The Blue Raccoon

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Journey Into Richmond...And What I Found There Part VII

The story thus far: Philip Gotz, an obstreperous travel writer known for his "What I Found There" pieces detailing his five-day visits to destinations, is in Richmond, Va. The visitors bureau has assigned to him as a guide Tia Chulangong -- who pretty much has his number from the moment she meets him at the Richard Evelyn Byrd International Airport. She provides running color commentary on Richmond sights and history while riding the train to bustling Main Street Station, and from there to Gotz's accommodations. Tia, however, has informed Gotz that Jennifer Royce, his novelist ex-wife, is in town on a book tour and through a scheduling error he's booked into the Jefferson Hotel where she is also staying. The writer and his guide have now gone up to the rooftop terrace of the Jefferson, where Tia is giving Gotz a travelogue explanation of the city's sights. Gotz observes the city's bosky streets and plentiful green and open spaces, lack of automotive traffic or parking lots, the preserved historic architecture and the exile of high rise office and residential towers to the outer edges of the central metro. Tia leaves him to enjoy his first evening on the town. (Image: 400-500 blocks of West Franklin this from the north side near Belvidere, looking west, toward Monroe Park, via Library of Virginia).

"Richmond: A Laughing Matter"

All images in this section via the Library of Virginia's archived Richmond Esthetic Survey, 1965. View and weep what was, and the record of how ugly interpretations of Modernism chewed up the city's aesthetic qualites.

Gotz returned to his suite like a wary cat. Armed with this knowledge of Jennifer’s presence, he expected to see her around every corner, or the elevator door opening to reveal her. It wouldn’t be so bad. There’d been only minor bloodshed in their fight, and it got messy only toward the end, and four of their six years had been quite enjoyable. But it was that fifth year, and, oh, good God, the sixth. The whole fiasco ended in tears and lawyers.

Why Tia, this presumed efficient hospitality diva, allow this to occur? Gotz wondered if, indeed, he was as annoying as many believed. Tia couldn’t be that passive aggressive, could she? Say it ain’t so. For all she knew, Gotz could take it personal and write a fierce and vehement assessment of Richmond. Just to teach her a lesson. But he’d much prefer other methods.

Gotz arrived at his suite without incident. Perched on the soft beckoning bed he investigated the CVB gift bag feeling like a raccoon rummaging through the trash.

He formed piles on the royal blue bed covers.

Interesting: final copy of the itinerary Tia designed, the DVDs, guide books, the most recent Richmond Tempo for the what-to-do and where-to-go; Not Now: slides, brochures. Junk: Coupons. On the topmost of the first division was the DVD loaded with “trailers.” He decided to slip it into the big plasma screen machine the Jefferson hung on the bedroom wall like a magic portal. He kicked off his shoes, propped himself on pillows, and aimed the remote.

Richmond: A Laughing Matter featured a series of comedians, chosen for broadest appeal, a white guy in a double-breasted suit and tie, Jerry something, he'd have to reverse it if the name mattered; a back guy in a skull cap, Ronnie Wilcoxen; a sharp fast talking woman—Sherry Ressen he’d actually seen her on HBO— “I’m Jewish, from Richmond, Virginia, so deal with it -- ya’ll.” They were shown speaking “before live audiences” at various Richmond entertainment venues; The Laff Riot in Shockoe, Galloping Comedians downtown; and The House of Mirth on something called Staples Mill Road.

There was fun with classifieds designation about house and apartment locations. The skull-cap comedian Ron paced the stage, his temples gleaming, “ So listen up, chirrun—that’s children for you up staters—for your insider info. “ITWNRVU’ means Inside The Woods River View, or even more detailed, ITWNSRVU, Inside The Woods North Side River View, or SS, for South Side – I hear we got some South Side in the house tonight--which is where the best views are, (hoots). Inside the woods don’t mean you’re like Hansel and Gretel and you live in a gingerbread house in the forest. No, uh-huh. Means you’re rich. You are very, very rich (laughter, applause) You’re making large sums of money. That’s what it means.”

