Virginia Museum of Fine Arts plans regional visitor center in historic Robinson House
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Virginia Museum of Fine Arts plans regional visitor center in historic Robinson House
Robinson House on VMFA's Entrance Plaza. Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

RICHMOND, VA.- Since the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts opened in May 2010, its annual attendance has been the largest of any attraction in the region. Because of its proximity to I-95/I-64 and its leadership position, VMFA will rehabilitate the historic Robinson House and repurpose it to include a regional visitor center. The building, located on the museum’s Mary Morton Parsons Plaza, will be operated in collaboration with Richmond Region Tourism that includes Henrico, Chesterfield, and Hanover Counties as well as the City of Richmond.

The center will open in the summer of 2015, which will be in time for the UCI World Championship Cycling event in September 2015.

“The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is an ideal place to begin a visit to the Richmond region,” Director Alex Nyerges said. “The Virginia Museum is always delighted to collaborate and support tourism initiatives with our regional partners and aspires to become a destination for cyclists in addition to tourists in cars, motor coaches, tour buses and taxis. Besides operating a world-class art museum, we also have a deep respect for the history of the land and the buildings which the Virginia Museum is charged to protect and preserve.”

The preservation and rehabilitation of Robinson House will stabilize its structure, reclaim interior spaces to evoke the buildings’ historic past, and repurpose the spaces for use as a regional tourism center. In addition, a gallery is planned to interpret the history of the site from Native American times to its role as the headquarters and museum for the R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, Confederate Soldiers’ Home (1885-1941), among other uses. After a competitive selection process, VMFA has engaged Glavé & Holmes’ Cultural Studio, led by Steven Blashfield, AIA, to undertake the project. VMFA also has nominated Robinson House to the National Register for Historic Landmarks and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

Robinson House, a handsome Italianate structure completed in the late 1850s, was once part of a 159-acre estate belonging to prominent Richmond banker Anthony Robinson, Jr. In 1884 the house and 36 acres were sold to the R. E. Lee Camp, No. 1, Confederate Veterans, to become a residential complex for indigent and disabled veterans. The building, which gained a third floor and belvedere two years later, served as the facility’s administration building and war museum. By the time the Soldiers’ Home closed 56 years later, the complex had housed approximately 3,000 veterans. With the death of the last resident in 1941, ownership of the property reverted to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Robinson House served a variety of functions during the seven decades that followed: offices and labs for the Virginia Institute for Scientific Research (1949-63); offices, art studios, and galleries for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (1964-93); and offices for the Virginia Association of Museums (1995-96).

The rehabilitation of Robinson House has long been a VMFA goal. It is listed as a number one priority on the Commonwealth’s six-year Capital Outlay Plan. Funding is included in a bond package issued through the Virginia Public Building Authority, subject to the provisions in Chapter 806 of the 2013 Acts of Assembly.

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