In some ways, you might think Reid Nolan Pierce, a Richmond-based developer and general contractor, was born to go into the construction business. His father, Hank Pierce, was a general contractor and developer in Petersburg, and he started hanging out on construction sites by the time he was 8 years old. By the age of 16, he was spending summers working on his father’s construction crews.
One especially memorable crew included a lead carpenter named Red, a college graduate everyone called Moose and a hearing-impaired carpenter. “Red used to have us devise the best poker hand from the serial numbers on a dollar bill – winner take all – and the hearing-impaired carpenter would put his hands to his head like antlers and howl to call Moose when he needed him,” Pierce said.
But Pierce had a more artistic side, too. His mother was a ballet dancer and an artist, and he “got a lot of my views on life from both of my parents,” Pierce said. In fact, Pierce didn’t go into the family business after high school. Instead, he attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and focused on creative fields while changing his major from journalism to studio art to drama and finally film.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Radio, Television and Film Production in 1974, and after working in regional theater for two years, he moved to New York, where he worked as an actor and stage manager in the avant-garde, off-Broadway scene. He also worked as a master carpenter for a scene shop under the Brooklyn Bridge. “I built sets for the Public Theatre, John Houseman, Martha Graham, Harry Belafonte and others,” Pierce said. “I was production manager for the Big Apple Circus for seven seasons.”
He returned to Petersburg in 1985 and finally started working in the field that would become his permanent career. He bought a 120-year-old building in Petersburg for $8,000 – a one-time speakeasy and brothel, Pierce said – and after renovating and selling it, he used the proceeds to buy a house for himself at 1518 Grove Avenue in Richmond’s Fan District.
The following year, Pierce began working as a construction manager for the Menin Development Co. and built shopping centers from New York to Florida. “That was when I really got my business education,” Pierce said.
Pierce eventually became a vice president at Menin, before leaving it to form his own company in 1997. For the new business, he chose the name his father had used for his own company: Pierce Development.
From 1997 to today, Pierce has worked as a builder or developer on more than 60 projects, the majority of which have been in the Fan. They have included mixed-use, commercial, single-family, apartment and condominium projects.
Among Pierce’s mixed-use standouts is The Trolley at Main & Vine in the 1600 block of West Main Street. Undertaken in 2005, it entailed renovating the city’s last surviving horsecar barn, as well as removing the back half of the adjacent former Pepsi Cola warehouse and refacing its front elevation.
“That represented a major change for that section of Main Street,” said Richmond-based architect David Johannas. His firm, Johannas Design Group, did the design work for the project, which created a restaurant and five commercial condos along Main Street, as well as seven residential condos along Vine Street. “That block of Main Street arrived after that.”
Johannas has worked with Pierce since the late 1990s on new-construction projects as well as on historic properties that make use of historic tax credits.
Pierce has also converted several apartment buildings to condos, including the Halifax Apartments building at 2416 Park Avenue, which took 14 months to complete.
“Reid probably did the most comprehensive apartment renovation I’ve seen,” said Chris Small, a real estate broker with Small & Associates Real Estate and the Halifax’s listing agent. “He’s meticulously attentive to details.”
Other apartment-to-condo conversions include 2801 West Grace Street and 8-10 East Main Street.
The majority of Pierce’s work has focused on single-family homes. They include restorations of the houses at 1416, 1506, 2112 and 2116 Floyd Avenue; 3201 Grove Avenue; 1521, 4004, 4008 and 4403 Hanover Avenue; 4518 Kensington Avenue; 11, 15 and 19 South Morris Street; 1400 and 2312 Park Avenue; and 2009 Monument Avenue.
Pierce’s latest single-family project is Kensington Park, an infill development that stretches across the 2400 blocks of Park and Kensington avenues in the Fan. It includes a total restoration of a Colonial Revival home built circa 1900 as well as the construction of three strikingly Modern homes that have subtle variations among the three elevations.
Johannas Design Group designed the three Modern homes and worked with Pierce on the renovated home.
Sizes for the four homes range from 3,300 to 3,500 square feet, and prices start at $1.25 million, said Small, who is the development’s listing agent. The houses went on the market this month.
One rarity on Pierce’s list of work: a campus restoration for North Side’s 7 Hills School, which includes several buildings built in the 1920s for the Department of Public Utilities. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
“I really enjoyed the five buildings we restored for the 7 Hills School,” Pierce said.
In the course of his career as a builder and developer, Pierce has seen Richmond change from a relatively quiet town where a fixer-upper in the Fan could be bought for $50,000 to “a cosmopolitan city with a vibrant scene of food, drink, music and lifestyle,” he said.
And he has participated in that transformation.
“Reid has had a significant impact on the Fan,” Small said. “One house at a time, he has made a big difference in the neighborhood’s evolution.”
Sometimes, the work includes removing what previous homeowners considered to be improvements.
“During the 1970s, people were buying houses and pulling the front porches off to make them more modern,” Pierce said. “The ‘restoration’ movement was just gaining traction. I have put back many a porch. I have done away with porthole windows and even a couple of ‘conversation pits.’”
For someone with a wide-ranging resume, Pierce has been pretty consistent for the last 20-some years. Some members of his five-man crew have worked with him since he formed Pierce Development, and they’ve never faced a layoff or found themselves without work.
“I have always worked with my hands,” Pierce said. “Now I work with my mind on visualizing what’s possible for new life on an old house. I like to think I’ve added a 100 years to every 100-year-old house I’ve worked on. I can drive through the Fan and see almost 35 years of work. And I’m not done yet.”
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