Main Street Façade Transformed in Downtown Staunton

Our guest blogger, Frazier Associates,  has been a leader in helping communities and individuals enhance their downtowns, neighborhoods, homes and buildings since 1986. As a full-service architecture and planning firm, they specialize in downtown revitalization, adaptive reuse, historic preservation, urban infill, community planning, wayfinding, corridor planning and residential design.

As lovers of historic downtowns, we realize that most buildings are altered over time as part of a community’s growth and development; unfortunately, all too often significant character-defining features are removed and lost forever. During the early to mid-twentieth century with the evolution of architectural styles, decorative trim, articulated windows, and entire storefronts were removed or simply covered over in preference for a more stream-lined, modern appearance using current materials and building methods. Some building facades were completely modified top to bottom, and some were altered only at the storefront level creating a jarring disconnect between the street level appearance and the upper façade.

The Wholey Building in downtown Staunton is an example of a Main Street building left with two, conflicting personalities—a compressed version of a Venetian Byzantine style palazzo façade design (Fondaco dei Turchi) suspended over a wide modern storefront with a flat surround. This highly decorative 1899 building, designed by noted local architect T.J. Collins, long-ago lost its original rusticated stone and columned storefront. Recognizing the building’s beauty, the current owner, Debbie Caldwell, applied for design assistance through the Virginia Main Street (VMS) program to help refresh the storefront and bring it back into balance. Using the original architectural drawing as inspiration, Frazier Associates came up with a clever design to improve the appearance and reunite upper and lower façade without altering the existing structure. 

“Short of a very costly replacement of the original T.J. Collins design, trompe l’oeil painting seemed a natural fit using the expanse of the flat stucco surface around the existing storefront as a large canvas. The trompe l’oeil design was inspired by the original façade drawings, as well as other built work by T. J. Collins, and classical architecture. The faux painting of classical rusticated stone and columns visually add the missing support for the weight of the upper Romanesque façade.” – Susan Lancaster, Architectural Designer, Frazier Associates

Local artist, Jeffrey Stockberger, expertly matched the color of the existing stone on the upper façade and created depth with variations and shadows to mimic actual stone and the transom area. His experience includes private and public paintings and murals throughout the country. Downtown Staunton is fortunate to have talent of this caliber on display. 

Building owner, Debbie Caldwell, who has been doing a major rehabilitation of the interior as well as the exterior of the building, was thrilled with the result. The result of her investment is one of the most dramatic façade transformations in downtown Staunton in recent times. She was very appreciative of the design services provided by the VMS program!

Since its inception, the VMS program has provided design assistance to property owners to help improve the appearance of their buildings and businesses. As the program designers, Frazier Associates’ goal is to create designs that not only meet the goals of building and business owners, but also complement the historic character of the building and the surrounding Main Street. This project, while it is, in effect simply a newly painted storefront, is a remarkable transformation and illustrates the benefits of careful and well-planned rehabilitations. What had been an unimpressive storefront on an architectural gem in downtown Staunton, now is one of the most interesting storefronts on Beverley Street.