Our formidable spies and decoders have unearthed 225 secrets of Richmond and its surroundings. Why 225? Unlike the output of a WWII Enigma encryption machine, it’s not a random number. Richmond was incorporated as a city in 1782 -- that’s 225 years from 2007, which is right around the corner. To celebrate this anniversary, we’ve decided to divulge Sheriff C.T. Woody’s secret confession, a re-engineered recipe for Chez Foushee’s top-secret Lemon Butter Cake, what the drummer from Love Tractor is doing at Maymont, and many more unearthed facts and figures. It’s an impressive assemblage of secrets so good you won’t be able to keep them to yourself.
001 Mark Holmberg
He stands 9 feet 2 inches. His El Camino was said to be possessed by the spirit of a lonely hitchhiker, and he once nearly killed a man in Reno with his bricklayer’s trowel, just to watch him die. OK, none of that’s true about former Times-Dispatch columnist Mark Holmberg, who has gone back to reporting, but it might as well be. He did build his Hanover home, brick by brick.
002 Oregon Hill
Anyone who has ever watched two bare-chested men throw down in a street fight while standing outside Mamma Ã…0Ã¤5Zu waiting for a table knows the perplexing nature of Oregon Hill. Yes, the tooth count has risen over the years, but Oregon Hill remains a strange stew of rednecks, students, white-collar professionals, and guys named Eyeball.
003 Carol Wolf
Known for sparring with other School Board members and The Mayor Himself, Carol Wolf never pulls any punches. She has said outright that Doug Wilder would work to unseat her if she continued to support the ruling that the city must pay to make all public schools more accessible to the disabled. It is Wolf’s candor that ironically makes her so enigmatic. And she won re-election, too.
004 Locomotive 231
In 1925, while restoring a Church Hill tunnel built during Reconstruction, workers were buried alive when the brick passageway above collapsed. One body was recovered but at least one and probably more remain entombed. An attempt was made this year to dig the locomotive out, but permit problems and neighborhood worries stopped the project.
005 Edgar Allan Poe
Call him Richmond’s Enigma Emeritus. The man who created some of the most mysterious works of fiction and poetry was by different accounts a Virginia gentleman, a drunkard or a madman. Regardless, Poe continues to perplex us today. His life, and especially his death remain as much a riddle to us as “The Tell-Tale Heart” or “The Raven.”
006 Doug Wilder
The Enigma-in-Chief, Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, answers questions only when he damn well feels like it, contradicts himself shamelessly and plays mind games with everyone from City Council to the Atlanta Braves. If there is anyone out there who can tell us what Wilder is thinking, we will hand him or her 10 crisp new $100 bills.
007 Willem van Heythusen
You might say any truly great work of art is an enigma, but some are more perplexing than others. Take Willem van Heythusen at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Kehinde Wiley’s work is arresting in its size (8 feet by 6 feet) and its subject: a young man in tracksuit and boots posed in the style of an Old Masters painting.
008 Tom Patton
What is the joke exactly? Is there a “Kick Me” sign stuck to Gene Cox’s back? Is he really controlling the climate with an evil weather machine? Whatever it is, WWBT-12 weatherman Tom Patton isn’t telling. Patton, whose eyebrows rise and fall more dramatically than barometric pressure, manages to get off zinger after zinger, slyly mocking anchor banter.
009 Black Dog
Call him an independent spirit, a mind reader, an escape artist, an outlaw. The notorious matted Chow mix, simply called Black Dog, has been trolling the tony West End and bedeviling the Richmond Animal Control department for more than a decade. Among his fabled abilities: fence-climbing, self-healing, mind-reading and sedative-spitting. And, of course, dog catcher-mocking.
Secrets of the Fan
Grocer Thomas Talley built this farmhouse at 2315 W. Grace St. in 1835. Here he developed a “market garden” to supply his store. Edgar Allan Poe called upon aspiring poet Susan Talley there the night before he left Richmond and returned nevermore.
011 Original Pleasants Hardware
Started at 1607 W. Broad St. in 1915, Pleasants later moved into a drugstore building on the corner of Lombardy and Broad streets, now occupied by Virginia Commonwealth
012 Richmond College
The memorial columns or gateways at Ryland and Lombardy streets were placed by groups associated with the University of Richmond. UR, when it was called Richmond College, was started in this block.
013 Tom Robbins
While attending Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU), novelist Tom Robbins lived for a time at 2703 Hanover Ave. He and artist Bill Kendrick built a hand-cranked television with images on a spool of paper. “I’d crank it,” Kendrick said, “Tom would watch, and it was hysterical.” The roommates saved on electricity costs, Robbins notes.
