Anatomical Theatre Inspection Report

“I should call your attention to the fact that— ‘The Life of a Building’— is prolonged in proportion to the care taken of it.” C. H. Read, Jr., December 15, 1893. [1]

University of Va,
Decr 15th, 1893.
To the Board of Visitors, University of Va.

In response to a call from the Superintendent
of Grounds & Buildings, Profr W. H. Echols, I have today
visited and inspected the Medical Building on West Range,
regarding which some questions have been raised as to its stability
& safety; & would hereby make my report as to the condition
I found the Building in, and submit as the result my
opinion on the points in question.

With the assistance of Mr Echols, two lines of levels
were run around the Building with an accurate field instrument
about Eight ft apart & through that part of the building
to which attention had been called as showing weakness in the
external walls. Sight lines were also taken on brick courses
at lower levels, & in both cases by both instruments & Eye the
walls were found to be exceptionally true for a building of
this character, & no indications whatever were found either in
the exterior, or interior basement walls of settling. No cracks
were discovered that seemed to indicate that the walls were not
abundantly able to safely carry all floor & roof weights that
it is probable they will ever be called upon to bear.

The front, rear, & side walls are practically plumb, as
well as absolutely level on joint beds, up to the offset from
an 18 inch to a 13 inch wall on the level of the second story
floor. Above the point on the Front (or East side) of the
Building, the wall dishes inward towards the top, & had done
so when the roof was put on, as is shown by the thickening of
the wood casing at the center & bottom of the Freize [sic].

At the rear (or west side) of the building, there is an
outward bulge about the level of the Third story floor, but
both of these deflections from vertical planes have been known
to exist for some time, the former Superintendent Maj. Peyton
having noticed them twenty five years ago & had a careful examination
by competent experts made, which resulted in a favorable
report as to their stability and strength, though not
exactly true in their lines.

The present Supt Mr Echols, on having his attention
called to these deflections about a year ago, took accurate
observations with a plumb bob & has recently repeated them
without being able to find that the slightest change had
taken place.

The face of the north wall shows also some departure
from a true vertical, but there is no sign that this is of
recent date.

The above stated facts would seem therefore to agree
that the upper part of the building was not built to true
lines when originally constructed about sixty years ago, &
the fact that there are no interrior [sic] brick walls above the
Basement, nor any pilasters on the outside or inside to
stiffen the long reaches of about forty ft.& help to keep
them true; would itself account for the present condition
the walls are in. As there are no external signs of any
changes in the position of the walls since it was erected
that can be detected, I am of the opinion that the Building
is as safe now as it has ever been, & that with the proper
amount of care & looking after needful to the preservation
of all building property; can be kept so for an indefinite
number of years.

I would recommend the pointing of the joints that have
come out, & the filling & grading at north rear corner so as
to divert all surface water away from the foundation walls.

Having found no just cause for any apprehension from
an external examination of the building, attention was next
turned to the interior construction with the following result.

Above the basement floor the entire interior of the Building
is of frame construction, the middle portion of the floors
being carried by joists resting on strong girders of short
spans, which are supported by stout wooden columns, the lowest
series of which rest on brick partition walls in the Basement.

These columns were tested and found to be in true vertical
lines over each other, thereby answering any questions as
to the shifting of floor timbers and floor [wads?] from their
proper supports so as to have had any part in producing the
departures from plumb lines in the brick walls heretofore referred

The Girders running north and south, & carrying the
floor joists were found to rest square on their beds, nor was
any “twisting” found to exist except that of some light ¾
inch warped casing, which on being taken off exposed the girder
in good order & proper position.

The roof construction is a simple deck and hipped roof
sufficiently tied together to keep from spreading. Four stout
posts resting almost directly on the line of column & girder
construction below act as auxiliary supports for the deck portion
of the roof. I advise that these four posts be braced &
trussed together as a stile from their protection against any
unusual wind pressure or snow load.

The chimney that has been built for the Furnace flue from
the Basement up through the roof, was built independent of the
rear wall. The footings of this chimney rest partly on the
heel course of the rear wall of the building.

When it began to settle, as all new brick work may be
expected to do, it parted away from the rear wall, cracking
the plaster in the corners where it adjoined the rear wall
through each of the three upper stories & shows a settlement
on these floors of from 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch.

In the basement a rotation & sliding away from the rear
wall shows itself until the chimney & rear wall have become
entirely separated. The rear wall of the building does not
appear to have suffered in any way from the settling of _____

This chimney should be taken down & rebuilt on a foundation
entirely independent of the walls of the building.

The foundation should be of concrete of sufficient size
to carry, not more than two to two & one half tons to sq. ft
bearing surface.

The bricks now in this chimney are of inferior quality
& should be replaced with first class hard brick, laid in
strong cement mortar and well hammered down with close joints
to reduce any settling to a minimum.

The cracks shown in the joints between stud & brick walls
(as shown in the plastering), are nothing more than what might
be expected at the unions of old well settled brick walls &
new frame studd [sic] partitions. These cracks should be pointed
up, as they have in all probability by this time reached their
extreme limit.

In closing my report, it is, I think, proper that I should
call your attention to the fact that—”The Life of a Building”—
is prolonged in proportion to the care taken of it. This
applies not only to replacing from time to time what is worn
out on the inside by use of it.

The elements are always on the watch to get in their work
of disintegration on the outside of some neglected opening or
crevices from the highest coping to the lowest foundation stone,
& a careful supervision that will foresee & prevent it will not
only lessen the “Expense of Repairs”, but tend also to preserve
& prolong the Life, Safety & Stability of the old University

All of which is respectfully submitted.

C. H. Read, Jr
Architect. [2]

  1. University of Virginia, Board of Visitors. Minutes, December 5, 1893, 354-355. Retrieved from
  2. University of Virginia, Board of Visitors. Minutes, December 5, 1893, 350-355.


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