Marshall University Visual Arts Center
The Marshall University Visual Arts Center is home to the School of Art and Design, which includes galleries, classrooms, and labs. It is housed within the historic Anderson-Newcomb building, which for many years was a prominent department store. The building was constructed in 1902 and for decades was one of the premier shopping destinations in downtown Huntington. The store closed in 1996, leaving the building vacant and neglected. It was acquired by Marshall University in 2010, which embarked on a $13 million project to convert it into facilities for the College of Arts and Media. It opened for use in 2014 and was cited as an ideal model for adaptive reuse of historic structures in Huntington. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Downtown Huntington Historic District.
Backstory and Context
Around 1894, J. W. Valentine opened a successful dry goods store on 9th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues. Shortly afterwards W. H. Newcomb signed on as a business partner, and the store was called Valentine & Newcomb. Business flourished so well that in 1902 the partners constructed a new, much larger building between 9th and 10th Streets. The spacious brick building was designed in the Chicago style and originally had three stories. Valentine sold his half of the business in 1907 to a W. H. Newcomb, and the store was subsequently renamed the Anderson-Newcomb Co. The building underwent several expansions in the following decades, including the addition of three more floors in 1920.
For a number of years Anderson-Newcomb was among the most popular department stores in downtown Huntington. It was also a very progressive store; it was the first business in Huntington to use a delivery wagon, delivery truck, passenger elevator, telephone switchboard, and paid vacation time for employees. By 1948 the store was leasing space at the nearby Frederick Hotel building where it ran an employee cafeteria, fur vault, and a 200-seat auditorium. In 1970 Anderson-Newcomb was purchased by Stone & Thomas, a regional department store chain based in Wheeling. The store continued to perform well initially; however, it was hit hard by the opening of the Huntington Mall during the 1980s. The Stone & Thomas store lingered on much longer than other businesses in downtown Huntington did, but in 1996 it finally closed.
Following the departure of Stone & Thomas the Anderson-Newcomb building sat vacant for many years. It slowly deteriorated and turned into an eyesore. In 2010 it was purchased by Marshall University for $750,000 with the idea of turning it into a hub for the school’s College of Arts and Media. The proposal was approved by the Board of Governors in 2013 and a $13 million project was launched to renovate the structure. Edward Tucker Architects Inc. designed the new changes while construction work was carried out by Neighborgall Construction. Most of the building’s interior had to be gutted, although a chimney and parts of the original flooring were preserved. Sixty-five tons of steel were installed to provide stabilization. The refurbished facility opened in September 2014 as the Marshall University Visual Arts Center. The project was hailed by many as an excellent example of adaptive reuse to bring new life into old urban buildings.
The Visual Arts Center contains classrooms, workspaces, galleries, and offices for the students and faculty of the College of Arts and Media’s School of Art and Design. This includes facilities for students to work with mixed media, videography, photography, painting, drawing, weaving, and ceramics. Interestingly, Marshall’s visual arts program was instituted in 1902, the same year that the Anderson-Newcomb Building was constructed. A display near the front entrance exhibits some artifacts and memorabilia from the building’s days as a department store. In 2019 the Brad D. Smith Business Incubator, an institution established to foster and support the growth of new businesses, opened on the first floor of the center.
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