At 1142 W. Grace St., Petersburg flour merchant Philip Haxall built in 1818 what is now perhaps the Fan’s oldest house. It has served as Richmond College classrooms, a Confederate hospital, a Union billet, the T.C. Williams School of Law and the Marine Raider Museum. The building is now owned by Annandale’s Sewan Enterprises.
015 Monument Avenue Cannons
Surprise: They came from the North. One, forged in Chicopee Falls, Mass., in the 2300 block was given to Richmond by the United States Army in 1915, and the other near Roseneath Road was forged in Revere, Mass., and given to the city about 1938.
Before he was famous, Bruce Springsteen and members of his early bands, Child and Steel Mill, performed at Richmond venues in 1969 and 1970. The last concert ended in fisticuffs when drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez battled with security enforcing the police order to cut power and end the concert at the Franklin Street Gym.
017 Stonewall Jackson
The Stonewall Jackson statue used to face south, but old soldiers insisted “Old Blue Light” (so-named for his intense gaze during battle) point north. So, the general faces northward now. He glowers at the monument of Gen. A.P. Hill, buried at Hermitage and Laburnum.
018 A Shaky Start
The Fan started with a financial bust. From 1815 to 1817, Jacquelin Burwell Harvie oversaw his father’s 1,200 rural acres. He and two partners tried to build a grid arranged to meet the angling Westham Road (Park Avenue), thus fanning the streets. Their business fell apart when a land boom crashed. The next phase of development occurred between 1875
019 Grove/Floyd Alley
The alley between the 1500 blocks of Grove and Floyd is a cobbled court around garages and old dairy delivery and storage garages. The variety of porches, railings, wrought-iron gates and plantings make this, without too much squinting, Richmond’s Garden District.
020 Fan’s First Crazy Artist
Edward J. Peticolas, a Richmonder and European-trained artist, returned around 1840 to become a notable miniaturist painter but was best known for his wooden “castle” between Harvie and Plum streets. It included turrets of various sizes and parts decaying, others freshly built, none painted. He chased off neighborhood kids while wearing his quilted suit; Peticolas died institutionalized.
021 Barbies in Distress
On Vine Street between Grove and Floyd avenues, this unusual front yard display features a hapless group of Barbies and other dolls apparently getting sacrificed by cannibals. It’s a year-round exhibit.
022 The Minuteman
A statue of The Minuteman, standing ready on his pedestal at Park and Stuart avenues, was created to memorialize the First Virginia Regiment, organized in 1754 during the French and Indian War. One of its commanders was Lt. Col. George Washington. The statue was unveiled on May 1, 1930.
023 Meadow/Granby Alley
The residents here are fond of tending flowering plants, some of them quite tall. On a warm day, a sense of quiet gives this alley a park-like atmosphere.
024 Paradise Park
At the streets of Vine and Allen, Floyd and Grove avenues, you can stumble along cobblestones into this sliver of green in the middle of the Fan. No signs declare its name, and the 1970s concrete park decorations are juxtaposed against a line of cypresses and several large trees.
Dirty Little Secrets
025: Cut and Run
In 1781, by order of Benedict Arnold and Col. John Graves Simcoe, Richmond’s tobacco barns and several public buildings were torched after then-Gov. Thomas Jefferson couldn’t be located. The future president apparently hid in Manchester while Richmond burned. The Virginia legislature investigated and accused Jefferson of “pusillanimous conduct,” but the Revolution was won, and Jefferson absolved.
026: Racial Inequality
The Virginia State Constitution of 1902 codified Southern apartheid through stringent voting requirements that ejected blacks from elections but also nearly a third of eligible whites through poll taxes and other Byzantine restrictions. This constitution also solidified the separation of cities and counties (the only state with this blanket arrangement), the one-term rule for governors and established the State Corporation Commission.
027: Obstacle to Progress
Dr. J. Fulmer Bright, the powerful directly elected mayor of Richmond, was the longest serving city executive in history -- he presided from 1926 to 1940. Bright didn’t want Byrd Airport or, during the Depression, government money. A court order forced him to fill vacancies in the fire and police departments and appoint a public health director. In 1948, the council-manager system was adopted in part as repudiation of his legacy.
028: Native Nullification
In 1924 the General Assembly passed the Racial Integrity Law, which recognized only black and white races on birth certificates and eliminated the American Indian category. Until the late 1950s, Indians couldn’t attend white churches or attend school past the seventh grade.
