Historic Bricks on the Downtown Mall


The term “history” in locohistory can be defined in a number of ways. At its most basic, it is something that occurred in the past. For inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places it should be at least fifty years old. The study of “history” includes past peoples, events, structures, and landscapes. This week’s post considers a slightly more recent event that occurred in 1976: the creation of the pedestrian mall on East Main Street.


The decision to prohibit cars from traveling (and parking) on a major thoroughfare was controversial. To demonstrate the utility of such a move, a smaller section (from the Belmont Bridge to West Second Street) was temporarily closed on April 13, 1971 and set up as a pedestrian shopping center. Still, the proposed mall project was variously derided as “Cole’s Hole” (the city manager at that time was Cole Hendrix), “Council’s Folly” and “Little Watergate.”


Other sites have comprehensive coverage of the long road that was traveled before the completion of the mall and its even more gradual success as a social and shopping mecca. One excellent article is by John Yellig, available here.

In this post my mission is different: to encourage you to look down at the architecturally designed roadway and its bricks. The architect is Lawrence Halprin who specifically designed a brick walkway that would not detract from the surrounding historic, brick structures.


Rather, he selected an unusual shape, 4” by 12” pavers, so that they would look artistic, not “institutional.” Halprin is a well known architect and is known for creating “landscapes available to all segments of society and generated on the basis of final user needs.” His 1976 artistic design has recently come under discussion as the City pursues options for renovating the downtown mall.


To listen to a podcast of public comment on the plan for the new bricks, visit the Charlottesville Tomorrow Website. There has been a lot of public input into the use of 7.5 million dollars to refurbish the bricks and if the money is to be spent, how to produce an aesthetically pleasing result on time and on budget.

But here at locohistory we wanted to take a different approach and see just how well you know your downtown mall.


For the following exercise it helps to enlist kids as they are closer to the ground and more likely to be successful in completing the following challenge. Or you can add this treasure hunt to your weekend pub crawl and see who finishes first. Directions for the First (and quite possibly final seeing as they may be removing these bricks in 2009) Annual Downtown Mall Brick Challenge: Begin at the Omni, face east (towards the Pavilion).


See how many of the brick “hot spots” you can find (numbered throughout this post). Don’t forget to look up and watch out for pedestrians and the cars at the two drive through crossings. For bonus points, complete this challenge from memory and see if you recognize any of these spots.




Good Luck!