The historic Selden Arcade is owned by the city of Norfolk and was renovated, refurbished and reopened as the city’s cultural arts center in the spring of 2005. Following is a re-cap of this historic building’s past lives:
28 April 1911 - The Selden Arcade opened to the public on property purchased by Dr. William Selden in 1843. It was meant to serve as a thoroughfare connecting Main and Plume Streets, a continuation of the Beaux Arts Monticello Arcade opened in 1908. Because its Main Street entrance was just two blocks from the ferry landing, the Arcade was touted as the quickest route to Portsmouth, and advertised the modern features of hot and cold water and toilets for both men and women.
The Arcade’s grand opening lasted two weeks, and included a Trade Exposition under the auspices of the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch newspaper. Merchants who had shops in the Arcade offered prizes daily; there were demonstrations of new products and technology; and a display of Ford motor cars took over the middle of the Arcade. Four prizes were awarded to merchants for essays on the advantages of being a Selden Arcade tenant.
The Selden Arcade was built by C. Wiley Grandy & Associates, who owned the building until September 1950, when it was sold to Gerald Lavenstein, Jr. for $214,000. During the 1950s, the Arcade earned the nickname “Little Wall Street” because of the many investment and insurance companies housed there. Lavenstein renovated the interior in 1965, following a Colonial theme in the façades of the businesses and a “simple neoclassical design” to the Plume Street exterior façade. A similar façade was projected for the Main Street entrance.
Lavenstein’s company, Lavenstein & Crown Investment Co., sold the Arcade on 12 June 1972 for more than $600,000 to Selden Arcade Associates, a company made up of Gerald J. Friedman, I. S. Schwartz, Harry Sandler, Sam Sandler & Ezra Landres. The interior had been completely remodeled by this time, with the exception of the United Air Lines façade. At the time of sale, Lavenstein noted that occupancy of the Arcade had been fairly stable, and that no Arcade business had ever failed.
A Virginian-Pilot article on 4 April 1982 reported that the Selden Arcade had “recently” sold to a consortium of 22 investors, headed by general partner Goodman, Segar Hogan (GSH), for $950,000. GSH announced plans to spend an additional $837,000 on renovations and restoration in order to convert the Arcade into a high-end retail center of 50,274 square feet. Of the current tenants, the Virginia Club, Snug Harbor and Taste Unlimited were expected to remain – the other 19 would leave as their leases expired, to be replaced by high-grade retail shops including Beecroft & Bull, Alexander Beegle, Goldman’s Shoes and Ragged Robin Gifts. Planned renovations included placing doors at both entrances, new mosaic tile flooring and restoring the art-deco design throughout. It was noted that the original (1931) leasing agent was D. H. Goodman, a GSH predecessor.
On 17 March 1983, Festevents and GSH co-hosted a St. Patrick’s Day bash in the Selden Arcade for some 3,000 guests. This was significant as Festevents’ first public event since being formed in the Fall of 1982.
GSH had financial backing from Principal Financial Group of Des Moines, Iowa when it purchased the Arcade in 1982. Principal acquired the Arcade for $1.45 million through foreclosure in April 1995, and Robinson Sigma succeeded GSH as Arcade manager. There were many vacancies in the Arcade by this time, and lease rates were lowered from up to $13.50 per square foot to $11.00 per square foot. Tenants continued to pull out. By the end of October 1997 there were 15 vacancies out of 21 leasable spaces, and Principal had not procured a new tenant since taking over ownership. Selden Optique sued for “constructive eviction,” saying that the number of businesses leaving the Arcade because of structural problems had resulted in a decline of the optical company’s business, so that it would be forced to relocate.
In December 1999, local real estate developer John Mair (Mair Development Co.) purchased the Arcade from Principal for $1.95 million.
April 2001 – City Council approved a plan to spend $500,000 over a ten-year period to convert the Arcade from a retail center to a place for offices and professional services. Mair said he had spent $400,000 to rehabilitate the property since purchasing it in 1999. The largest tenant would be InfiNet, an applications service provider partly owned by Landmark Communications, which also owns the Virginian-Pilot; however, because of the coming recession, InfiNet did not move in.
2002 – Between February and August, Mair sought permission to tear down a portion of the Selden Arcade and convert it to a parking lot. The tenants at either end of the Arcade would be allowed to remain, and the parking lot down the middle of the structure would be accessed from Martin’s Lane. Design Review rejected the proposal in June four to one. Planning Commission rejected it unanimously in August, pointing out the Arcade generates nearly $165,000 per year in income. Mark Perreault, President of the Norfolk Preservation Alliance, went on record with concerns about the proposal, saying that the “Selden and Monticello Arcades are an attractive and convenient way to walk through downtown. They connect MacArthur Center to the financial center.”
The City of Norfolk proposed buying the Selden Arcade for $2.1 million. Mair’s asking price was $2.8 million. At a meeting on 28 January 2003, a compromise of $2.6 million was authorized by Council.
June 2005 Selden Arcade officially re-opens as the city’s cultural arts center.
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