Guy in a suit, Jerry. More conversational, leaning on his mike stand:

“What comes down to is: Are you an innie or an outie? (laugher) So, if you live In The Woods, means you live in the old part of town. And if you’re a single guy trying to hook up, and she asks if you’re in the Woods or outside of the Woods, and you say,” he lifts one arm and nonchalantly scratched his neck, “Yeah, I live in the Woods,’ she’ll make this sound – they all do – “Oh,” like she just got pinched but she kinda liked it, you know? It’s weird, weird, it’s like that’s the sound you want. That little ‘Oh!’ adds a real or imagined $50,000 to your paycheck. Seriously, seriously.

But, if, like what happens to me, I say, (self-consciously rubbing his forehead) ‘Oh, I live Out of the Woods.’ (pause for effect) In Chester. (chuckles) And she makes this, ‘Ah,’ sound. Not so good. Not the sound you want. Very different from the, ‘Oh!' which is a whole tilt of the head with interest-in-you kind of thing. ‘Ah’ is you get a nod and this expression of, ‘That’s almost 15 minutes on the Centralia train. Bet he reads a lot.’

Sherry Ressen, in her floral pattered summer dress, and easy delivery. She’s quite pretty, sharp featured, long black hair that she tosses with alarming abandon.

“So my buddy comes to visit me from New York. Says he’s nervous. Says he's worried because Richmond impounds cars with out-of-state plates and fines the owners. He says this to me. So I had to, you know, talk him down, that no, we just lock up your car for your safety and ours.” (knowing laughter and big applause)

(change of angle on her)

The Car Docks. (mixed applause) Strangest thing for some people. You drive your car into this thing that looks like it was used for anti-aircraft guns during World War II, and you just leave it there.

This totally freaks people out. Totally freaks’em out.

They don’t want to leave Betsy behind, you know? Like it’s their kid: ‘Now, now, Mr and Mrs. Johnson, she’ll be completely safe in our hands.’ It’s a parking garage, not summer camp. (laughs)

Skull cap Ron:
Richmond’s missing making a mint on this whole car dock deal. We should have package plans, you know? Park in the dock and we’ll wash your car, vacuum, detail it… We could say: Leave the heap with us in North Tower and three days later you pick it up in the South Tower she’ll look like she went though an automotive self-improvement class.” I’m telling you, you could reduce our taxes his way.

Guy in suit Jerry:

Trolley cars and Richmond, Richmond and trolley cars. We love’m. We invented’m. We’re very proud of this. But after a century, you’d think we could tell you how to get someplace on one of the things. (laughter, clapping)

It’s kind of confusing. There’s a rainbow of options (holds up multi-colored route planner and lets it unfold to general amusement). It’s like there should be a leprechaun involved. (big laughter and steady applause as camera lingers on route schedule)

Skull Cap Ron:
This is what you got to know about Richmond neighborhoods. So listen up, know and learn this. I’m gonna tell you it to you straight like nobody else will. Gonna start far east, not China, but Fulton, OK?
Fulton: hippies and the black folks who tolerate them. Rocketts: tourists, gamblers and the boat crews that blow into town for the weekend push and shove, you know. Shockoe; One of Richmond’s oldest hoods, gamblers and drinkers and people who live there who’re shocked, shocked to see gambling and drinking going on. And gambling.


Church Hill: They’re on a hill and they know it. It’s old. Poe hung out on Church Hill. And Shockoe, too. See what happened? Downtown: people wandering around looking at the people wandering around, you got your students and the hipsters and the gamers and city hall stuck in the middle of it.

Highland Park and Northside: Oh, you mean there is another part of the city? We like it over here just fine. Buppies and post-graduate newlywed breeders and gays. And some of the best coffee in town. It’s true.

Skull Cap Ron:
Ginter Park: More established, upper class folks, houses big enough to need intercoms and camera systems to find your wife or husband or your kids. “Timmy, what are you doing in the garage? I can see everything. Don’t touch that. Don’t touch that, either.” (whistles, appplause)
Union Theological is there, so people are more holy, or holier than you, anyway.

