Throughout the 19th century, Franklin Street was Richmond’s premier residential avenue, with fashionable, new houses and mansions lining either side as the city expanded west.
By the 1880s, construction had reached the 900 block of West Franklin Street. The Lewis Ginter House (1888-1891) at 901 West Franklin Street, with its Richardsonian Romanesque styling, corner tower and deep-colored stone cladding, helped set the tone for new houses on the street and in Richmond’s West End for the next decade.
However, the 900 block of West Franklin Street isn’t a monolithic collection of Victorian brownstones. It also has several early Colonial Revival-style houses – harbingers of the city’s architectural future. Today, they look quintessentially Richmond.
The Scott House at 909 West Franklin Street (1910) was a different story.
A cosmopolitan style
Noland & Baskervill, Richmond’s leading architectural firm at the time, designed the house in the Beaux-Arts style for Frederic and Elisabeth Scott.
The style was named for the École des Beaux-Arts, the leading fine arts academy in Paris, and was characterized by grandiose classical compositions and sumptuous ornament. Buildings in the style, such as Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel, typically had white or light-colored stone exteriors and elaborate sculptural decoration.
“The style drew heavily from the French classical tradition and was popular during the turn of the last century in New York, Paris and major European cities,” said Chris Novelli, an architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “It was known as the ‘modern French’ style at the time and was the epitome of elegance and cosmopolitan sophistication.”
The Scott House took as its model the Petit Trianon at Versailles.
“The Petit Trianon was a popular model for American architects practicing in this style because it offered classical grandeur at a reduced scale,” Novelli said.
It also inspired the design of Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, as well as public buildings like the first free library in Norfolk.
The Scotts bought the double lot at 909 West Franklin Street in 1902 from the estate of Lewis Ginter, whose house was next door. (Frederic Scott had cofounded the Scott & Stringfellow investment firm in 1893.)
“It was the last large lot on the block – large enough to fit the adjacent four townhouses,” Novelli said.
The Scotts’ selection of Noland & Baskervill was in keeping with the upscale project. The firm was finishing work on the 1904-1906 renovation and expansion of the Virginia Capitol building – it was one of three Virginia firms on the project, and the only one from Richmond – and it was enjoying brisk business as a result.
The Scotts, who had previously lived in a nearby townhouse, knew the firm’s principals, William Noland and Henry Baskervill, socially, and they attended St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with Noland.
The Scotts first asked Noland & Baskervill to design a striking Norman Revival-style carriage house. Then work shifted to the house itself.
The firm produced floorplan and elevation drawings for the house in 1907, but it continued to make design changes and detail drawings up to 1910. The Scotts moved into the house on Dec. 10, 1910.
Although the house appears to be two stories tall from the street, it actually has three stories – and more than 18,700 square feet of living space.
A revolutionary statement
“When it was completed, the Scott House was a revolutionary architectural statement,” Novelli said. “With its tall classical columns and light-colored stone cladding, it was a striking contrast to the medieval towers and turrets of its Victorian neighbors.”
The first-floor formal rooms were designed as a gallery of styles, with each room having its own stylistic identity.
Ferruccio Legnaioli, an Italian artist and sculptor working in Richmond, created the marble mantels in the formal rooms, along with the marble caryatid radiator cover in the breakfast room.
“The top of the cover is supported by two diminutive white marble maidens – caryatids – with Ionic capitals on their heads,” Novelli said. “It’s an exceptional piece of craftsmanship.”
Other interior standouts include the seven-foot-tall, Italian Renaissance Revival mantel in the den and an octagonal dome and stained-glass skylight over the main staircase.
“The Scott House is one of Richmond’s supreme examples of Edwardian architecture and the finest residential example of its style in the city,” Novelli said.
As richly detailed as it is, the Scott House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register, isn’t as grand as it might have been.
“The original plans called for pink Tennessee marble on the exterior,” Novelli said. “At some point, the decision was made to use buff-colored Indiana limestone instead. What we have now is the ‘toned-down’ version.”
In the end, Noland & Baskervill’s design for the Scott House didn’t spark a citywide revolution. The firm designed a couple other Beaux-Arts-style houses in Richmond, but the style never caught on, likely due to the popularity of the Colonial Revival.
$7 million renovation
The Scotts lived in the house for the rest of their lives. Their daughter, Elisabeth Scott Bocock, grew up there and returned with her own family in the 1940s.
In the 1950s, Bocock and her husband, John Bocock, converted the service wing at the back of the house into a garden apartment for themselves, and they rented out the front part of the house to nonprofits. (John Bocock died in 1958.)
Beginning in the 1970s, Bocock, who was an arts patron and historic preservationist, rented rooms at the front of the house to women attending Virginia Commonwealth University. The university also leased rooms for several years.
Bocock lived in the house until her death in 1985.
In 2001, VCU bought the property from Bocock’s estate, says Keith Van Inwegen, assistant director of design for VCU’s department of facilities management, planning and design.
Soon after the purchase, the university renovated the grounds and undertook work to bring the building up to code. The university used the first floor for entertainment and social functions, and the second and third floors became office space.
Two years ago, though, the university emptied the building to begin a $7 million renovation that included replacing the roof and installing new mechanical systems. Workers also got the building’s original elevator in working order.
“The original cab with its call buttons and collapsible brass gate was still there,” Van Inwegen said. “We replaced the safety features and electronics, but the actual cab will be used.”
Crews also rebuilt the breakfast room’s stained-glass windows, which had been failing, and they repaired the stained-glass skylight.
“They were able to use all the original glass,” Van Inwegen said.
Likewise, while the other radiators in the house were removed, the radiator in the breakfast room was retained.
“We kept it because the marble cover was so significant,” Van Inwegen said.
Renovation work wrapped up last month.
Much of the space in the building will now be used for conference rooms, and a large room at the back of the first floor will be used as a classroom. But the first floor’s formal rooms will be used for social functions. And those rooms will display furniture that is original to the house – including some pieces VCU recently acquired.