How do we love Richmond? This month we decided to count the ways.
What follows is by no means an exhaustive list — after all, we highlight some of our favorites from the region every month — but in the spirit of the season, we decided to set aside all cynicism for a few pages and devote some space to 50 things that make Richmond great.
1. 100 Years of the Japanese Garden
Like many Richmonders, we often take Maymont for granted. But the Japanese Garden's 100th birthday is next year, and attention must be paid. The 45-foot waterfall, the koi, the stepping stones across the water — it all contributes to creating a pocket of serenity in what is already one of the most soothing spaces in the region. Maymont's got a raft of events planned, from a photo contest to lectures on Japanese culture and its influence. (And if you're looking to give back, there's a volunteer raking event each November in the Japanese Garden.)
2. Tavern as Time Machine
There's something subversively satisfying about lifting a pint in a dank, smoke-filled basement with a low ceiling and even lower lighting. Patrick Henry's Pub & Grille, located in a pre-Civil War tavern in Church Hill, is about four miles — and at least 200 years — away from the nearest Applebee's. Drink in the atmosphere along with a couple of microbrews.
3. Feast RVA
The idea is simple: Gather people willing to make a donation in order to have dinner and hear pitches from three locals. Attendees vote on a winner, and after event expenses are paid, that person gets the cash to fund their creative project. Feast RVA (feastrva.com) organizers Josh Epperson and Johnny Hugel are planning their next event for Jan. 13, and project submissions will be open through the first week of January.
4. End of the World Whimsy
This January, Quirk Gallery is premiering an exhibit of apocalyptic proportions on Broad Street. "Grab It!" will feature artists such as Heidi Kenney and Phil Barbato displaying their own take on end-of-the-world survival kits. "Children today fear the apocalypse or the rapture in the same way my generation feared the Cold War," says Quirk's Maggie Smith. "We wanted to do something silly to poke fun at such a dark subject." The exhibit opens Jan. 5 and will run until Feb. 24.
5. Jay Pace's Statue
When it comes to civic leaders deserving an eternal eulogy in bronze, Ashland's hometown hero Jay Malcolm Pace III is a sure winner. A champion for education and a mentor to countless journalists, Pace, who died in 2004, published and edited the Hanover Herald-Progress for two decades. Honoring his commitment to truth-telling, his statue, located in front of the town's library, captures the old editor in all his glory: worn tennis shoes, high-water pants and fat-rimmed tortoise-shell glasses, slightly askew.
6. Jimmy Dean's Final Resting Place
Out in Varina overlooking the James River, sausage king and Grammy winner Jimmy Dean, probably the only person to merit induction into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Meat Industry Hall of Fame, rests peacefully in his custom, $350,000 piano-shaped mausoleum. That takes a true ham.
7. Linden Row
100-114 E. Franklin St. (1853)
Before construction of the first five houses by Fleming James and builder Otis Manson, a young Edgar Allan Poe cavorted in the linden grove with his friend Charles Ellis. The unfussy Federal-style houses save their drama for the back verandas surrounding a magical courtyard.
8. The Markel Building
5210 Markel Road (1966)
Designed in 1966 by Haigh Jamgochian as an impossible-to-miss headquarters near Willow Lawn Shopping Center, it could be a UFO, the lair for a mad genius or the offices of a cool secret agency.
9. The Egyptian Building
1223 E. Marshall St. (1846)
Designed by Philadelphia architect Thomas Somerville, it first provided a home for Hampden-Sydney College's medical department. This evolved into the Medical College of Virginia. Somerville may be honoring Imhotep, a doctor and architect in the 27th century B.C. Even the fence posts are shaped like mummy's coffins.
10. Franklin Federal
Savings & Loan Building
616 E. Franklin St. (1940)
Edward F. Sinnott used a classical approach but spiked it with glass brick, ornamental concrete eagles and inspiring verticality for a small building that wants to be big. At dusk, light shines through the glass and makes the place glow.
11. The Richmond Ballet
407 E. Canal St. (2000)
From the expressway below, you can see the silhouettes of rehearsing dancers. The dynamic upswept roofline conjures a ballerina in mid-leap. The Richmond firm of BCWH made a statement at the opening of the 21st century that the contemporary was possible, even in a city of monuments.
12. Bald Eagle Tours
Out on Discovery Barge II, during one of Mike Ostrander's bald eagle tours on the James River with Discover the James (discoverthejames.com), when Ostrander spies an eagle aloft, he stands at the boat's stern, holding a dead shad above his head, looking something like the Statue of Liberty if she had a beard and a baseball cap and her torch were a dead fish, and throws the carcass out onto the river. The eagle — and exclamations from all aboard — won't be far behind.
