2015 Sees Loss of Striking, Memorable Top 0 Rock

By Rachael, AmeriCorps VISTA & Kelli Shapiro, PhD, AmeriCorps

With heavy hearts, we mourn an iconic property in Charleston that fell to the wrecking ball. The 1968 Top 0 Rock, considered a masterpiece of modernist, organic architecture, was torn down on September 15, 2015. It came as a surprise to many to hear of the demise of the six-story, 10,000-square-foot, hillside building – the home and studio of architect Henry Elden, who designed more than 800 buildings across West Virginia.

For people who lived and grew up in the Charleston area, looking up at the stunning structure was part of the ritual of driving along the Kanawha River. The circular building, built out of wood, steel, and glass, sat atop a rocky ridge – perched strategically for everyone to see as they travelled along the river. Many dreamed of living there, or of just visiting to overlook the Kanawha Valley from the 6,000 square foot cylindrical studio that gave Top 0 Rock its distinguished elegance.

The demolition followed several years of vacancy and deterioration (after Elden’s 2009 death and the property’s 2011 sale), a period capped off by major vandalism in 2014. In early 2015, PAWV named Top 0 Rock one of the two inaugural properties on its new Buildings at Risk Register (BARR), and other groups also made concerted preservation efforts (including a design competition to find potential adaptive reuses for the unique structure). However, insistng restoration costs were financially unfeasible, the owner chose to demolish – causing a very unfortunate loss to West Virginia’s built heritage. There is still no word about future plans for the site.

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