The Blue Raccoon

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Marathon of Writing Ends
Marathon of seeking image permissions begins

Like Our Miss Brooks pictured above (in one of my fave pix of her -- the dress! the shoes! the bent arm! the pretty doze!), I spent much of Tuesday in a quasi-conscious mode; present but not quite, feeling as though encased inside one of those Jules Vernes-ian deep sea suits, you know, the kind with the round helmets. The world was blurry, muffled and in slow motion. But Rag-time In Richond: Socialists, Suffragists, Sex and Murder 1909-1911 is this much closer to reality.

Amie hauled my droopy self off to the pool, fed me, then dumped my carcass in the bed around 9 where I took the crosstown express into Nod, though dreaming of Richmond's early 20th century mayor, David C. Richardson, getting a ride in the first airplane to visit Richmond, at the 1909 State Fair, and how that must have felt for a Confederate veteran who'd probably in his life never been more than seven or eight stories high off the ground.

My two-day, three-night writing marathon has concluded, though I still have plenty left to tie up. As a very serious writer, and acquaintance of mine, wrote to me yesterday, after I wondered why I hadn't dedicated my life to, say, becoming a great canasta player: "It is an ugly and unfortunate business." And my slender volume of history is not a great academic text, it isn't Serious Literature. But it is mine, and I'm destined to the completion. There is steady stream of "T/K" coursing through, bits and pieces here and there, meaning "To Come" and now, it must, um, come, so to speak.

I must at the same time pursue rights and permissions for a number of diverse images. I have some from my own collection, but they are in various kinds of media, and none of them digital. I've been practicing avoidance on this issue, but also I couldn't really choose images until the text was done.

In the Random Notes division, I present one of the saddest images I've seen for the file of Richmond's Socio-Cultural and Physical Development -- and there is no blood, no guns, just this: a streetcar rolling across Monument Avenue on Sheppard Street. I have to thank Ray over at The Devil's Triangle, Richmond, Virginia, about this slice of Richmond that is bounded by Belmont, Kensington, Monument avenues and the Boulevard. This site is here.

This otherwise unremarkable picture just makes me sad for several reasons. First, you squint, and you could be looking at the same intersection in 2008. The built environment remains more-or-less intact, no big glaring wrecker-ball atrocities to cite.

The trolley, though, was yanked away from the city in 1949, the ripped up, paved over and burnt, just as thorough and awful as though an outside enemy had come to inflict punishment upon the city. Thing is, like the Evacuation Fire of 1865, we did it to ourselves.

The tremendous loss and wrong-headed planning that followed the elimination of this transit system is incalculable. Hard to believe, but if some form of the Richmond streetcar system had been saved until the present day, it would be 120 years old this year. You can read more of my screed about our absence of light rail transit, with more vintage images, at this location, but scroll down, here.

If, in that alternate Richmond, we'd had the presence of mind to have kept the system and improved upon it, there'd be sleek, modern, European models humming around town, along with some heritage cars (with air conditioning, I should think) much like this one.

If Richmond had maintained, expanded and remained dynamic with its transit, this city would be quite different today. Oh, to walk down along the Carytown portion of that altenrate Richmond, glimpse the headlines of their newspapers, hear the topics of their day, and see what how a contemporary transit system would have transformed this city's shape, and its self-regard.

Created in 1888, he Richmond transit system would be celebrating 120 years in 2008.

Another view, tighter on the action.

Speaking of Wrecker Ball Atrocities, on the site of a "recovering architect" I found this example of why Modernism failed the city, and the comments are worth reading too.

The before-after image is Howitzer Park at the juncture of Park and Harrison in Richmond, Virginia. Not show, I thinks its just off to the left, is the Masonic Temple that was for years VCU's theater building, with a cafeteria in the basement. The only image I've ever seen in it is in a art work by Caryl Burtner. (And even then, it wasn't the work itself, but a picture of it in Urge Magazine). That building was demolished just before I got to VCU in 1980. But I AM old enough to remember the raziug of this block for the PAC center. Sheesh. That link, but you have to scroll down to June 27, 2007, is Veritas et Venustas.

This observation pretty much nails the thing on the metaphorical noggin:

"The source of many problems with contemporary architecture is that it is easy to do. Type the desired specifications and dimensions for a building into a computer program, distort the resulting box for selected style and context, prepare the client an artist's rendering with landscaping and upper middle-class pedestrians, and voila! Clearly, this happened in Richmond to a neighborhood which should have been preserved.

What is missing in today's design is taste and talent, for which no program can substitute. Many trained architects have neither, which is why America is filling up with either dreadful pastiches of Colonial houses on the low end, or oppressive Futurama aberrations on the high end. Great design has at its soul a profound geometry and sense of proportion, the multiplicity of a building's parts made unified and coherent by the use of regulating lines in architecture. These design fundamentals are wonderfully explained and illustrated by Le Corbusier in his treatise. And until they are revived, understood and practiced, whether in traditionalist or modernist forms, the kitsch shall inherit the earth."

And now, via YouTube, we send you off with a ride through the streets of Lisbon, we'd call these Heritage Trolleys now, and in fact, the one Ms. Bocock rescued and brought back to Richmond--as a museum piece--came from here.

Then, the more contemporary styles we should have here, linking the city and outer burbs (the spread of which would've made more sense with this kind of transit and rigorous zoning). This is in Berlin, and I've ridden on these, and and they're great.

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