And, the Fan, man, the Fan. (big reaction, whisles and hollers) Yeah. You know. Ginter University types, people that go there or people that teach there, are people who can afford the scenery, if you know what I’m saying. There's more bralessess in the Fan than anywhere in town. (laughter) You got Carytown on one end. All that stuff to buy, my wife loves it, 'nice' stuff that you put on a shelf then knock over and bust when you're playing with the soft basketball when she's away and you know you shouldn't but you do it because she's gone and you have to go buy another one of whatever it is, and, of course, the're out and won't get any more for years, and so are you, too, if you follow me. (big laughter) Manchester, yeah, Dogtown. Nothing doggy about it. Well, maybe on some streets. Artists. Fan refugees. Computer nerds. (hoots) Alright, alright, I hear ya.

And so on it went for another few minutes. A city that could laugh at itself. That was refreshing.

Gotz stood up, stretched, opened the curtain to look upon Franklin Street and the the city beyond. A human-scale city. Some higher rise buildings over on Broad and one Deco-style tower that rose above the others.

He decided to stride up a few blocks to this Monrovia place.


Franklin Street's sidealks smelled of wisteria and honeysuckle. The clots of people moving along by him were young people, laughing, there was a pleasant holiday air to the place. The grand houses, Richardson Romanesque brownstones, whimsical Queen Annes and each compelling him to stop and gander to comprehend their individual natures.

The stuccoed, somber Monrovia building's ends had high arched stained glass windows. A crayon-box color assortment of scooters clustered around the place. The placard he stopped to read indicated that from the mid-1910s on the building was the fire and police alarm station but the 1930 acquisition by the Monroe Park Improvements Commission rescued it from demolition. Subsequent purchase by various entrepreneurs followed with several incarnations of restaurants and gathering places, but as Monrovia, from 1968 on, it had become a cultural landmark. ("Monrovia" is to the left in the Monroe Park image)

Gotz was greeted in the stained glass enclosed Italianate vestibule by a smiling hostess in a tiny floral-pattered summer dress standing at a podium surmounted by a sculpted wooden eagle. She asked him Gotz if was here for dinner, and he replied just a drink or so. He entered the dim dark wooded bar adorned by onlooking oblong African masks and old photos and prints of Monrovian street scenes, intermixed with Monroe-ania. A bust of the president near the entrance wore a high purple velvet fez.

Brass wall fixtures with globe lights cast an eerie glow across the place. Gotz flashbacked on a book about ghosts that purported a photography of phantom monks going up a stair. The flash captured the deep creases of their robes and the grasp of their hands on the rail. The furnishings are random, old and plush, the tables heavy and wooden. Above stairs a small performance space, where the semi-regular house band Deadly Nightshade holds forth.

The diners and drinkers clustered in high-backed, plush cushioned booths were a mix of Ginter College students, professional bohos and tourists. Gotz checked off Monrovia in a mental box as an Richmond-centric place that suits both regulars and discerning visitors.

Deadly Nightshade’s lead singer's voice called him upstairs. Uvilla Peyton , tall, redheaded, bare shouldered in a slit-sided black dress. She had with her a tall, stout goateed upright bassist, a youthful dread locked pianist and a bald, mustached trumpeter, dressed in khakis like he'd just come off safari. Gotz wondered if his mufti somehow mattered in Monrovia.

He drank in his Glenmorangie and her, too, crooning, wailing, whispering, tossing back her head and howling then grabbing the mike and sing-speaking tales of love gone awry and bitter jagged tales of life's disappointments using a voice so soft and compelling everybody leaned forward to hear. These were mostly original songs so he didn't know any of them, and this didn't matter. For a couple of songs she sat, eyes closed and didn't move. Gotz, who'd seen cabaret performers all over the world, hadn't seen anybody quite like this. Her audience roared and stomped their feet. Gotz did, too.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

My Journey Into Richmond
And What I Found There

The story thus far: Philip Gotz, an obstreperous travel writer known for his "What I Found There" pieces detailing his five-day visits to destinations, is in Richmond, Va. The visitors bureau has assigned to him as a guide Tia Chulangong -- who pretty much has his number from the moment she meets him at the Richard Evelyn Byrd International Airport. She provides running color commentary on Richmond sights and history while riding the train to bustling Main Street Station, and from there to Gotz's accommodations. Tia, however, has informed Gotz that Jennifer Royce, his novelist ex-wife, is in town on a book tour and through a scheduling error he's booked into the Jefferson Hotel where she is also staying. The writer and his guide have now gone up to the rooftop terrace of the Jefferson, where Tia is giving Gotz a travelogue explanation of the city's sights. Gotz observes the city's bosky streets and plentiful green and open spaces, lack of automotive traffic or parking lots, the preserved historic architecture and the exile of high rise office and residential towers to the outer edges of the central metro.

