I have tried to convince my brother Alex that his next book should be a history of Norfolk’s willful self-destruction during the fifties and sixties, when federal redevelopment money paid to tear down much of the older part of the city. (“slum clearance”) And it was not a piecemeal approach; entire neighborhoods vanished, intended to be replaced by “modern” shopping centers and housing projects. Alex says that a census of 1800 listed more than two thousand buildings in Norfolk; four (4) of those buildings remain today. I am not sure where all this citywide self loathing came from.
While the slum clearance left huge areas vacant for years, some significant new construction did occur in a few isolated areas. Fifty years later, some of the “modern” buildings are already in danger themselves. The 1962 downtown Kirn Public Library, a classic modern building of white stone and glass, was torn down last year.
I viewed many parts of Norfolk, both good and bad, during a three hour bike tour around town on a cloudy Sunday morning.
The “Scope” complex was built in 1968-71, designed by Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi, built on the edge of downtown on top of two hundred years of history. It was paid for, like most things in Norfolk, with Federal funds. It consists of a twelve thousand seat arena and a twenty five hundred seat concert theater. Its Lincoln Center / Brasilia look came almost ten years later than those other places. The plaza was completely empty and lonely on this windy day, and one could circle around the buildings by bicycle. There is no current movement to destroy these buildings, but with Norfolk it is never too early to raise consciousness.
I also passed this place, stuck among the used car lots of Military Highway.