In the early 20th century, apartment living was considered the glamorous harbinger of the urban future, and some of Richmond’s most prominent architects designed upscale apartment buildings to meet growing demand. Many of the buildings – such as the Prestwould, Richmond’s last luxury high-rise apartment building to be built before the Great Depression – are architectural landmarks.

Otis Asbury’s design for the Gladstone Apartments building (circa 1914) stands out, though – especially when compared to its relatively staid Tudor and Colonial Revival-style contemporaries.

For the six-unit Gladstone, located at 1828-1830 Park Avenue in the Fan District, Asbury incorporated Georgian and Jacobean features in an especially creative design. He used a striking pair of Flemish gables to draw the eye upward, and the building’s beige tapestry brick and French doors would have struck viewers in the mid-1910s as exceptionally modern.

In many ways, it was just Asbury being Asbury.

The architect

Asbury, a North Carolina native, is largely forgotten today. He was a sought-after architect in the 1910s and 1920s, though, and he produced some of Richmond’s most effusively creative buildings.

He arrived in Richmond in 1906, and worked with architects Charles K. Bryant and Claude K. Howell before opening a firm with engineer Herbert C. Whitehurst in 1911. It was a busy period of residential construction in the city, and Asbury & Whitehurst landed a number of prestigious commissions to design houses and upscale apartment buildings.  

Asbury also designed on his own, both during his partnership with Whitehurst and after their firm’s dissolution in 1919.

Over the course of his years in Richmond, Asbury designed nine houses on Monument Avenue as well as five houses in the William Byrd Terrace development, which represent some of his best work. Asbury’s houses in William Byrd Terrace are located at 719 Spottswood Road and 704, 716, 804 and 1000 Westover Road.

Other Asbury standouts include the English cottage-style house at 1514 Park Avenue and the Spanish Colonial Revival-style house at 1215 Rothesay Circle.

Little is known about Asbury’s work after the late 1920s. He eventually returned to North Carolina, where he died in 1959.

From apartments to condos

The Gladstone operated as an apartment building for most of the 20th century. For many years, it was owned and managed by Adella Watlington, a real estate agent.

“In the 1980s and ’90s, she was everywhere,” said Jerry Peters, a Richmond-based developer. “She was quite flamboyant, eager to host a party and very involved with her community. She was a legend. In fact, she printed ‘The Legend’ on her business cards.”

Watlington lived in Unit No. 1 in the building, and several of her friends rented apartments there, said Chris Small, a real estate broker with Small & Associates.

By the mid-1990s, though, maintaining the building had become a burden, and Watlington decided to sell it. She asked Peters for advice, and he suggested renovating the building and converting it to condominiums. (Historic condo conversions had become popular in the mid-1980s.)

“I thought the economics might work out, and she could retain her unit and divest the rest of the management of the building to the homeowners association,” Peters said.

Watlington agreed, and she sold the building to Peters, who began renovating the property in 1997. He installed new plumbing, as well as new electrical and HVAC systems. Peters also updated the kitchens and reconfigured the rear of the units to allow for the addition of a second full bath and an in-unit laundry facility.

“It was a beautiful building to begin with, and the upgrades brought it up to appropriate repair and to modern convenience standards at the time,” Peters said. “I don’t recall the exact budget, but it was not a trivial effort.”

Work wrapped up in 1998, and Peters renamed the building The Legend, to honor Watlington.

Sales were strong, with each unit selling within a few weeks of its going on the market.

Condo sizes in The Legend range from approximately 1,700 square feet for the units on the first two floors to 1,500 square feet for the units on the third floor. The setback third-floor balconies account for the difference.

“The third-floor balconies are charming, and the views are great,” Small said.

Each of the six units has two bedrooms, two baths and formal living and dining rooms, as well as a rear enclosed porch and a front porch or balcony.

“Prices for the condos would probably be in the $400,000 to $500,000 range, depending on the condition,” Small said.

Buyers looking to move to The Legend will have to be patient, though. The most recent sale was in 2015.

Or you might get lucky, like Joan Oberle, who bought her condo in The Legend in 2015.

“I’d lived across the street since 2008,” Oberle said. “My thought was at some point in five years, I’d look for something smaller. Then I saw that condo go on the market and I said, ‘I’ll do it now.’”

Oberle had always admired the building, and she’d been inside it once, when Watlington’s unit had been featured on the Fan Holiday House Tour in 2010.

Now that she’s settled in, Oberle says she has no plans to leave.

“It’s in a prime part of the Fan, just around the corner from Monument Avenue, and it looks out on Meadow Park,” Small said. “What’s not to love?”

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