Part VI

The unique, quaint and charming boutique

The terrace wended back into the café. The perspective northward was interrupted by the Jefferson’s bellevue towers and the private terraces along Franklin Street.

At the table, Gotz asked a passing waitress for another gin and tonic.

“But, so, I’m glad I have several days here. Because where I kind of like how those high rise buildings are out of the old center district of your beloved town, I wonder about that. I just wonder about it. How does the city function that way? And it seems, to me, a little contrived. Actually, a lot contrived; over-planned. Is this downtown and its satellite neighborhoods just flash frozen in 1900, or is there a street life here, is there an art life, is there some people tearin’ it up and gettin’ er done, as they say in NASCAR.”

“Oh, absolutely, and you'll be seeing plenty of that. And we got the NASCAR. Yes we do. We have a museum and everything. Which I don’t think you chose to go see.”

“Maybe. If I have time. And I won’t have time.”

Tia pursed her lips.

“I think, Tia, that you’re laughing at me.”

“I’m just sitting here.”

“And doing a find job of it, too, if may observe. I mean, I think it’s funny about the NASCAR because Richmond has waged war against internal combustion since it first showed up here.”

Tia's tongue ran along the edge of her front teeth. Gotz sighed.

She said, “Richmond’s all about contradictions.”

“ Yes! It seems so. And that’s key, I think, isn’t it? Most of what happened during the 20th century Richmond batted away. You were ahead on almost every social and civil rights issue, and then there’s the interstate highway system, the no-car downtown." 

“And there’s the car docks.”

Gotz nodded in some vague familiarity about these somewhat legendary Works Project Administration garages at the compass points of the city used for storing visitor vehicles. They served as transit stations, too. The white-shirted, bow-tied drivers for the Richmond car docks attracted the attention of the Maysles brothers who titled their documentary Valet Service.

“So how does that work, Tia? If I’m driving into Richmond from the north -- and plan on staying.”

“You go into the parking tower and nowadays a scanner reads your license plate, and on Virginia licenses there’s indication of your zip code that a machine reads, and depending on how far you’ve come, there’s a discount for your parking there. You leave your car, take the train in, and if you’re planning on leaving in a few days, you can have your vehicle transported to the other side of town and waiting for you. This discourages driving in the city, puts people in transit and on foot. So once you dock your car, and you’re here, and you find so many cool things to do, you might not be so anxious to bounce out. Which is what happens.”

“I’m supposed to see one of these, right?”

“Yes, sir. I think day after tomorrow, something like that,” she looked at her handheld device. “Yes. Actually, Sunday at 3:30, after brunch here.”

“There goes the Gallego Plaza mimes. No, no. I’m kidding. Fine, that’s fine. But -- so basically, you’ve impounded their cars to get a captive audience.”

“They’re not captives if they want to stay.”

“And they want to because of the Charming and Quaint Boutique.”

“Well, Mr. Gotz, some people like the Charming and Quaint Boutique.”

He waved his hand. “No, no, no. I don’t care about them, you don’t really care about them, the CVB has to care about them but wishes it didn’t need to. They come here, and stay their unscheduled two point five days because they see vistas and buildings and street scenes and museums and patterns of light and shadow from magnolia trees cast on brick walls that. they. can’t .get. anywhere. else. They can’t get it anywhere else. That’s what you’re selling here –and that unfortunately gets me to another word that I’ve handed its walking papers, and that is Unique.”

“So the Unique Charming Quaint Boutique -- ?”

“Yeah, I’m gettin’ me some dynamite and I’m blowin’ that sucker up.”

“H’mm – travel writer and urban terrorist.”

“Everybody needs a hobby, Tia. So, what about you? Lining up your nights, a whole glam-tastic circuit, flouncing from one dimly lit establishment to the next with perfect people making beautiful plans?”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Gotz. That’s all I do. I smoke and drink all night long, and dance on tables and bars.”

“Well, long as you have your youth and agility, I should hope so.”

She sighed. “Mr. Gotz, you’ve watched way too much Sex And The City.”

