You may not be familiar with the city’s Historic Preservation Manager William “Al” Cox, but if you walked around Old Town you’re familiar with his work.
After 28 years of shaping the city’s policy on architecture and historic preservation and 10 years as the historic preservation manager, Cox is retiring.
Before he’s recognized by the City Council at tonight’s (Tuesday) meeting, Cox spoke with ALXnow about some of the highs and the lows of the last 30 years of architecture and historic preservation in Alexandria.
Cox started his career at a private practice in Texas, working on projects like the preservation of the Texas Governor’s Mansion, but Reagan-era tax law changes dried up the preservation funding. Cox went on to the University of Virginia and to Venice, to study more about how to hold onto historic architecture in changing urban landscapes, which ultimately helped to shape his view on preserving Alexandria.
“I wanted to study how Europeans had been dealing with the preservation of historic resources and maintaining a living, breathing city as opposed to calling everything a historic district and freezing it,” Cox said. “My wife and I had visited Alexandria and fell in love with it. We thought ‘why are we trying to explain all of that to people in Dallas, they don’t get preservation.'”
Cox took a two-year contract to staff the help work on design guidelines, after which then-Alexandria City Manager Vola Lawson allowed Cox to create the first city architect position.
“That was terrific, we’d never had one,” Cox said. “I worked in planning got to work on so many really cool projects: Windmill Hill, Potomac Yard, the design of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, Jones Point Park.”
“He came in and made some of the presentations and it is, without question, in his style, but most of the work was his staff,” Cox said. “He was really known for doing Mediterranean colors in stucco and colored metal roofs. City Council, when he did the presentation, said they liked the design — but around here, we’re a red brick town and they wanted a copper roof like the historic houses here. Graves has his own stamp and the council did a good job of making it an Alexandria library by Michael Graves.”
It’s just one example of the kind of work that goes on behind the brick or steel walls of nearly every building in Alexandria.
“That’s what I’ve spent my career here doing,” Cox said. “I’ve gotten to work with a lot of talented folks, but even if they’re from D.C. they don’t know our brand. They don’t know our culture. Alexandria has a really strong local culture and it’s why we’re still here.”
Gusty Winds Expected Today — “The Flood Watch has been cancelled, but now the wind is the next possible hazard… The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. Gusts of up to 50 mph are expected.” [ARLnow]
Architects Chosen for Potomac Yard Redevelopment — “Five architectural firms have been selected to design the nine buildings that are planned for the first phase of the North Potomac Yard overhaul, including the Virginia Tech campus. The use of multiple firms, similar to the choice made by the developers of The Wharf on D.C.’s Southwest waterfront, is meant to avoid having a neighborhood of buildings that look too alike.” [Washington Business Journal]
Dollhouses Tell Story of Alexandria’s Black History — “The story surrounding the Johnson Pool took center stage at the debut of Robin Hamilton’s documentary ‘Our Alexandria,’ about a set of dollhouses created by Linwood M. Smith and Sharon J. Frazier that reflect life in Alexandria’s African American community years ago in Old Town.” [Zebra]
HIV/AIDS Symposium This Weekend — “The City will host a National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Symposium, Feb 8, 8am-noon. Free HIV testing. Get Educated. Get Involved. Get Tested. Get Treated.” [City of Alexandria, Twitter]