A building near the Downtown Mall that has served many purposes since it was erected in the 1950s once was on the verge of demolition, but a proposed distillery has taken a step toward breathing new life into 201 W. Water St.

The site, formerly the Clock Shop of Virginia, was purchased by Black Bear Properties LLC in 2016. In 2017, the property was granted approval for demolition by the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review before the Planning Commission agreed not to grant a special-use permit that would allow for an eight-story mixed-use development that would have included luxury apartments.

In February, Black Bear Properties and Clark Gathright applied for a certificate of appropriateness to convert the one-story building into a distillery. The application’s proposed renovations included removing segments of the masonry on the Water Street façade to install a metal storefront that would be framed with black tube steel to create a contemporary look. The application also sought to replace the existing window.

At Tuesday’s BAR meeting, board members moved to approve the certificate, but they had amendments to add. The property is in an architectural design control district, and therefore subject to protection through zoning.

The board suggested that the building’s original window on Second Street Southwest be retained, that unpainted brick and ceramic coping remain unpainted and that any future rooftop-mounted equipment be located in such a way to minimize its visibility from the street.

“Consistent with the building’s simple design, this window is uniquely commercial/industrial as an architectural element,” said Jeff Werner, a historic preservation and design planner for the city.

“We don’t have any issues with letting that remain and fixing it up,” Gathright said.

Black Bear’s application also requested permission to paint exterior masonry, as the Water Street side of the building already had been painted but the Second Street side had not.

However, the architectural design control district zoning of the property contributes to the recommendation that the unpainted brick remain bare.

“Much of this building has been painted, and the unpainted bricks are of an age that is less susceptible to mechanical issues,” Werner said. “Not entirely, but less.”

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Werner said painting bricks of a certain age can affect the mechanical stability of the masonry because brick is breathable and paint can trap moisture within the brick, leading to damage.

There also was a recommendation to consider the repair and replacement of missing sections of the terra cotta parapet on the building.

“It would be nice to fix that roof cap and do it right,” Werner said. “Not just put something up there. I think again, this building, if it’s going to be kept — let’s respect its own architectural integrity and do what we can to retain that.”

As for an update on the status of the proposed distillery, Gathright said he cannot discuss the project until it is further along.


I was Charlottesville Tomorrow’s government reporter from 2019 to 2022. Thanks for letting me be your resident nerd on how local and state governments serve us. Keep up with me @charlottewords on Twitter. If you haven’t yet, consider subscribing to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s FREE newsletter to get updates from the newsroom on the things you want to know.