Gotz winced. “Those girls -- excuse me --  those women, never interested me.  No, really. Never once --  least when I watched it -- did they ever show the least bit of interest in art or history or books. Only if it increased their hipness quotient. Now, you on the other hand.”

Tia straightened her back, balled a fist onto her side and said in mock irritation, “So I’m not hip?”

“This is not what I’m saying.”

She waved him off. “Mr. Gotz –“


“Mr. Gotz, not that I’m not enjoying our time –“

“Oh, you’re leaving me. They always leave me.”

“Courage. Morning comes soon.”

“You going to that Mongoose place?”

“Mongoose Civique. Ah, probably not. Cruel Aztec Gods are at Tantilla Garden tonight, so I’m going with some friends.”

“Cruel Aztec Gods?”

“Uh-huh. They’re local and they’re touring, just got signed, and we love them. I used to watch them in tiny little bars in the Fan. They’re great for dancing.”

Gotz’s brows rose. Tia dancing, he imagined, arms up, elbows bent, hands in her hair, hips swaying. And he snapped back.

“Never heard of them. But the whole collection of syllables and their vibrations: the Cruel Aztec Gods at Tantilla Garden – sounds – extraordinary. Where is it?”

“Oh, west,” she raised an arm, squinted, pointed. “Thattaway. The Broad Street Five takes you right there. Great place, from the ‘30s, a ballroom. Huge. The roof rolls away on good nights. You should go there if you can before you leave. I can score tickets for you. There’s a schedule in your packet. Let me know.”

“Hum. Yes, yes. Cruel Aztec Gods. Are they, what, punk what?”

“Punk? No. They’re pretty, uh, alt rock.”

“OK, dumb question: what do they sound like?”

“That’s tough. They sound like Cruel Aztec Gods.”

“That’s not good marketing.”

“I don’t do their marketing.”

“OK, I’ll let you go. Thanks for the tours and all the stuff.”

“Oh, glad to do it and excited you’re here. I am, don't make that face. I very much apologize for the mix-up on bookings and schedules."

“I don’t blame you. It’s the Infinite Cosmic Jester who uses as punch lines for his party jokes.”

“I should’ve told you at the very beginning. I’m sorry.”

“S’okay, Tia. Truly. You read her book?”

“Um. No.”

“You should. It’s good. Somehow, her latest bad guy character isn’t based on me.”

“Well, I’m going to take my leave now,” and she settled the strap of the slick black purse on her shoulder.

“So, you going to the ‘Goose?”

“That what the hip kids call that place down there?”

“Some of the hip kids.”

“I may, I may. I think I’m going to study some of the material you’ve helpfully given me, too.”

“The CVB DVD has a few shorts, sort of Richmond trailers, with different approaches. You might try that for fun.”

“I will.”

“OK. Have a good evening,” and she shook his hand and he watched her undulant departure with avid interest over his lifted glass.

The pianist played Gershwin.

Notes: The concept of automobile "docks" was proposed in the 1960s when architect Louis I. Kahn attempted to "pedestrianize" midtown Philadlephia. I'm wholesale stealing the idea and putting it 30 years earlier for advanced alternate reality Richmond. If such a system was in place from the mid-1930s on here, it'd be just part of living and viewed as a Richmond eccentricity.

The image of Tantilla Garden comes from and I also wrote about the place in True Richmond Stories.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My Journey Into Richmond
And What I Found There

The story thus far: Philip Gotz, an obstreperous travel writer known for his "What I Found There" pieces detailing his five-day visits to destinations, is in Richmond, Va. The visitors bureau has assigned to him as a guide Tia Chulangong -- who pretty much has his number from the moment she meets him at the Richard Evelyn Byrd International Airport. She provides running color commentary on Richmond sights and history while riding the train to bustling Main Street Station, and from there to Gotz's accommodations. Tia, however, has informed Gotz that Jennifer Royce, his novelist ex-wife, is in town on a book tour and through a scheduling error he's booked into the Jefferson Hotel where she is also staying. The writer and his guide have now gone up to the rooftop terrace of the Jefferson, where Tia is giving Gotz a travelogue explanation of the city's sights.

Conclusion: Part VI

View From The Terrace Part II

“Let’s sort of start east and work our way west.”


