MAN ABOUT TOWN: Ugliest Building Contest Winners

man-about-townBy the time I was 4 years old I knew I wanted to be an architect. Buildings were very important to me, and I worked on them daily, using my set of wood blocks. And building was in my genes – my great grandfather was involved in building New York City’s first skyscraper – the “Flatiron” Building, and my grandfather was construction superintendent for Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. Most recently, my eldest daughter helped with construction of 400 West Broad St., the elegant home of PNC Bank and Vantage Fitness.

Trouble is, I can’t draw a straight line, so architecture as a career went out the window. But I still have a great interest in buildings, and therefore am pleased to anounce the winners of the City of Falls Church Ugliest Building Contest.

Criteria: To qualify as one of the City’s ugliest buildings requires more than plain, abject ugliness. To take home the prize, the building must be particularly repulsive in relation to its purpose. For example, there are plenty of ugly car repair shops, with old tires and scrap heaps in the driveway, but that’s not out of character with a garage and doesn’t win the ugly award. In order to win – well, just look at the pictures, and you’ll get the idea.

Oh, by the way, the following sometimes brutal criticism is in no way intended to cast aspersions on any of the people who may happen to work in these buildings, all of whom I’m sure have wonderful personalities.

5th Place: Inns of Virginia, 421 W. Broad St.


This building barely made the cut –- sure, it’s ugly, but not that ugly. As an office building it wouldn’t qualify. But as a “hotel” – and I use that word only because it appears four times on the front of the building – it is hideous. A hotel should be inviting to the stranger. This is no hotel – it’s a “motel” in the worst sense of the word. There’s not even a front door or a front window – only a drive-in. This motel is so uninviting that no one even bothered to name it. I used to think it was “Hotel 421,” but it’s not. All we know is that it’s part of the “Inns of Virginia” chain. Pity the unknowing traveler booking at the “Inns of Virginia,” expecting some kind of Monticello atmosphere, only to drive into this dark hole.

4th Place: Eye Care/Foot Care, 901 W. Broad St.



Driving west on Broad, there are lots of shabby, converted houses for palm readers, used clothing, old furniture, and the like. But that’s the kind of business you expect in an old house and so they fail to qualify for an ugly award. Doctors’ offices don’t have that excuse. I was looking for the best example of an ugly converted house on Broad Street and when I got to 901, I didn’t even bother to look further. The front façade, at first glance, is mighty ugly but not remarkable. Only when you realize that the brick vestibule is attached to a house can you fully appreciate how hideous a monstrosity has been created. The old house was a legitimate structure; grafting the misshapen “office” on front deserves jail time.

3rd Place: Antronics TV, 800 S. Washington St.



I’m really conflicted over this building. On the one hand, it could be a strong contender for the ugliest building in Northern Virginia. On the other hand, it is so unique that it probably requires permission from a heritage society to knock it down. The neon “TV” sign glimmering through the brick lattice work is errily original, in a Bates Motel sense. This building is probably as historic as anything from the 1950s gets. Do you really think a TV repaired at this shop could tune in anything other than “Andy Griffith,” “I Love Lucy,” or “Gunsmoke”?

2nd Place: HL Seafood, 315 S. Maple Ave.


Architecturally, you might argue that this building is too plain to win an ugliness award. You would be right, except that they sell food here. This is more than unattractive – it’s unappetizing. The glass storefronts are painted over with whatever color happened to be in various cans. True, the building has a certain symmetry, with three front doors. If we had an Ugly Door Contest, which would you choose?

1st Place: Guess From This Picture


Hint: the building is in the center of town, serves as a landmark, and formerly housed one of the City’s most important institutions. This is the front view from Broad Street (could the rear look any worse?) of the west corner.

Just in case you need another hint, here’s a fuller Broad Street view:


That’s right, it’s the old Post Office. Maybe not the ugliest building in town architecturally, but contrasted with what the City of Falls Church Post Office SHOULD look like, it wins the prize. And just because the Post Office has moved to the Flower Building doesn’t get it off the hook, because the building is still here, it’s still in the center of town (where the Post Office SHOULD be),  and it’s still used by the Postal Service. Worse, the sign still says Post Office.

So there you have the City’s five ugliest buildings, or at least my view of the five most unappealing, inappropriate structures for the businesses they house. Thoughts?

MAN ABOUT TOWN appears Mondays in The Falls Church Times.

July 20, 2009 


25 Responses to “MAN ABOUT TOWN: Ugliest Building Contest Winners”

  1. David Chavern on July 20th, 2009 9:20 am

    Great list. I personally would have gone for #2 or #4, but it is a good starter list. There are lots of other possible candidates.

    It always kills me when people say that our commercial areas are “quaint.” This is a great community — with a core of great, committed people. However, large stretches of our commercial areas have all of the physical “quaintness” of Tijuana at 5 AM. We can, and should, do better.