13. Belle Isle's Power Plant
Hidden among the trails of Belle Isle, what once was a power plant now lies in ruin, but it's still a fertile spot for photo exploration — the way light shines through its high gaping windows, the graffiti that adorns its walls and the character-filled crevices of its crumbling interior. Try capturing some shots in the early morning light for truly mysterious images.
14. The Byrd Park Vita Course
Introduced to the world in 1968 by Switzerland's Vita Life Insurance Co., these outdoor exercise circuits first appeared in the United States in the early 1970s. According to a 2000 article in Outside magazine, their numbers here topped out at nearly 4,500 in the mid-1980s, following popularization efforts led by Perrier, J.C. Penney and the President's Council on Physical Fitness. Since then, their popularity has declined, but our own mile-long, multistation Vita Course soldiers on, with the Friends of William Byrd Park continuing its effort to replace trees along the course (volunteers can help mulch and water on Jan. 21).
15. Going Hollywood
There's so much focus on the beauty of its grounds and the famous folks buried there — rightfully so — that people sometimes forget that Hollywood Cemetery is still a functioning graveyard, with burial plots, niches and crypts available from $1,800 to $12,000 (no-interest payment plans are available, by the way). With all the walking tours, it's a pretty safe bet you'll have plenty of visitors as you enjoy your eternal rest.
16. VCU's No Shame Variety Show
Every other Friday at 11 p.m. on the Shafer Street Playhouse stage, performers present almost anything they can for a full house. Started about five years ago by Theatre VCU students, the show features everything from spoken word to dance performances, and all VCU students are welcome to participate. A running gag includes frequent demonstrations of lessons learned in fight-choreography class. The free event usually has some charitable element, from coat drives to canned-food collection, and contributors get in first.
17. We're a Natural for National Treasure IV
That screenplay could write itself — in disappearing ink. There's the creepy crypt in Monumental Church, historic cemeteries galore, Cold Harbor and other battlefields, the Church Hill train tunnel, Lumpkin's Slave Jail, tunnels under the State Capitol, not to mention the canal and the James River. Paging Mr. Spielberg.
18. Tredegar's Lincoln Statue
Unless he's being escorted by Steven Spielberg, the 16th president hasn't always been welcome in Richmond. Sure, there was that short visit back in 1865, but in 2003, when Abraham Lincoln arrived in RVA again — this time in the form of a bronze statue at the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar — there were protesters in Confederate uniforms, nasty banners flown from low-flying airplanes and all manner of nonsense. Today, the statue represents the promise of reconciliation in a town that knows how to give a guy the cold shoulder — but that just now may be starting to defrost a bit.
19. Maggie Walker
Enter the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site (for free!), and after viewing the film and highlights of her remarkable life and work, go nose to nose with her library. Beside the classics are self-help tomes such as Timidity and How to Overcome It. Seeing that she started a bank, an insurance company and an emporium on Broad Street, all in segregated Richmond, and expanded the International Order of St. Luke, a fraternal organization dedicated to improving the lot of African-Americans, from 1,000 members to 100,000 in 28 states, it's probably safe to say that she overcame any timidity.
Longtime freelancer Maureen Egan invites you to match her completion of a completely made-up triathlon — raft, rappel, run — known as TRI-Richmond. Raft Class IV and V rapids downtown, rappel the SunTrust building, all 24-stories of it, as part of Special Olympics Virginia's Over the Edge fundraiser in October, and run the SunTrust Richmond Marathon in November. Take your time (it took Maureen a few years to complete), raise funds for a great cause and enjoy the views.
21. Awesome Alleys
One of our faves is the alley behind VCU's School of the Arts, between Goshen and Hancock, where you can see art that's either in progress or left to rot — sometimes it's tough to tell the difference. Of course the Fan is a treasure trove of exotic alleys, though we're partial to the stretch between the 200 blocks of Mulberry and Robinson, which has been beautified by a bevy of plants and flowers around the garages. Finally, Miss Scott's Alley, which runs behind the Linden Row Inn, might be the best-named one, since preservationist, scholar, author and landlord Mary Wingfield Scott, aka Winkie, took it upon herself to save the buildings that eventually became Linden Row. She deserves more than an alley.
22. The Poe Museum
Fans of this local institution got quite a shock in September, when CBS' Sunday Morning mistakenly reported its closing. In actuality, the museum is celebrating Edgar Allan Poe's birth next month with a showing of James Carling's original illustrations for "The Raven" from 1883, which haven't been seen by the public for more than 35 years, as well as its own 90th anniversary on April 26, with an exhibit of rare Poe manuscripts and letters that belong to the museum and to private collectors.
23. Henrico Kite Festival
Call it a flight of fancy, but there's nothing quite like the fluttering tails streaming behind hundreds of colorful kites buoying about on a gusty afternoon. This particular event, held each March at Dorey Park in eastern Henrico County, has grown in recent years, with 24,000 attendees gathering in 2011 to watch just-heavier-than-air craft take flight.
