Newport News' Southeast Community's former hardware store and school see
Mesic Hardware and George Washington School will become apartment
The former Mesic Hardware store is being converted to apartments, part
of the 50-unit Jefferson Brookville complex in Newport News.
The former Mesic Hardware
store on Jefferson Avenue and a school built in 1899 are undergoing
The buildings are part of
Jefferson Brookville Apartments, a 50-apartment project developed by
North Carolina-based Landmark Development Company and the Newport
and Housing Authority. The $8 million project includes new
construction — a building slated to go next to and connect with the
old hardware store in the 2500 block of Jefferson Avenue, and a new
building about a block away — and the conversion of the store and
The partners are using
federal tax credits obtained from the Virginia Housing Development
Authority to help cover construction costs.
On a recent Tuesday, the store building, its name still visible in paint
above the front door and former display windows, bristled with activity.
Workers chiseled into the brick back wall, opening spaces for windows.
Other workers focused on the building's first floor, gutted to the outer
walls and interior frame.
Construction superintendent Martin Cooke, of North Carolina-based Rehab
Builders, Inc., said the crew would preserve and restore as many of the
building's original elements as possible, including its stamped tin
ceiling, dark wood balustrade, the rows of windows on the second floor
and the store's distinctive marquee. The building will hold five
apartments and have a community room on the first floor. The new
building next door will have 25 units and is "geared for families,"
About two blocks away on 29th Avenue, crews also were busy at the former
George Washington School, a two-story square brick structure that once
housed students in grades 4-6. The building's large classrooms will
become eight one-bedroom apartments. Cooke said construction workers are
preserving the building's sweeping staircases, arched windows and
transoms over the classroom doors.
Cooke pointed out the original slate chalkboards on the interior walls,
now covered with layers of peeling paint, which will be covered with
Sheetrock. He marveled that they had survived the building's previous
uses. One even had lessons still scrawled on it, he said. One bare
upstairs room with windows looking out on tree tops held a dusty,
out-of-tune upright piano, a remnant from the prior owner, a church.
NNRHA executive director Karen Wilds said she had eyed the old school
for years, hoping to buy it and turn it into housing. When the
opportunity came, it became part of the Jefferson Brookville plan.
The apartment project fits into a larger effort to revitalize the area,
she noted. Other projects include the proposed Brooks Crossing
development about three blocks north on Jefferson Avenue, new public
Luther King, Jr. Plaza
and streetscape improvements that buried overhead utility lines and
installed lamp posts and traffic signal standards.
Officials are also considering what to do on the site of the former
Harbor Homes and Dickerson Court housing developments, both razed in
recent years. Wilds and Economic Development Authority Executive
Director Florence Kingston said they hope that 37-acre site will house
businesses that bring jobs to the community.
Wilds said Jefferson Brookville will bring affordable "work force"
housing to Jefferson Avenue corridor. She called the development an
example of "adaptive reuse," giving old buildings with architectural or
historic significance new life. The development includes units for older
citizens and people with disabilities in two of the buildings.
"There is something magical about 50 units," she said of the mix across
the three buildings.
Cooke said construction on the third building in the project, which will
house 12 apartments in the 2700 block of Jefferson Avenue, has not yet
begun. Wilds said the buildings should be complete in about 14 months.
Cooke is enthusiastic about the construction and conversion work.
"I think it's going to be really attractive," he said. "You should see
it in May or June."