Old and new: West Main complex keeps Blue Moon Diner

A new apartment complex will wend between two hidden historic houses behind Blue Moon Diner. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Development Services A new apartment complex will wend between two hidden historic houses behind Blue Moon Diner. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Development Services

A new apartment complex is in the works for West Main, but the Board of Architectural Review has already ruled out tearing down some of the street’s oldest buildings to accommodate the building.

Developer Jeff Levien says he would prefer to demolish Blue Moon Diner and the next-door convenience store and rebuild them, adding that Blue Moon tenant Laura Galgano has publicly supported the plan, and the diner and store are not historical by nature or registered landmarks.

Blue Moon, built in 1951 at 512 West Main and originally operated as the Waffle Shop, is an addition on the facade of a two-story duplex called the Hartnagle-Witt House, which was built in 1884.

Beside the Hartnagle-Witt House sits the Hawkins-Perry House, which was built in 1873 by Ridge Street resident James Hawkins. Cecil Perry added a store, called Midway Cash Grocery, to the front of the house in 1931 and operated it for 30 years while his family lived above the store. That space at 600 West Main is now a convenience store.

“They’ve seen their better days,” Levien says about the old buildings, but the Board of Architectural Review insists that the structures remain standing, citing that the properties are the only two remaining dwellings built along West Main in the last half of the 19th century. Levien calls the BAR’s November decision to preserve them putting “history over function.”

In its reasoning for not permitting demolition, the BAR also says, “Both houses could be reproduced, but would not be old” and “the public purpose is to save tangible evidence and reminders of the people of Charlottesville, their stories and their buildings.”

Blue Moon2
Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Development Services

Staff requested both houses be incorporated into the new development proposal, so that’s what Levien and his architect Jeff Dreyfus, are planning to do.

In preliminary site plans, the four-story mixed-use building can be seen to the left of and behind both historic houses, which include the diner and convenience store. Levien says the ground floor will be used for retail and higher levels will include rental apartments.

“It won’t be like The Flats,” Levien says. The Flats @ West Village was highly criticized for its height, which required a 101-foot special use permit and “turned everyone off to these big-box buildings,” he says. Levien has addressed height by planning for a 35-foot-tall street wall along West Main and setting the remaining three stories of the complex back.

Proposed zoning plans for West Main will eventually allow four-story buildings, so Levien says he isn’t asking to add any extra height. He also says he hopes to rent to young professionals, hospital employees, professors or even graduate students rather than undergrads.

Design-wise, Levien looks to Oakhart Social, a restaurant across the street from his complex’s proposed site that has taken over a renovated building, but used its historic character in its aesthetic by featuring the space’s original exposed brick walls and showcasing “old and new,” he says.