At the far east, the Great Turning Basin of the James River and Kanawha Canal and the Gallego Plaza with its extensive marble, stone, and iron loggias, grand stairways, arcades and colonnades. From their perspective, the turning basin shone like a mirror tilted toward the sun. The Northbank Esplanade begins there.

Tia said, “People love Gallego Plaza, You should go like on a Sunday—work off your gi-normous Jefferson brunch—there’s concerts, or the street musicians and performers all the time, to eat lunch, get pictures taken. It’s lovely all the time.”

“Silver people?”


“Do you have mimes there, in Gallego Plaza.”

“I think we may have mimes. You can’t keep them away from a public plaza. It attracts the mime action.”

“Sort of like pigeons.”

“Sort of, but not as messy. Any-way, so the boat you’ll take comes up through here, and along Gambles Hill. The neighborhood is named for the family and their house,” she pointed to a stuccoed neoclassical pile, “and it’s great to walk through because of the wrought iron porches and fences everywhere, and the views of the river from the park are pretty incredible.”

“Can’t be much better than here.”

“But you can see the river and the rapids. Below the hill, also on the canal, is the restored Tredegar Iron Works and the National Civil War Center and Museum. You want to understand what it was all about, you can’t go wrong.”

“On my list.”

He straight away noticed the battlements of an apparent small fort.

“That’s Pratt’s Castle,” she began.

Landscape designer, architect, and photographer William Abbott Pratt constructed his curious house around 1853. Pratt took the last known picture of Edgar Allan Poe when he was in Richmond before he went to Baltimore and never came back. That single association with Poe laid the groundwork for lore telling how the place was inspiration for the House of Usher or other stories, though Poe was long dead when he built the residence. Pratt’s Castle became one of Richmond’s most legendary buildings and during the late 19th century visitors photographed it more than Jefferson’s State Capitol.

“Sometimes you’ll hear it called “Pratt’s Folly,” because of how it’s behind the big Harvie-Gamble House. Like in Europe, a wealthy 19th century estate owner might construct a faux ruin in the gardens—a folly.”

“So can I move in and live there?”

“No, well, you could stay there a few nights, it’s a bed and breakfast, and there’s a small restaurant on the roof. Pricey but the view is awesome.”

Gotz from his perch was impressed by the bosky quiet of Richmond’s streets, its open places and park. Tia related the pride of the city in its “arboreal husbandry,” and she stated this absent any trace of irony. She was, after all, in marketing.

A city landscaping and design office opened around 1910. She further explained how a team of professionals responsible for the health and well-being of the urban forests shares that responsibility with the state, in maintaining The Woods. The extensive James River Parks System, with the only Class V rapids in a U.S. downtown, is the center of sports events and river enjoyment.

“We have bald eagles nesting out there, otters and herons, and even the sturgeon are coming back.”


“Yup. But not like the big boys from John Smith’s days, and even into the late 19th century, when they were 15 feet long and weighed hundreds of pounds. The farmers markets here used to sell caviar.”

“You know, I’m standing here, and in most other cities -- at least in this country -- I think I’d see lakes of asphalt for parking.”

“Not in Richmond, no.”

“Where’d they all go?”

Tia clasped her hands on the rail. “They didn’t go anywhere because we never really had them. The city has remained from the beginning anti-car, pretty much, especially downtown.”

“I’m sure that’s been a fight.”

“Oh, yeah. Well. Not so much these days – people have kind of gotten used to it.”

Gotz watched as a commuter train slid along near the river, and another raised tram ran toward the distant towers. A few cars moved on the streets, but what he noticed were people walking and asphalt biking paths embedded in the sidewalks.

The silhouettes of clouds slide across the city like parade balloons.

He said something, but the wind took it away, “Say again,” she asked.

“Thinking out loud. I said, ‘Urbane pastoral.’ Conjuring titles and subheads and subjects.”

“’Urbane pastoral. That’s ‘town and country.’”

“Rather reductive! Words have shades and resonances.”

“Oh, I know, but I’m in marketing, which is the communications business, and if we don’t communicate, there’s no business.”

“Town and country sounds far more hokier than this looks.”

“I’ll buy that,” she said.

