Manasssas bookstore building eyed for landmark status

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The 108-year old Hibbs & Giddings building in Old Town Manassas is finally getting its due.

A proposal to add the structure to the city’s list of local landmarks is moving through the Manassas government and is expected to pass next month. The building and bookstore’s owner, Gary Belt, said he recently found out about the Manassas landmark list and looked for the building on it. Much to his surprise, it wasn’t there.

“I guess it just kind of slipped through the cracks and didn’t get added to the list,” Belt said. “But it’s one of the most iconic buildings in Old Town Manassas, so I contacted the city.”

City officials were just as surprised. Community Development Director Liz Via-Gossman called its absence an “oversight.”

The Renaissance Revival structure at Center and West streets was built from 1911 to 1912, when a wave of downtown construction was focused on rebuilding what was lost in a 1905 fire that devastated the area, according to the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1912, E. Humphrey Hibbs and Eugene B. Giddings moved their popular men’s clothing business into the building. It was designed by Albert Speiden, a prominent local architect who worked extensively in Manassas and Washington at the time. He also designed the Old Town Hall and his residence on Battle Street, now 100 years old.

Manassas Communication Coordinator Lisa Sievel-Otten’s 2016 book “Manassas” noted that the store was part of a booming trend. “Hardware, clothing and beloved department stores like Hynson’s and Hibbs and Giddings made Manassas a shopping destination,” she wrote.

Hibbs & Giddings closed in the 1980s, and the building was used as a beauty salon and fabric store before becoming RW Books and finally Prospero’s. Belt bought the building in 2008.

He called Prospero’s a community gathering spot, hosting readings and sponsoring local authors.

“Nobody’s going to go to the Carribean owning a used bookstore, but if you walk into Prospero’s and you look around, you look at the building, you just have to say to yourself ‘This is where a bookstore belongs,’” Belt said.

The structure’s brick facade was restored and repainted in 2013, but Belt says that the building still features its original hardwood flooring, chandeliers and pressed tin ceiling.

According to the city’s Historic Review Board recommendation, the building meets five of eight criteria for local landmark designation. Having been recommended for landmark status by the city’s Architectural Review Board, the proposal will go to the city council for approval in the coming weeks.

Belt, who owns several other historic buildings around the region, says he has no plans to sell the property or make any big changes. The bookstore business is tough, he says, but worth it in Manassas.

“I’ve never regretted having purchased the bookstore,” he said. “It’s a mainstay of the community.”

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