RICHMOND, Va. — Along a stretch of Hanover Avenue, one block is now a boulevard of broken hearts. Handmade notes read like sympathy cards.
David Robinson is still processing the destruction of a Richmond landmark.
“I can’t recall seeing a memorial like this in Richmond for anything,” said David. “The thought of losing this building was not comprehensible to me.”
For 111 years, William Fox Elementary welcomed generations of students. On this day, chain link is keeping people out.
“This is like going into the middle of Richmond’s fan and ripping out the heartbeat,” described David.
On Feb.11, this hub of education for 360 boys and girls erupted into an inferno.
“Some of the most fantastic fire scenes filmed in the city of Richmond. Lit up the night sky,” said David.
Roaring flames chewed through classrooms and more than a century of history.
“The power of fire. The power of anything you love so much can be taken away in an instant. Appreciate what you have. Because it might not be there tomorrow,” said David.
Charred ruins are all that remain of Fox Elementary.
“The hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that went in have completely ruined everything on the first floor. The second floor completely gutted,” David explained. “Everything except the wall is going to needed to be torn away.”
The fire is leaving the student body, teachers and an entire neighborhood stunned.
“We’re in the heart of Richmond. We’re in the heart of the fan. This area grew up around this school,” said David.
He didn’t earn his diploma inside, but his roots run deep. “My DNA is here,” said David.
David’s ancestor, Charles M. Robinson, designed William F. Fox Elementary. It was one of the dozens of schools David’s great-grandfather planned in Virginia, including Thomas Jefferson High School, John B. Cary, and Albert Hill Middle.
Fox was, and always will be David Robinson’s favorite.
“It was the most technologically advanced public school building in America. Period,” said David.
Built in 1911, for $71,000 the school was named for the city’s popular superintendent William Fawcett Fox at the turn of the last century.
“Beloved by people of all races for his vision to educate children free,” said David.
In 2011, the Richmond native delivered a speech at the school’s centennial celebration.
“When they went to that school building,” said David. “They were going somewhere special.”
David said Fox is more than just bricks and mortar.
“This fire is going to be one that thousands of people are going to be telling their children about,” said David.
Denise Kern needed to see the destruction first-hand.
“There really is no way what you felt. I think everyone was teary-eyed,” said Denise.
Denise’s daughter attended Fox, and her grandson Jackson just enrolled.
“It was heart-wrenching. I thought for the children and teachers. I thought for the whole community,” said Denise.
Jackson, who is in Ms. Taylor’s kindergarten class, will need to return to virtual learning for the foreseeable future.
“I think if they could preserve what they can it would be phenomenal,” said Denise.
Inspectors and engineers explored the shell of a once vibrant building.
“It will get immediately worse if you don’t take the immediate steps to cover that roof,” said David.
City and school leaders will eventually determine the fate of what’s left of Fox and its future.
“The story can’t end with they tore it down and put it in the dumpster,” said David.
David hopes the plan includes re-purposing what is still standing.
“This is as important a building in the city of Richmond as any other,” said David. “Charles M. Robinson would say you have to rebuild this building.”
Robinson wants one of his great-grandfather’s crowning achievements to live on as a place of learning for another century.
David said the messages left in ink and chalk at the foot of Fox speak volumes.
“I think it is like a tribute of what this building means to the community,” said David.
David Robinson believes a rebuilt William F. Fox Elementary will eventually mend many broken hearts.
“That needs to be the message to every single kid that wrote one of those hearts,” said David. “We’re not going to rip this building from your memory. We’re going to show that you can triumph over tragedy.”
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