks, the Pink Warehouse has stored various things throughout its 105 years: wholesale food for the Albemarle Grocery Co.; tools for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway; imagination.

In 1983, Roulhac and Ben Toledano—an author of architectural history books and a Southern literature-loving lawyer—bought the abandoned building. They renovated it, raised four children in it, and eventually, accidentally, transformed it into a storied creative mecca.

Today, the building holds a few different apartments and offices, and Roulhac says that while she has no rule about renting to artists, “they just come.” And if they’re not creative when they move in, they are before they leave.

The building is perhaps most famous as the site where, in 1991, the newly-formed Dave Matthews Band played its first official gig on the warehouse roof to a couple dozen people.

Matthews’ manager, Ross Hoffman, rented the bedroom next to Roulhac’s, and Matthews used to sit on the floor with his guitar and play his songs. Roulhac heard him through the wall.

Artist John Owen lived there, too, and, reportedly threw memorable parties after Live Arts productions.

C-VILLE Weekly rented space in the Pink Warehouse in the 1990s. Roulhac has written a number of books there, and she’s exhibited Edward Thomas’ paintings in her living room. In the late 2000s, John Noble and Dee Dee Bellson opened BON Café, a music venue/art gallery/coffee shop in the building. Bellson is the daughter of actress and singer Pearl Bailey and Louie Bellson (Duke Ellington’s drummer), and a well-known jazz singer in her own right. The Tom Tom Founders Festival offices are in there now, and a few apartments remain upstairs.

Until recently, Lauren and Daniel Goans of folk duo Lowland Hum lived in a studio that was once Roulhac’s library, and still contains floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with hundreds of books on every topic imaginable. Lauren says that living among these books fueled creativity, including the writing and recording of a new record, Glyphonic. “It was one of our favorite creative seasons to date,” she says. Due to the nearby parking lot and morning commute traffic, “we had to wake up at 4am to get in enough quiet hours for recording each day. I will never forget Daniel playing guitar in the pitch dark before anyone around us was up.”

“People thought we were crazy to buy the warehouse,” says Roulhac. But perhaps, in a stroke of inspiration that’s come to define the place since, the Toledanos saw something that others did not.