The Jefferson Avenue neighborhood in Danville is a street filled with history: the Mount Sinai Glorious Church, the Green Hill and Danville National cemeteries, early turn-of-the-century homes of the city’s working men and women, the Doyle Thomas Park. It’s a street as emblematic of the city’s history as Millionaires’ Row and the grand houses on North Main Street. Indeed, Jefferson Avenue is a lynchpin of the historic West End Neighborhood, which was the city’s first federally recognized historic district.
And in the middle of it at 205 Jefferson Ave. sits a cream-colored, stucco apartment building, built in 1930, that’s been slowly but surely deteriorating for years to the point that city officials declared Jefferson Court Apartments unfit for human occupancy in 2014. Leaks, mold, roaches and rotting floors are just a few of the problems the almost 90-year-old, boarded-up building has.
But now, thanks to the efforts of Preservation Virginia, the building may have a second chance at life and, with it, the neighborhood’s revitalization efforts may get a needed jump start.
Preservation Virginia, based in Richmond, is a nonprofit dedicated to saving the commonwealth’s most endangered historic resources. Privately funded, it often steps in as the buyer of last resort to save structures from all-but-certain destruction and then works with private and public entities, using federal and state historic tax credits, to breathe new life into the buildings and, often, the neighborhoods around them.
The nonprofit bought the Jefferson Avenue building late last month for $45,000. It had been owned by a Texas business that had all but spurned the city’s efforts to work with it on stabilizing the building.
Preservation Virginia’s plan is to sell it, through a deferred loan, to the Danville Neighborhood Development Corp., which will then take it into the city’s land bank program and begin the long restoration process. Last September, City Council approved a Virginia Housing Development Authority grant of $125,000 to help pay for rehabilitation; almost $20,000 has been spent on stabilizing the site.
Skeptics, such as Councilman Gary Miller, who voted against the September grant, hold out little hope for the structure, saying it’s too far gone and simply should be razed.
The building is near the vibrant River District, which could be key to its success, in the opinion of Mayor Alonzo Jones. Writing to the Register & Bee, Jones elaborated on his hopes for the old building: “I do hope the new owners will consider creating a living space and area for teachers and interns and young professionals who are considering or may consider making Danville their home.”
And, in the process we would add, saving a part of the city’s past to build its future on.
There’s a lot of old housing stock in Danville that is close to falling into the same state of disrepair but still could be saved. All it takes is will power. It may be easy to tear down such structures, but left behind are literal and psychological holes in neighborhoods that are unhealthy. These buildings, these neighborhoods, help contribute to what is unique about the city, and every effort to save them should be made before bulldozers are called in.