Tia spoke next about the eastern swale by Gamble’s Hill, Harvie’s Canal Basin, an intermediate staging area for canal boats in their travels. “If your boat that you’re going to take is scheduled to meet another boat coming down from the west, then, what you’ll do is kind of hang out at Harvie’s, and there’s a restaurant and a bar there, and you can watch the other one go and then you start up again.”

“This really will be a slow boat, huh?”

“Which is why people take it. So, right around there, is where the state penitentiary used to be, and now there’s a park, and a memorial wall with the names of the people who died there—naturally or otherwise, including those who were killed by the death penalty.”

“Which you don’t have anymore.”

“Not since the 1930s. It’s probably in your information.”

“Richmond’s got this…thing, right? Museums to slavery, the Civil War and a park about the death penalty. Guilt’s like fertilizer around here.”

“At least we own up to it.”

“But I mean, join a 12-step or something.”

“I’d rather have a park or a museum than go to meetings, Mr. Gotz.”

He chuckled. “Wouldn’t we all.”

The William Mahone Bridge cut across into old town Manchester. Spread along the south bank bluffs a tall grove of upscale hotels. Signs announced Hilton, Marriott, and Omni. Down the hillside a building notable for its contemporary sleekness, “That’s the convention center,” Tia said.

“Looks like it’s about ready to launch into the river.”

“Yeah, some people call it The Mayor’s Yacht.”

“Why’s that?”

"Mayor Carruthers, who really wanted it at that place, and there was a big argument about its cost, and who built it. Typical stuff. But it’s great, and people love it.”

Nearby was one of the strangest buildings Gotz had seen since arriving in Richmond. First, it wasn’t 175 years old, and he recognized the unusual sweep of its lines from photographs. “That’s Richmond Symphony Space?”

“Yes. By Jamgochian, who also designed the airport, among other things.”

“What do you think of it, non-marketing aside.”

“I think that some people say it looks like the sound of an orchestra reaching a crescendo. I know, because I’ve heard him speak, that Mr. Jamgochian was inspired by the James River and the spray and rush of the rapids. Besides that, it’s a very cool place to go into and listen to music. One of the most acoustically perfect rooms in the country. Now, speaking of Mr. Jamgochian, you can’t see it so well from here, but sort of left of the hotels and all that, you can see this kind of stick figure tree building. With its branches coming out. Do you see? There?”

Gotz leaned forward, peering, and yes.

“It’s like, you’re right, some kid’s drawing of a tree.”

“Jamgochian designed that in the mid-1960s and wanted to put it on a piece of property he owned right next to the Garden Club of Virginia’s building – the Kent-Valentine House. Well, the city council wouldn’t approve it, because the preservationists were really opposed to this, even though people said they liked it. A developer saw the proposal photograph in the paper, and when council denied it, he said: build on my land. It was Mr. Jamgochian’s first commission. And it opened Richmond up to modern architecture.”

“Happy ending.”

“He also designed several of the residential high rises, over there, in Parnell and Broad Rock, you can see one – looks like a flying saucer landed on it.”

“Yes. You’re right. Let me guess. Revolving restaurant.”

“Doesn’t revolve, but it’s a restaurant, ‘Top of the Tower,’ and it’s big on prom nights and for weddings. Now, here, running north south, is Belvidere Street,” and she passed her hand over a tumble of brick and frame houses, some two stories, humble and all old. “This is Oregon Hill, so-called, because as you can see, there’s Gamble’s Hill over there, and what was then a huge ravine, and before the roads were put in, when you moved to this side of town, it was like going to the Oregon Territory.”

The community, she explained, sprung up as worker’s housing for the nearby Tredegar Iron Works. At the center, cloaked behind a wall of green and other houses, the Belvidere Plantation of Willam Byrd III, and kept now by the National Park Service. Byrd’s grandfather was given much of the land upon which the father founded the city. Belvidere was built in 1755 though Third Byrd didn’t spend much time in it, as he was off having military adventures and gambling away the inheritance of his far more industrious ancestors. His first wife went nuts and may have killed herself, just as Byrd did in 1777, at his ancestral Westover Plantation, east of the city.

“What trouble was he in that he did that?” Gotz asked.

“Money and scandal.”

“Finest kinds.”

“Except that he got so deep in debt that he auctioned his land – Almost everything you can see from here. And, during the Revolution, he wouldn’t join either side. That didn’t do much for his popularity.”

