Talbot Hall is the last plantation house located in Norfolk that retains its sense of place. Unlike urban houses like the Moses Myers House in Downtown, the context of Talbot Hall is field and waterfront. The property contains trees that date back before the Civil War. Its grounds hold untold stories of life in a period of Norfolk’s history that almost no one remembers. (You can learn more about Talbot Hall on our website.)
The purchasing group has made assurances that they will not destroy the historic Manor House, which, all things considered, is the minimum that anyone of goodwill could be expected to do. However, the preservation of the house alone is a hollow gesture, because its context as a plantation would be destroyed. Indeed, the National Park Service, the recognized authority on historical preservation in the United States, stipulates that a site that has lost its context has essentially lost its historical character. In Talbot Hall’s case, what was a gracious country home would become simply another old suburban house. Our Foundation is strongly against this plan.
Why does any of this matter?
This is a fair question in Norfolk. We’ve plowed under a lot of our history in the name of progress. We lag behind the rest of the region in park space. What does saving one last spot like this get us?
The answer goes to the heart of the kind of place we want to live in, and the kind of people we want to be in it. If Norfolk is destined to be a city of transients, a city of only some, but not a lot of, cultural value, a city of gray, then keeping Talbot Hall really isn’t worthwhile. But, if Norfolk is going to be the city of Alchemy NFK, the city of the new Chrysler Museum, the city that puts a massive mural on the side of an iconic gun shop, the city that bakes loaves of fresh bread on the Chelsea waterfront, that roasts coffee late into the night on Colonial Avenue, that brews beer in Park Place and next to coal piers, that is at home eating tacos in Ocean View and Smithfield ham biscuits in Larchmont, that is home to music festivals in the Botanical Gardens and hash-house runs through East Beach, then it makes sense to save Talbot Hall.
We need to make a decision about whether we are a city that is going to treasure its unique and authentic places wherever they are, or whether we’re going to limit them to a couple spots around town. Are we going to proudly direct visitors and new residents to scores of interesting sites and unique restaurants, galleries, and parks, or will we only point out the token bright lights among the empty office parks and deteriorating housing blocks as we pass in our cars, under glass, on our way quickly home?
We have a chance to take a stand against mediocrity– and there is little more mediocre than another set of McMansions. The development group buying the property needs to secure a zoning change. The Planning Commission hearing for this change is happening on Thursday, April 24 at 2:30 PM on the 11th floor of City Hall in Norfolk. Anyone can speak during this hearing, for up to 3 minutes. Zoning is one of those boring things that only affects a few people at a time, but everyone in aggregate. In the end, the purpose of our zoning laws are to serve the public interest. Is it in Norfolk’s interest to build these McMansions, or is it our interest to prevent more destruction of our history and environment, of our authentic and unique character? This is your chance to tell Norfolk’s leaders that you stand on the side of a Norfolk that believes in preserving what it has been, and more than that, that you are invested in its future.
If you’ve ever found yourself wishing Norfolk was a place that has an imagination, we need you. If you know that places like the Arts District aren’t the end, but just the beginning of what this city is going to be in the next decade, we need you.
If you can come to the Planning Commission hearing, please follow the Facebook event link below, and please come planning to speak– even if it’s just to say your name, your address, and that you are opposed to the zoning change, and for preserving Talbot Hall.
If you’re not able to attend, you can still help. Follow the Facebook link below to contact members of the Planning Commission and send them a brief email opposing rezoning and supporting preservation of Talbot Hall. Please take action as soon as possible, because the hearing is on April 24!