A Unique History
The history of the Seven Hills buildings began in 1927, long before Seven Hills School was formed. The 1920s were a period of rapid industrial growth in Richmond, Virginia. Need for utilities such as gas, water, and electricity was booming and the public utility company decided to consolidate operations into one site at 1311 Overbrook Road (then referred to as Howard Street) in order to efficiently manage growth. Engineer Kenneth Adelstein, a City of Richmond Department of Public Works employee, designed the group of buildings. The large two story brick building was originally used for meter repair. The single story building alongside the road was used for auto repair. The adjacent small, two story brick building was a storehouse and the row of metal and brick sheds behind what is now the playing field was used for storage. Built later, the two story, stucco building (now decorated with an Ed Trask mural) was a Virginia Electric and Power Company (VEPCO) building and was used as an electrical substation.
These buildings enabled a great advance in efficiency for the utility company. They provided space for the storage of materials required for repair and installation of meters. Additionally, they served as a center of operations for the linemen who installed the gas and water mains and all other workers not directly engaged at one of the production plants in the city. The buildings reveal the complex operations of the Department of Public Utilities during a period of extensive growth. They are the result of the development and general expansion of Richmond and illustrate the role the municipal government and utility services played in the city’s economic progress.
The buildings are also architecturally significant. Their design emphasizes form and function rather than a strict adherence to prevailing architectural styles. Key elements are Flemish bond brick panels between visible, expressed concrete-structural grids. This was a new type of construction and is representative of a change in direction in modern architectural design during the first part of the twentieth century. The design reflects practical concerns about space and operation. The meter repair facility and storage house are aesthetically unique among Richmond’s industrial buildings. The expressed concrete frame and brick curtain walls are evident in a number of buildings in Richmond, but the combination of this structure and a gabled roof is unique to the Seven Hills buildings. The Colonial Revival aesthetic that prevailed in Richmond may have been responsible for the use of the gabled roofs. In any case, it is the beautiful roofs that make the formerly industrial buildings both practical and grand.
Both for their historical significance and architectural merit, the buildings that are now the home to the Seven Hills School are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.