  2. Tony Starks on July 20th, 2009 9:28 am

    I don’t know. I think the ugliest building has to be the comm. building on rt.29 west bound side, just before you leave the City

  3. Andy Rankin on July 20th, 2009 4:30 pm

    Pretty good. I think technically your winner should be disqualified though. With the move of the retail component the old post office is now just a postal sorting facility – and that building seems to be appropriate for such a purpose. Now, if you added location to your criteria (i.e. is our main commercial corridor a good place for a postal sorting facility?) you’d have a winner.

    When will we get the list of to 5 best looking buildings in town?

  4. George Southern on July 20th, 2009 5:04 pm

    Andy, I agree with you — as a postal sorting facility, the building is not objectionably ugly. But yes, location very much entered the equation, and I think of the intersection of Broad and Little Falls as about as close to the real center of town as you can get — just down from City Hall, on the main drag. If the City has 4 “corners,” this is one of them. The City Post Office should be on a main “corner.” So — awarding the postal facility the #1 Ugly prize was pure spite.

    Best looking building list is in the works.

  5. Brian Williams on July 20th, 2009 7:35 pm

    Good list, George. I’ve always kind of liked the TV one — just because it’s so odd. It’s certainly not pretty, though. Our office looks out on the HL Seafood building and it’s a rough view to try to enjoy all day.

    I really hope the old post office building is replaced within a reasonable time frame — and maybe with some wider sidewalks to take advantage of the location.

    I look forward to the best looking list!

  6. Gina Caceci on July 20th, 2009 8:57 pm

    Oh, you have hit a nerve with me! I agree with all of your choices and would like to nominate some others. “George Mason Square” which is the prison-looking structure at the intersection of Routes 7 & 29 (Broad & Washington). Someone told me that the arches and brick “thing” across the front were ADDED to the original design! Supposed to make it look BETTER! And let’s not overlook all of the hideous buildings at ALL of the “gateways’ into Falls Church…let me TRY to list them….The “Washington Diamond” building coming down Rt 7 from Tysons; the overgrown and STILL vacant Pearson Funeral Home; the “auto alley” of stores along Route 29 coming in from Fairfax County; the multi-colored Mexican restaurant on Hillwood….

  7. Marybeth Connelly on July 20th, 2009 10:09 pm

    Here’s one more: I often describe the office building on Rt. 29 between Marshall and George Mason as “the ugliest office building in America” This description works because my out-of-town visitors never miss the landmark, and always know where to turn to get into our neighborhood.

  8. Dave Eckert on July 21st, 2009 12:54 am

    Perhaps even more interesting than the ugliness of the 5 buildings are the reasons behind how they got so ugly. From these reasons, we can learn how to prevent such monstrosities from happening in the future…and they make for great community stories. The old Post office is a perfect example. The answer is hidden in a letter by the daughter of Joseph Riley and is located in the Mary Riley Styles Virginia Room. A free DVD about Falls Church history is waiting for the person who finds the letter and discovers this hidden history of the Falls Church Post Office. This Post Office history is not written in any of the Falls Church history books, but it has an important lesson for Falls Church. (written from Corvallis, Oregon)

  9. Rob on July 21st, 2009 7:54 am

    Post Office should have made the list twice – the dead flower building is undoubtedly the ugliest building built in Virginia in 2008/9.

  10. vlfrance on July 21st, 2009 2:38 pm

    HL Seafood isn’t just ugly, but looks as if the health dept should make a visit…

    And the post office building will be gone soon enough. We’ll all disagree on whether the post office’s new location is in a best or worst building. I’m in the camp of liking the flower building. And the tv building? I like it for the kitschyness – I even included it in photographs I took of “old” Falls Church for to chronicle distinctive buildings in a time warp.

    And as an aside to your commentary, but on buildings…I walked by the Read Bldg on my way to an appt in the Spectrum building yesterday. Both are new buildings but with damage already. The overhang over the PNC branch is in a bad state with water damage. The Spectrum building just seems to have some shoddy work. This is not good and I hope won’t be true with all our new buildings. Just my opinion.

  11. Emily H. on July 21st, 2009 6:18 pm

    Why is it that if the Antronics TV repair building were in Charlottesville, some hip young person would turn it into a restaurant. The same would be true with the Art Deco building that houses the yellow cabs on Washington Street. Why does that not happen here?
    Also, can we hold nominations for the ugliest place in Falls Church? Seven Corners could compete at the national level. Ah, home sweet home.

  12. TFC on July 21st, 2009 7:08 pm

    I was by the cab depot today. I remember when it was a car dealer and the building was way cool to me as a kid. It could be cool again with lots of ideas and the money to back the ideas. A good sand blasting of the facade would do wonders.

