How’s this for some history for a plot of land: To go from being a Colonial-era fort used in the War of 1812, to being a turn of the 20th Century DeSoto dealership, to now being converted into modern lofts.
That’s the story of the Fort Tar Lofts, which are coming to the edge of the Arts District at 1001 Monticello Ave. in the next six to eight months.
“This whole neighborhood was filled with car dealerships and support businesses for the car dealerships,” said Mike Glenn, owner of Luna Development, who is making the project happen. “Everyone in the region came to the area to buy cars over here in Norfolk. A lot have been torn down, but it’s exciting to be able to put my money where my mouth is to preserve this one.”
Glenn is a member of Norfolk’s Historic and Architectural Preservation Committee and has been a Norfolk resident for 36 years, since he studied biology at ODU. He said that the building was one of the first car dealerships in the state of Virginia, circa 1910. Frederick A. Roethke was the original owner.
“Roethke was one of Norfolk’s pioneer automobile dealers,” wrote Bill Inge, a Building Historian for the City of Norfolk. “He was formerly a Liberty, Hupmobile, Peerless and Pierce-Arrow dealer before taking the DeSoto and Plymouth franchisees. The dealership closed at the end of 1960, the same time Chrysler Corp. discontinued the DeSoto. From 1961-67, it was occupied by Mid-Town Motors (later Mid Town Dodge). It later served as the body shop for Kline Chevrolet.”
The architect of the current iteration is the well-respected Norfolk architect Robyn Thomas. The vision is for the first floor, which used to be the showroom, to be resident parking. The second floor, which was the service area for the dealership, will be the residential. The plans call for 1 two-bedroom apartment and 12 one-bedroom apartments. The concrete floor will be refinished; the corrogated steel ceiling will remain exposed, as will the original bricks. As of now lease prices look to be set in the $900 to $1,900 range, according to project manager Krista Royal. The most exciting part for potential future residents might be the cherry on top.
“We’re a small, boutique type of development,” said Glenn. “Everybody wants a rooftop. When you’re on top you can see Downtown and can almost see to Fort Norfolk.”
Glenn has applied for a historic neighborhood designation from the state’s Department of Historic Resources, calling it “The Granby Street Auto Row Historic District.” From the application:
An April 15, 1911 article in the “Building News and Review” section of The Ledger-Dispatch described a real estate speculators buying up significant sections of the land around the thoroughfares of Granby, Queen (now Brambleton), and James (now Monticello) at the mere rumor that the city might be constructing a public building in the area. A mere three years later a May 16, 1914 article appeared in The Ledger-Dispatch entitled “Granby Street Has Grown in Marvelous Manner.” This article traces the rapid evolution of Granby into the main corridor out of downtown and, via side streets, to the primary residential areas of the city. By the time of this article is accepted as fact that “retail growth of the city was to be in the direct of Granby Street.” Initial hesitation by investors was solved when, two years earlier, the city extended Olney Road to Granby Street thus linking the Granby commercial corridor to the popular neighborhoods of Ghent, Colonial Place, Park Place, Larchmont, Edgewater, and Lochhaven. This resulted in “so called ultra conservative investors” paying what would have recently “been called ‘Fancy’ prices for their Granby street holdings.” An assessment of land value at this time stated that “the point of highest values is at present on Granby street in the vicinity of City Hall avenue, and it is certain that this point will continue to move northward.”
As it currently stands Fort Tar Lofts won’t technically be in the Arts District, missing the boundaries by a couple blocks. Glenn hopes that changes so his residents will be able to boast about being part of the neighborhood.
<second floor | Fort Tar Lofts>
“We are creating a historic district for the Arts District so that buildings in the District can get tax credits, which helps generate development,” he said. “From an owner and business standpoint it’s a major plus.”
As you might expect, Glenn sees huge potential for the District, seeing it as part of a larger re-urbanization trend.
“I think in the next five years it’s going to take off. I really do,” he said. “People are moving out of the suburbs and back to downtowns. Since it’s in walking distance of Downtown and Ghent, it’s ideal–but it doesn’t have those prices yet. There’s still some deals there.”
The Arts District is turning into a place where Norfolk’s history weaves with its present and future. A lot has happened from 1812 to 2014, each moment of it still alive in the ground beneath our feet.
For more on Fort Tar Lofts, here is their website. To follow along with Arts District developments, click here.