City banks #036;100,000 to restore landmark

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Suffolk’s efforts to breathe new

life into a downtown Suffolk landmark got a boost from federal lawmakers this weekend.

The city was awarded $100,000 to restore the former Phoenix Bank of Nansemond building, 339 E. Washington St.,

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into a black history museum, U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, whose congressional district includes Suffolk, announced over the weekend.

Founded in 1911 by Dr. W. T. Fuller, the bank was opened to provide commercial banking services for the city’s black laborers and farmers. After Fuller’s death,

John W. Richardson, a janitor at the white-run American Bank and Trust Co., took over as president of Phoenix Bank.

The bank eventually fell victim to the Great Depression, closing in 1937.

In recent years, the rundown structure has been empty, with the exception of a Chinese takeout eatery that leased space.

The city bought the building for $32,000 three years ago to develop it into a museum as part of the city’s $10 million urban revitalization Fairgrounds project.

Besides showcasing contributions made by blacks in Suffolk and the former Nansemond County, the museum would feature related rotating exhibits.

Members of the 15-member Phoenix Bank committee said they were surprised by the federal grant.

&uot;I couldn’t believe it,&uot; said committee chairman Helen Daughtrey, who received the call from Forbes around 6 p.m. Saturday.

&uot;I hollered, ‘Hallelujah! Thank God for Randy Forbes!’&uot;

Committee member Lula Holland echoed similar sentiments,

&uot;I was shocked,&uot; she said.

&uot;I would have thought we might get a couple of thousand but certainly not that much.

&uot;The news took my breath away,&uot; she continued. &uot;We can’t thank Randy Forbes enough.&uot;

Earlier this year, the city received and matched a $10,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for the Phoenix Bank project.

That grant is being used to hire an architectural historian to prepare a historic structure analysis, which provides a detailed look at the building’s potential reuse purposes and identifies the integral elements of the architecture.