Landmark maker: Architect Stanhope Johnson’s local legacy

The Monticello Hotel, designed by Stanhope Johnson, opened in 1923 and featured a lavish dining room. It is now the 500 Court Square apartment building. Photo: Courtesy Carolyn Gills Frasier The Monticello Hotel, designed by Stanhope Johnson, opened in 1923 and featured a lavish dining room. It is now the 500 Court Square apartment building. Photo: Courtesy Carolyn Gills Frasier

Stanhope Spencer Johnson doesn’t pop to the top of the list for most architectural historians, but the Lynchburg-based designer was remarkably prolific in his seven-decade career, and some of his better work—including two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places—can be found in Charlottesville. No one knows Johnson’s work better than our own Carolyn Gills Frasier, whose exhaustively researched book, Stanhope, Chronologically, came out late last year and would make a solid addition to any architecture aficionado’s collection.

Stanhope, Chronologically: The Work of Stanhope Spencer Johnson, by Carolyn Gills Frasier, is available at New Dominion Bookshop on the Downtown Mall and at The Ivy Nursery.

Johnson (1881-1973) designed the Martha Jefferson Hospital and Gallison Hall, the Georgian Revival estate in Albemarle County. Both landed on the historic register, but the less famous but much more popular Monticello Hotel —now an apartment building at 500 Court St. —endeared the architect to local residents.

Also in the Georgian Revival style, it was built in less than a year—from groundbreaking on March 9, 1926, to completion on April 8, 1926. The opening of the nine-story limestone-and-brick building was greeted with fanfare. It removed a stigma that—with apologies to the Boar’s Head Resort—still haunts the city. “No longer will the community be rendered self-conscious by the repetition of the plaintive wail: ‘if there were only a real hotel in Charlottesville,’” a Daily Progress editorial declared.

The complaint rose from the fact that Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello had opened to the public three years earlier, in 1923, causing a flood of tourists with few places to stay. By the time the Monticello Hotel opened, visitors were arriving here by train (there were two stations downtown) and wealthier travelers by automobile. The fortunate ones stayed at Stanhope Johnson’s opulent hotel.

For a 1992 Daily Progress column, David A. Maurer tracked down Mary Cabell Somerville, a New Yorker who booked into the Monticello weeks after its debut. “It was wonderful, and if we wouldn’t have known better, we might have thought we were back in New York City,” she told the writer. “We registered and went up to our rooms and took a long, hot bath.”

The newspaper clipping was a pebble in the mountain of Frasier’s research, but she shared a copy with Abode—with obvious pride and a bright smile.

Johnson designed The Monticello Hotel, which opened in 1923 and is now the north downtown apartment building 500 Court Street. Photo: Courtesy Carolyn Gills Frasier

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