  13. Barry Buschow on July 22nd, 2009 9:43 am

    No fair, Dave E knows all the answers…..Most of these buildings and others on our main streets route 7 and 29 were built in the 50’s after taking down nice old homes that today could have made us a Cape May, well maybe not that good, but real nice homes. Check the Virginia Room for some great pictures of how it was before By Right construction consumed our city. Another little fact, when the Post Office needed a parking lot, the city bought the adjacent tract of land, before Annandale route was cut throught, the land is now the parking lot And Big Chimney’s Park…….

  14. sally brett on July 22nd, 2009 11:41 am

    What is it that the City has planned for the old Post Office? A parking lot? gee, what a difficult choice: more asphalt or more ugliness?

  15. Barry Buschow on July 22nd, 2009 4:20 pm

    Your not up on the City Center….A new Bowling Alley so we can tear down the old one and build a Monster apartment building to block the sun from Big Chimney’s Park……….

  16. Jonathan Smythe on July 22nd, 2009 8:58 pm

    Barry – sounds like you’re not up to date either. As I understand it, Atlantic’s deal with the bowling alley is over absent city staff and commission approval by sometime later this year. Without financing, city center is over. The only question is what the city does with the condemned land. I think the city should move forward with the street realignments such as Little Falls to Annandale and Gibson St. Extended so that we are ready when the next development opportunity comes around.

  17. Barry Buschow on July 22nd, 2009 9:28 pm

    I believe the approval Atlantic received is good for 3 years. The owner of Bowl America is good friends with the owner of Atlantic…so that can be easily done again. Atlantic is not done yet. Plus what about the city land that we gave Atlantic. Do we get it back??? Podolnick property next to the Post office…….My friend, only Atlantic knows what is next. The question is will the city buy it again?????

  18. no on July 22nd, 2009 11:40 pm

    The ugliest building by far is the flower monstrosity where the new post office is located. Everyone I talk to, including all those who are not Falls Church natives, upon seeing that building gasp and say “That’s the ugliest building I’ve ever seen.” The other new constructions in Falls Church are not far behind in terms of being ugly. Why a city would move away from classic elegant, colonial style to an awful mix of art deco wanna be and who knows what else, we’ll never know.

  19. Charlie Anderson on July 23rd, 2009 12:13 am

    Dear No:

    Classic elegant! Please. This place is a hodgepodge mismatch of styles that fit only the developer at the time or an expansion of a building with no forethought (#4 on this list is an excellent example).

    The flower building is a wonderful addition and adds something interesting to what is, aside from the historical properties, a mishmash of ugliness and poor architecture.

  20. Mary Lynn Hickey on July 23rd, 2009 11:59 am

    It seems that no one has a neutral opinion about the flower building. Without hesitation, reservation or apology, I love the LEED Gold certified flower building!

  21. Pat on July 23rd, 2009 4:28 pm

    I’ve watched the city planning documentary on channel FCPA TV a couple of times. I’ve also watched some on the history of the Clarendon corridor on channel ACPA TV. One of elements of good city planning mentioned is incorporating architectural elements from current buildings into new ones. I guess these buildings would be the exception to that rule. I think Pearson Square, th Reid Building and Broadway do a better job at this than the Flower building. Since it stands out on it’s own, it reminds of the “Blue Goose” building at the corner of Glebe and Fairfax Drive in Arlington. For a while, the county was trying to knock it down. Now it belongs to Marymount and has been saved from the wrecking ball. I’m willing to bet the Antronics building had its admirers at one time. It could use a face lift. Kind of reminds me of the Dan Cain Building in Arlington.

  22. Pat on July 23rd, 2009 4:42 pm

    I think Anthony’s Restaurant could make the list.

  23. vlfrance on July 24th, 2009 3:03 pm

    I think if the Read Bldg was placed next to the flower building, the latter wouldn’t stand out so much…they are basically the same architectural style. I don’t want to see 20 different architectural styles on the main drag, but I’d like some differences for visual interest.

  24. Ben Morris on July 27th, 2009 4:33 pm

    One building that is fine/non-offensive architecturally, yet needs mention, is the Technology Catalysts building on Park (I think I have the name correct, but going on memory). I have two issues with that building:

    1) They have cheap looking yard signs telling people not to park there, hardly welcoming (and parking isn’t that precious at that area, it’s not like it’s next to the metro)

    2) More importantly, there has been red spraypaint “Redrum” on the side wall for at least 2 years. Shouldn’t the city fine the building owner for not cleaning that up?

  25. Andy Rankin on July 27th, 2009 11:43 pm

    Two quick comments:

    #1) @no – I’ll weigh in as someone who likes the Flower Building (I’m not sure I love it but I don’t hate it or think it’s ugly). You talk about “classic elegant” – which buildings are you referring to?

    As for the Podolnick property – I think technically it is currently owned by the EDA. I don’t know anything about the terms of the City Center deal but I assume that if it totally falls through the property would never transfer to Atlantic.

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