The Charlottesville Downtown Mall is one of the most popular places in town for students and locals to eat, shop and play. But it hasn’t always been that way. A controversial “urban renewal” project in the 1960s razed nearby Vinegar Hill, a center of African-American life in Charlottesville. Many buildings along Main Street were in disrepair, and downtown businesses were dying off as suburbs sprouted and commerce grew along U.S. 29 North.
In an effort to revitalize the area, the city closed a stretch of Main Street to vehicles in the ’70s and engaged the architectural firm of Lawrence Halprin & Associates to design a brick-paved pedestrian mall. Completed in 1976, the seven-block mall is now considered one of the country’s most successful pedestrian plazas and is home to shops, restaurants, theaters, an outdoor music venue and an ice rink.
The UVA Architecture School has joined with other local groups to create two exhibits that focus on Halprin’s design process for the mall and uncover further plans he had hoped to implement in the downtown area.
Those unrealized plans envisioned “a network of intensely programmed streets and landscape connections, so that the mall would reach out in all directions,” says UVA architecture professor Elizabeth Meyer.