029: Massive Resistance
On Feb. 25, 1956, Harry F. Byrd Sr., Virginia’s political colossus, promulgated Massive Resistance. A group of laws passed in 1958 prevented racial integration, but the NAACP, along with Virginia Union students and others, resisted them. President Lyndon Johnson’s Voting Rights Act of 1968 ended official segregation.
030: Fulton’s Clearing
The working-class Fulton community, in the valley behind Church Hill, was a mixture of sturdy housing, churches and retail. But in the late 1950s, railroad and factory layoffs led to the neighborhood’s downfall. After 1961, break-ins and robbery increased, and heroin arrived around 1964. The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority solved Fulton’s problems with bulldozers in 1973. By 1976 all traces of the community were gone.
031: Annexing Trouble
In the late 1960s, Richmond, desperate to restore its tax base, tried combining the city and Henrico into one entity, but the measure failed. The city then gambled in 1970 by annexing 23 square miles of Chesterfield County. The miserable effort backfired. Residents of the annexed area fled, and the city was accused of racism.
032: Ward’s Woes
Things were bright for Jackson Ward in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the neighborhood was called “the Harlem of the South.” But integration, suburban drain, project housing and the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike hastened erosion. Today, neighborhood preservationists and entrepreneurs are turning the neighborhood around.
033: Burned Trolleys
Frank Julian Sprague in May 1888 inaugurated a 12-mile, 40-car streetcar line in Richmond. Its size and scope were unprecedented and soon, similar systems appeared in cities throughout the world and birthed the era of electric mass transit. But in 1949, preoccupied with racial and class divisions and the new GM buses, Richmond burned its trolleys and paved over the tracks.
034: Not Following Directions
Thomas Jefferson was in France during the construction of the Virginia State Capitol he designed, but he wasn’t pleased when he came back. The building was brick rather than stucco; the columns had no capitals; and there were no front steps.
035: Room for One
The George Washington equestrian statue has a tomb space in it. But Washington’s family decided against it and the U.S. Capitol, in favor of burial at Mount Vernon. An acquaintance of Civil War diarist Mary Chestnut thought the statue resembled a tabletop condiment dispenser.Ã…6•9
036: Washington Shot
Newspaper editor M. Rives Pollard was unscathed in the gunfight inside the Virginia Capitol, but that wasn’t the case for Houdon’s statue of George Washington, which lost a chunk of a finger.
037: Hidden Elevator
During the recent Capitol renovations something forgotten was revealed: A late 1890s wrought-iron elevator cage. It was plastered over in the 1960s. The cage will remain as a decorative element.
038: Our Big Dig
Used for maintenance work, subterranean tunnels link the Executive Mansion with the Capitol and the Patrick Henry Building, the West Hospital and the former Richmond Academy of Medicine. The tunnels are no longer open to the public, “but I’m sure the governor still has the right to use them,” says Mark Greenough, director of tours for Capitol Square.
039: Overnight Rebels
Most Virginians were unaware the state was a member of the Confederacy until they read about it in the newspaper. A convention voted in April 1861 not to secede, but the battle at Sumter changed things. A temporary alliance later that month morphed into a formal tie to the Confederacy.
040: Delayed Satisfaction
Although women received the right to vote in 1920, Virginia didn’t get around to making it legal until 1952.
041: Duel Personalities
InÃ…6•91956,Ã…6•9a provision in the state constitution was removed that banned individuals running for public office who’d participated in duels. Today, a candidate who has dueled can run for office, presuming he survived the duel.
042: Keep ‘Em Separated
Virginia is the only state in the union that keeps apart all its cities and counties as separate political entities.
043: All in the Wording
The use of “commonwealth” to describe Virginia instead of “state” was a jab at King George III. England became a commonwealth when Oliver Cromwell became lord protector in 1649, after the beheading of King Charles I. The hotbeds of the American Revolution -- Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts -- took the moniker as an insult to England.
044 Nine Lives
Main Street Station, which has avoided flood, fire and wrecker balls, dodged a 1950s idea to replace it with a sleek, modern interpretation of rail travel. Budget considerations, thank goodness, kept this idea at bay.
045 Morals and Mirth
This project was doomed from the start. In 1798, architect Benjamin Latrobe designed a Palladian-style performing arts center for Broad Street, dedicated to “morals and mirth.” But Richmond, population 5,000, couldn’t afford the project. A smaller, badly built theater burned down in 1811, killing 72. A 1964 effort to revive the theater ended quietly with the death of backer Banny Bosher.