“I guess so.”

“But the house survived, more-or-less, it’s kind of an on-going archaeological and restoration project. Your slow boat will stop there, and you can go there and to Hollywood Cemetery. And they have a tram that takes you around. Seriously, though, there are presidents, governors, writers, and 18,000 Confederates. It’ll be beautiful this time of year; gorgeous overlooks of the rapids, too.”

“OK, hold up, here. So where’s the Miniborya arts colony that I’m visiting.”

“Oh, that’s way south, central, kind of through there,” Tia squinted an eye and leveled her arm past his face. “Our view here’s not quite that good. That’s deeper into Chesterfield, near Meadowbrook.”

“You say so, good enough for me. Now, that was some other rich guy’s house, yes?”

“Correct. J. Scott Parrish was a builder and contractor and his country estate—compound—was Miniborya—which had its own dairy farm and extensive gardens. When the house and grounds passed out of the family in the 1970s, a trust was set up and now it’s this big-time arts colony.”

“Looking forward to that,” he said.

Tia continued to guide him along where this slow boat would take him, past the trees, to Maymont Park and Dooley Mansion, and the Pump House, “Right about there – you see the Carillon?”

Gotz spotted the Georgian Revival bell tower poking up along the horizon.

“At the Pump House there’s a Canal Museum and restaurant, it’s very nice and with the weather we’re having, you’ll really have a good time. And then it takes you on out to Goochland, and you can stop at Tuckahoe, and there’s a rail shuttle back. Unless you want to take your slow boat to Lynchburg.”

“I’ll pass.”

They walked toward the western banister. Spread before them was the Fan District and the campus of Ginter College with its imposing red tiled roof buildings and grounds by Charles Gillette. On Main Street and across on Belvidere big, mansard buildings with interlocking courtyards interested Gotz; these were some of the student dorms. The writer wondered about the minarets above the park next to Sacred Heart’s dome.

“That’s the Richmond Shrine Auditorium, that looks like a mosque,” Tia said. “The city’s owned it since the 1930s, and it’s a public venue for performances and city functions like graduations. It’s one of our more incredible buildings, and Sacred Heart is stunning. This is Monroe Park, and over there, on the corner of Belvidere, you can see Monrovia, which is the restaurant.”

Gotz nodded toward the handsome stucco building and its big arched end windows.

“The building was a big police and fire alarm station, and now it’s a great restaurant, Amazing Southern comfort food, very good and reasonable, fantastic brunch, but if nothing else, a great place to get a drink. The bar on the first level’s called Monroe’s Tomb, mostly because Monroe is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, down the street. There’s this jazz band, Deadly Nightshade, that plays there on Thursday nights. You’d love the girl who’s their singer. It’s fun; you’ll meet some characters.”

“Sounds like a recommendation, to me.”

Luxe interwar apartment buildings faced the park and behind the Prestwould the massive spire of Pace Memorial Methodist Church displayed to the faithful the countdown to redemption with clock faces in all directions. Spreading across to Broad Street a rich variety of Edwardian splendor and the wondrous creations of Ginter’s architects. Trees obscured a detailed view of varying slants and pitches of rooftops and chimneys and dormers. Off to the west several higher rise buildings broached the horizon.

Notes on images:
1) The drawing of the Gallego Basin is from an electronic copy of Edward King's The Great South, a touring book describing the South in 1873-1874. The James Wells Champney illustrations show some of the views including this of the Great Basin. Now covered over by parking lots, the James Center and the Omni Hotel, the basin was first filled in for a railyard. During excavations in the 1980s, canal researchers unearthed from the muck more than 50 portions of canal boats and other river craft. In Tia's Richmond, Gallego Plaza is a major public space ringed by robust architectural elements.
2) Pratt's Castle is from Of the numerous wreckerball atrocities committed in Richmond during the past one hundred years, this loss is in the top five. The Ethyl Corporation (now NewMarket) pulled it down in 1958 after preservationists failed to get clemency for the structure. There is today no marker, no indication that it ever stood on Gamble's Hill.
3) "Richmond Convention Center" was inspired by the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. Image via Richmond in the early 1980s could've done something like this before the fateful decision to brutalize the city to save it.

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