Thursday, May 22, 2014

Saving Top O Rock

Sitting atop a wooded bluff in Charleston, WV, just visible from one of the city's busiest boulevards, is Top O Rock, a sweeping circular structure that looks (or at least it always did to me as a child) like something out of "The Jetsons". The house always fascinated me, such modern design is a decided rarity in West Virginia, and as it was the home and studio of an architect, I'm sure I wondered if I'd one day call someplace so "cool" home.

Henry Elden, Top o Rock's architect and owner, passed away in 2009, and his heirs sold the house a few years later. It's new owners, perhaps daunted by the costs to renovate the 10,000 square foot home and studio, have left it vacant, and in recent months it has been overrun by vandals who have shattered it's iconic plate glass windows and covered it's surfaces in the sort of crude and unimaginative graffiti that can be expected. Enter our guest blogger, Jennifer Peters, who has been instrumental in a campaign to save this treasure. We hope you will enjoy hearing from her, and the attached photos showing one of Charleston, West Virginia's most unique homes.

The Accidental Advocate

I never planned on becoming an advocate.  But a last-minute-after-dinner trip for ice cream with my family changed all that.  So here I am, the Accidental Advocate.
The spring foliage made it difficult to see the glass house known as Top-O-Rock as we drove by so a split decision brought us up the hill to take a quick peek.  And THIS is what we found. (Insert gasp of horror here).                                                                                                               

To describe how it felt to witness this destruction in person is impossible.  It was AWFUL.  I cried.  Ninety-one pictures later and I was ready to show the city of Charleston the wretched state of this beloved and iconic structure.
Constructed in 1968 by local architect and engineer Henry Elden, Top-O-Rock is a magnificent 10,000 square foot structure of steel and glass that functioned as both working and living environment under the same roof.  An unconventional combination of  industrial and organic principles, it was designed to incorporate the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.  Elden referred to it as A glass jeweled box set in a hillside without disturbing the beauty of the natural terrain.  This terrain being a steep twenty-seven foot sandstone cliff with panoramic vies of the city.  It consisted of 8500 square feet of solar plated tinted glass that was held together by an intricate framework of 90 tons of steel and 880,000 pounds of concrete that engaged the heavily wooded landscape that surrounded it.  The structure itself was adapted into its natural surroundings.  Charleston residents had never seen anything like Top-O-Rock.   It was considered Eldens architectural masterpiece.  And he joyfully shared this with the community, opening the doors to anyone that wanted to see its grandeur in person.   He hosted a variety of galas, parties  and other functions.  It became known as one of Charlestons most iconic houses and remained that way until Mr. Eldens death in 2009.  It remained vacant until it was purchased in 2011. 

An advocate is defined as a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy and offers support to the interest of another.  In a nutshell, an advocate becomes the voice for an entity that is unable to speak for itself.
To say that I was upset was an understatement.  I was sad.  And I was VERY angry.  The house had been abandoned and neglected and left alone to defend itself against the elements of nature as well as vandals and thieves.  How could this have happened?  How did the condition get the this point?  Who was responsible?  And what could be done?  I wanted answers.  AND I wanted everyone in Charleston to see what collective ignorance had done to a once magnificent place.

Naturally, sharing the pictures on Facebook was the quickest way to reach a large audience.  Combined with numerous emails to the local media, word spread quickly that Top-O-Rock was in dire need of help.   I posted on Sunday evening.  The response was overwhelming.  By Monday morning,  requests to the City of Charleston were made and the necessary steps to determine what was needed to secure the structure began.  A violation order was issued to the owners with 21 days to meet the requirements.  A collective sigh of relief was felt in the community.  Until a local contracting firm said it had been approached to possibly demolish the house.  That single word: DEMOLISH was completely unacceptable to me.  I knew at that moment, I was going to do anything and everything to save Top-O-Rock.

On Tuesday morning, I started a Facebook group and page called Save Top-O-Rock and shared it with my friends.  Within 30 minutes I had 150 members.  By the end of the day, I had 500 members.  It was amazing.  Membership requests along with offers of assistance, advice, financial donations, resources to utilize and volunteers was OVERWHELMING.  I was relieved that there were so many other people out there willing to lend a voice and become an advocate.  Today, we are 1400 members strong.  TOGETHER we continue to fight for our beloved Top-O-Rock.  It has been an emotional and tough few weeks but to date, the owners have secured the house and are working with the community to save it.  For now, demolition is off the table.  And we ARE continuing to make, albeit slow, progress. 

So the next time you find yourself driving down MacCorkle Avenue, remember to take a look up at the glass jeweled box on the hillside peeking out the trees, where it sits patiently waiting for another chance to speak for ITSELF.

Here are some photos of Top O Rock in better days (thanks to the members of the Save Top O Rock Facebook group.):
Top O Rock Under Construction

The great circular living room at Top O Rock

The living room and free floating stair, with the twinkle of Charleston below.

The undulating forms of the house respect it's difficult site.

Love the deck that encircles the tree.

Another View of the main living room.
The Main Floor Plan of Top o Rock

The Upper Floor Plan at Top o Rock
If you would like to help with the effort to save Top O Rock, join the Facebook group HERE.

And as always, we invite you to join Southgate on Facebook.