046 Monument Without Medians
During the mid-1960s many urban makeover plans were offered to Richmond, including one that would have eliminated Monument Avenue’s medians and moved the statues to one side.
047 Dali’s Statue
Before the Arthur Ashe monument, there was talk of breaking the trend of booted and bearded Confederate chieftains. One plan was to commission Salvador Dali to design a statue for Capt. Sally Thompkins, who ran a successful private hospital at Third and Main streets. But once a concept sketch was printed, the plan evaporated.
048 Capitol Babylon
A 1960s concept of terracing Capitol Square in a “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” motif reached the stage of drawings and public debate, but was quashed.
049 The Nature of Science
When the General Assembly decided the Science Museum of Virginia needed to find a home, a “crystal palace” to be built behind the Carillon was strongly considered. Solar energy would power the building, which included a planetarium. But money woes made the abandoned Broad Street Station the museum’s “temporary” home -- now 30 years and counting.
050 No To Bungalows
City planners in the 1950s, unable to figure out how to rehabilitate what was then a deteriorating portion of the Lower Fan, proposed an assortment of attractive bungalow-style Cape Cod houses. The nascent Fan District Association said, “Dang it, no, there’ll be no bungalows.”
051 VCU, South Side?
In late 1966, Chesterfield County pursued relocating what eventually became Virginia Commonwealth University at Coalfield and Genito roads. Imagine the University of Brandermill.
052 Before Its Time
The Virginia Commonwealth University master plan of the 1970s took the campus to the river -- but Oregon Hill residents halted the university’s growth. The Broad Street and Monroe Ward expansions now seem sensible, but it took community activism to make that point.
053 Light-Rail Dreams
In 1973, Philadelphia native Neil Humphreys proposed an electric light-rail commuter system running from Amelia County, through Huguenot and Robious roads, into downtown and Main Street Station with a link to Richmond International Airport. Even though the track already existed, Humphreys was told the project was unaffordable.
Under The Radar
054 Bowman Body
Bill Bowman of Colonial Heights hosted Channel 8’s in the early 1970s, but you knew him better as the Bowman Body, a ghoulish fellow in a coffin. Now 71, he’s retired but directs a talk show for Hopewell-based Joy TV Productions. The Body still makes appearances, including one this past October at Monster Fest in Hampton Roads.
055 Sailor Bob
Bob Griggs is as an indelible part of Richmond childhood as the ink he used to flash-draw his quirky pics on Channel 12’s , which ran from 1959 to 1969. Bob is retired in Richmond, a granddad and toying with the idea of releasing DVDs of his much-loved show.
056 Paula Otto
Paula Otto, WTVR-TV’s 1980s weekend news muse, is happily ensconced in academia. She’s the associate director of VCU’s mass communications department. Before that, Otto was with the Virginia Lottery as director of public affairs. She’s been married for nearly 20 years.
057 Lisa LaFata
The babe of the ‘80s news scene, LaFata (now Powell) shared an anchor desk with Charles Fishburne. These days, she’s sharing her life with her husband and three children. She performs pro bono public relations and marketing work and is on a short break from teaching at VCU.
058 Paul Galanti
Galanti spent seven years as a Vietnam POW in North Korea’s infamous Hanoi Hilton. Upon his 1973 release, he made Richmond his new home and still lives in the near West End. “Today,” he tells us, “I spread optimism and hope. There’s no such thing as a bad day when there’s a doorknob on the inside.”
059 Felipe Rose
Yes, it’s true, the Village People Indian, Felipe Rose, lives in Richmond. He fell in love with the city during a 2001 concert. Today, the man who’ll forever be linked with “Macho Man” and “Y.M.C.A.” still travels with the band and is interested in opening a restaurant or club here, a neighbor says.
060 Beer Underground
Now part of the Rockett’s Landing development, the former Yuengling brewery storage tunnels cooled beer on ice. The look is very X-Files.
061 The Mews
It looks authentic but dates from 1928. Renowned Colonial Revival architect Duncan Lee designed a group of shops at 210 E. Franklin St. along a herringbone-patterned brick walkway. The “shops” are now a lawyer’s office, and the mews is behind a gate.
062 108 N. First Street
Tucked behind the Valentine-Kent House is a renovated carriage house that is home to Studio 108, a media services firm. “It’s so secret, clients sometimes can’t find us the first time around,” says 108’s Chris Williams.