24. Swift Creek Reservoir
The fact that it supplies water for Chesterfield County would be enough to make us appreciate this picturesque reservoir, but it's also an excellent fishing spot, with 36 citation-worthy fish in 2010, including an 11-pound, 2-ounce largemouth bass; the home of the Greater Richmond Sailing Association; and the site of adventure, as when Randy and Sara Rowekamp rescued 78-year-old pilot Richard Rose Jr. from the water after his Beechcraft Bonanza F33 crashed on Nov. 2.
Every week or two, this bearded wooden fellow moves to a new location in Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (usually staying close to the Children's Garden). The plan is for Stickman, created by Cameron Lipscomb as an ambassador for Patrick Dougherty's Diamonds in the Rough stick sculpture, to play hide and seek with
Richmond's children through 2012, and it's hoped that Dougherty's delightful creation will last just as long.
26. A Mirror to Another World
Pratt's Castle (1854-1958) on Gamble's Hill was for a time the ramparted home of rare antiques collector J. Franklin Biggs (1908-1942). Biggs, raised in New York City, founded a national fine-furniture reproduction firm. Appropriately, he and his wife filled their castle with a variety of antiques and collectibles. Among them was a gigantic French mirror (ca. 1837-1841) that once graced the White House during the administration of Martin Van Buren. Today, the 6-by-10-foot oval stands in the lobby of the Valentine Richmond History Center, by the archives stairs. If ever there was a place in Richmond to step through an interdimensional portal, this is it.
Somewhat lost amid the hoopla surrounding Richmond's selection as the site for the 2015 World Road Cycling Championships was the fact that we also landed the 32nd annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Taking place June 25 to 30, the event actually originated in Richmond, and it features 17 events, from archery to swimming, though we must admit that we're most excited about the chance to see some high-caliber quad rugby. A mixture of elements from basketball, handball and ice hockey, this fast-paced, collision-filled sport was originally called Murderball — and you can see why.
28. The WTVR Tower
Since 1953, the 843-foot metal structure has been part of the cityscape of Richmond, It sticks out, at 1,049 feet above sea level, like a raised hand in a crowded classroom. From the veranda of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Amuse restaurant, it resembles a sculptural installation that Christo should wrap. We've grown accustomed to its ungainly appearance — it's no Eiffel Tower, but it's ours after all — and it marks "The South's First Television Station" (1948).
29. Community Generosity
My husband, Roger, and I heard the words every parent dreads on Jan. 20, 2009: Our beautiful 3-year-old daughter, Charlotte Jennie, had a large malignant brain tumor growing in her head. In the months that followed, days that had been filled with preschool, play dates and the endless balance of home and work responsibilities were now punctuated by clinic visits, surgeries, therapies, hospital stays and an emotional roller coaster for the entire family.
We owned a business at the time, and while the flexibility of entrepreneurship was helpful in many ways, our daughter's illness became a huge complication in our lives. Before her diagnosis, we were working full time and still struggling to make ends meet. Now that Charlotte's health required work to take a back seat, how would we make it?
Roger and I have called this area "home" for almost 15 years, but we are not native Richmonders. Our extended family could only support us from a distance. But just days after Charlotte's diagnosis, the news had spread in our social and business circles. People from our church, former work colleagues and neighbors lined up to bring us meals, both at home and in the hospital. The parents at Charlotte's preschool purchased a stand-alone freezer in which we could store meals. Friends organized a variety of fundraisers. Even our customers offered gifts, meals and moral support. I was overwhelmed by the way people — only some of whom knew us personally — gave their time, energy and money to help.
When Charlotte lost her battle with cancer on Jan. 7, 2010, we wanted to honor her memory and capture the amazing spirit of generosity that had bolstered us during that challenging year. We formed our own nonprofit, CJ's Thumbs Up Foundation (CJSTUF), in January 2010. Roger and I worked with a diverse group of nine friends who had not only supported us during that tragic year but also brought nonprofit management and marketing experience, business connections, and creative ideas to the table. This group became our initial board of directors.
In two years, CJSTUF has given more than $25,000 in financial support to more than 45 families who find themselves in situations similar to ours. The financial backing doesn't come from large gifts: It comes from $10, $20 and $50 donations. When we bring these gifts together, we provide assistance for medical bills. We help a family whose budget has been cut because mom needs to work part time to care for her chronically ill son. We provide gas money for a family that commutes twice a week from Fredericksburg for chemotherapy. CJSTUF, like so many other nonprofits in the Richmond area, tries to provide a soft landing for individuals and families facing hard times, and it's our community's generous spirit that makes it possible.
