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Fate of Top-O-Rock unknown

By Rachel Molenda, Staff writer
KENNY KEMP | Gazette
Rodney Loftis Jr., of Rodney Loftis & Son Contractor, wouldn’t say Monday whether a contract has been signed to complete Top-O-Rock’s demolition.

The fate of Top-O-Rock is unknown as community organizers try to gather funds and resources to prevent the iconic building from being demolished.

The Gazette reported last week the building could be torn down, but Rodney Loftis Jr. of Rodney Loftis & Son Contractor — reportedly approached by the building’s owners to do the job — said Monday he would no longer publicly discuss the potential job.

“Keep your eyes on the top of the hill for the next two weeks and you’ll figure it out,” Loftis said.

Loftis wouldn’t say whether a contract has been signed to complete Top-O-Rock’s demolition.

“I have no comment,” Loftis told the Gazette Monday.

The city’s Building Commission received reports last week that the 10,000-square-foot house and studio had been vandalized. Many of its windows were broken and graffiti now covers much of the structure’s interior.

Jennifer Peters, organizer of the Save Top-O-Rock Facebook group, said a security guard has been hired to watch over the site as its owners decide what should be done there.

Hundreds of area residents — current and former — have taken to the Internet to voice their support for saving the structure often described as magnificent and called a work of art. Save Top-O-Rock’s membership has risen from more than 400 members on its first day to more than 1,300 as of Monday evening.

“I just can’t believe how many people continue to sign up and want to be a part of this,” Peters said.

Peters is in the process of using the momentum to create a nonprofit called “Friends of Top-O-Rock.” She hopes that will be the first step in saving and rehabilitating the home and a way to show the “community that we’re serious in our endeavors to save the house,” Peters said.

A GoFundMe fundraising campaign was started to raise money for cleaning up the property, as well as securing liability insurance for the nonprofit, Peters said. The campaign has raised $750 of its $5,000 goal, according to the GoFundMe webpage.

Recent college graduate and Charleston-area native Dustin Durham started an online petition last week urging its owners to reconsider demolishing the building. Durham holds a degree in architecture from the University of Tennessee and grew up in Witcher, just outside of Belle.

“It’s like the Jetson’s home in the middle of Charleston,” said Durham, who used to watch and wonder about the building while he visited his mother at work in the former Verizon building, across MacCorkle Avenue.

A self-described “architecture dork,” Durham said he was impressed by the home and the way architect Henry Elden worked the structure into the land it was built on.

“As an architecture student, that means a lot,” Durham said. “That’s something we are taught in architecture school: finding a balance between building and site — building something like it belongs where you put it.”

The petition, which has more than 400 signatures so far, is meant to show Dr. Mitchell Rashid and Kamilla L. Rashid, who purchased the building for $400,000 in 2011, and city officials that people care about Top-O-Rock’s future.

Durham, who said he has a framed sketch of Top-O-Rock hanging on his wall in Knoxville, Tennessee, said the building instills in him a sense of “civic pride” in Charleston.

“[It shows me] through design I can make beautiful things for the place and the people I love,” Durham said.

The Kanawha Valley Historic and Preservation Society is also getting involved with the movement. Board member Thom Stevens said the organization started a Top-O-Rock committee that will look at ways the home can be turned into a structurally and economically sustainable place.

Historical society president Henry Battle said history alone couldn’t save a building from demolition. A building “has to support itself. It has to have a use.”

While rallying around Top-O-Rock via social media is a great place to start, Battle said there must be follow-through.

“What we have to do is put that into effect,” Battle said. “We have to make something happen with that building.”

Peters said she spoke with the Rashids and the couple is interested in working with people to see what can be done to rehabilitate the building. But, she added that demolition isn’t off the table and depends heavily on what the Building Commission has to say about the structure. The commission last week gave the Rashids 21 days to come up with a plan for the site.

Commissioner Tony Harmon couldn’t be reached Monday for comment.

The Rashids haven’t spoken publicly about the issues at Top-O-Rock, though Peters and Durham both believe they should. The Rashids haven’t returned repeated calls for comment from the Gazette.

“I do believe it’s a really good idea they address the public,” Peters said. “It’s been long enough. People are obviously lining up to offer assistance, but we do need them to address and publicly voice their intentions.”

“If they were to release a statement, it would make not only our jobs a lot easier — those of us who want to save [Top-O-Rock] — it would be beneficial to them to know [they] have at least a couple hundred people that want to help in this endeavor,” Durham said.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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