063 The Warsaw’s Catacombs
VCU artists, musicians and other adventurous folk in the 1970s couldn’t resist these dark corridors in the former St. Sophia Home for Old People of the Little Sisters of the Poor at 1401 Floyd Ave. Beneath the Warsaw condominiums, residents use the vaulted chambers, odd-shaped cellar rooms and wide, angling corridors
064 St. John’s Mews
The Historic Richmond Foundation called St. John’s Mews (between 23rd and 24th streets, East Broad and East Grace streets) the “pilot block” when the group began the restoring Richmond’s historic district in 1957.
065 Linden Row Inn
Here, where the merchant Charles Ellison maintained a garden, a young Edgar Allan Poe cavorted with his playmates. Today, in a restored series of antebellum row houses on Franklin Street is the Linden Row Inn. The brick courtyard, with its fountain and covered tables, remains a charming spot.
Victims of the 1811 Richmond Theatre fire are buried beneath this restored church, built in 1813 and now restored. Some bodies were recognizable enough to receive individual coffins, as revealed a few years ago by an electronic scan.
067 National’s Nursery
A nursery, complete with stenciled decorations on the walls, lay behind a wall at the 1923-built National Theater, 704 E. Broad St. Such amenities were common in theaters at the time; the National is undergoing renovations to become a music venue.
068 Byrd Theatre Lake
When the Byrd Theatre of Carytown was constructed in 1928, its engineers found a natural spring, and rather than pump it out, they decided to build over it. This isn’t on the regular tour, but manager Todd Schall-Vess takes requests.
069 Escape Hatch
Gustavus A. Millhiser, a Richmond bachelor businessman, was fond of opera recordings and playing the pipe organ, and his elaborate house, 916 W. Franklin St., included a secret door out of his study. The curving steel track survives, although the door was jammed years ago by liability-conscious VCU.
070 14th Street TakeOut
A year ago, volunteers in the James River Park System built the 14th Street Takeout steps tucked into the side of Mayo’s Island for kayakers and others. You’ll see herons and you’ll see anglers dangling lines.
071 Pine Street Path
At the end of Pine Street, below the Oregon Hill gazebo, is a rustic cut-through to Belle Isle installed by James River Parks System volunteers. Watch your step, since the stairs leading down are cut into the hillside.
072 Brownell’s Favorite Narrow
Dr. Charles Brownell, VCU architectural historian, gets a kick out of walking Franklin Street through the very narrow passage between the Starke and Bowe houses. “As I draw close, I hurl myself forward and run like hell between the brick walls that squeeze close, only to emerge in front of the Pollak building.”
073 Between the Floors
The splendid mansion of early 20th-century stockbroker John Kerr Branch at Davis and Monument avenues is today the Virginia Center for Architecture. During renovations a few years ago, a room was discovered between the first and second floors. Perhaps the room was the hiding place for presents?
074 C.T. Woody
If you see Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody roaming the streets in the wee hours, don’t be surprised. He reveals that after years as a homicide detective, he rarely sleeps more than four hours at a time. “Between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., I awake instinctively and must get up,” he says. That often means middle-of-the-night e-mails or inspecting his street. “Then I can sleep for a while.”
These pants are made for partying, at least for Garren, New York City hairstylist to Oprah and other stars and owner of a home near Maymont Park. In 1999, he and his partner purchased $6,000 beaded pants from Gucci; upon the pants’ arrival in Richmond, Garren says he realized they had nowhere to wear them. So they threw a party in honor of the pants -- flying in caterers, a DJ and friends from New York.
076 Randy Fitzgerald
“At 24,” writes former Times-Dispatch columnist Randy Fitzgerald, “I was teaching English at the University of Georgia. One morning, a student late to class whipped into my faculty parking space ahead of me. A fistfight ensued, during which I learned he was a wrestler, and he learned I was faculty. He won the fight, but I had him towed.”
077 Antoinette Essa
As for Channel 12’s Antoinette Essa, who is leaving the station Dec. 1, her confession is that she craves Dungeness crab legs and red wine when she’s feeling low. Those plus Law & Order re-runs make her night.
078 Robert Grey
It’s been said that attorneys have to be actors once in a while; former American Bar Association president Robert Grey took that literally. He played a “ladies’ man” in a Firehouse Theatre production of Women of Manhattan, to a lackluster review in the Times-Dispatch. “I should not give up my day job,” he says.
079 John Peters
John Peters, minister of Trinity United Methodist Church, confesses that his first baptism nearly was a washout. Crying and squirming, the 2-year-old child jumped out of his arms during the section of the liturgy reading “living unto God, dying unto God..."