For more details, visit cjstuf.org. — By Rachel Reynolds
30. Vinyl Love
In a world of digital music, brick-and-mortar music shops are struggling, but one segment soldiers on — actual record stores, serving vinyl loyalists and newbie collectors alike. Richmonders have an array of options, including the carefully curated offerings of Deep Groove Records; the old-school cool of Virginia's Memory Lane Records; Vinyl Conflict's punk/hardcore/metal specialties; and Richmond's newest record shop, Steady Sounds, which hosts touring bands and art shows in addition to pushing vinyl. And don't count out longtime veteran Plan 9. Despite recently filing for bankruptcy, the store remains open, offering a healthy selection of 45s, 78s and LPs.
31. The Pipeline Trail
To get a view of the heron rookery, folks descend a metal ladder and walk above the James River on a metal grate that covers an actual pipeline. The railings wouldn't keep a 3-year-old out of the drink. OK, we don't love that, but walking under a regularly traveled railroad track only adds to the thrill of the Pipeline Trail of the James River Park System. To the west, the railing and grate disappear, and if the river level allows, you can balance on a pipeline until you reach the edge of Brown's Island.
32. Masonic Mystery
Pull out your decoder rings, secret handshakes and dog-eared copies of the Da Vinci Code — it's time for a conspiracy-theory-inspired trip to Shockoe Bottom, home to the nation's oldest continuously operating Masonic lodge, Richmond Randolph 19, built in 1785. Richmond's full of history, but this may be among the most storied locations in town. Members and visitors have included Gov. Edmund Randolph, Chief Justice John Marshall, President George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette.
33. Ancarrow's Landing
On the bike ride or drive here, it's as if you're lost in a post-industrial end-of-times movie set, passing by warehouses, huge oil tanks and a sewage-treatment plant. Except for an occasional small sign indicating a park ahead, everything is telling you that you don't belong here. But then you arrive on the bank of the tidal James, where you'll see fishermen and women on land and in boats, mostly oblivious that this is the start of the Richmond Slave Trail. That's a walk that's best done with a guide, especially at night during Elegba Folklore Society's or James River Park System's torchlit trail walks in June.
34. Know Your Veggies
The idea germinated on the White House lawn. The seed was planted at Holton Elementary. Now the Know Your Veggies program is growing like a weed. Aimed at teaching city students the "peas and chews" of nutrition, Know your Veggies is the brainchild of food writer John Haddad and chefs Ellie Basch and Sally Schmidt. The three are in the midst of developing a program that defies short definitions. Part health and nutrition class, part science lab, but all-over delicious, Know Your Veggies made 80 classroom visits last year with a cross-curricular program that's fun but still tackles the very serious issues of childhood obesity and urban food deserts.
35. Ghost Signs
Scan the rooflines of the city's buildings, and you're liable to see a smile, a peering eye or an ad for a 10-cent haircut. These are ghost signs. At the southeast corner of 25th Street near Broad, Uneeda Biscuit is offered as the National Soda Cracker. At 516 N. Brook Road, there's a phantom emblem for Jefferson Club Whiskey. But most disappointing to see fade is the Philips-Lewis Co. "Home Spun Products" sign near the Mayo Bridge, facing 14th Street between Cary and Canal. It featured a staircase surmounted by a pioneer woman at a spinning wheel, and each step advertised a product.
36. Casey Bones
The pedigree of this 1989 Chevy Celebrity modified to look like a dog — complete with a tail, ears and a barking horn — is unimpeachable: It was painted by Happy the Artist, who's been known to decorate a few vehicles in his time. The car is a promotional tool for Helping Hands, a low-cost veterinary-surgery center in Carytown, and by the time you read this, Casey should be joined by Tom and Jerry, a 1988 Dodge K-car tricked out to look like a cat.
37. Slow Art
This grass-roots effort urges you to take your time while interacting with art, and it's coming to Richmond. Artist Mim Golub Scalin is hosting a VMFA visit for Slow Art Day on April 28, with concentrated viewings of selected works from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a lunchtime discussion at the museum's Best Café. For more details, visit slowartvmfa2012-eorg.eventbrite.com .
Somehow Shockoe Slip shirt makers Paul Watson and Paul Trible have managed to make the simple button-down cool again. Perhaps the best example of this is their Short Run Shirting — limited-edition shirts released every Tuesday at 11 a.m. and available for purchase until the following Sunday at 11:59 p.m.
39. Jeff Davis Highway
My family and Jeff Davis Highway go way back. As a little girl, I spent many a summer afternoon sitting in the cool cinderblock shade of Soffee's Market sipping Brownie drinks and watching my grandfather ring up tomatoes, melons and 'loupes for travelers along the Pike. I didn't know it at the time, but Jeff Davis was already an empire in decline. What used to be the main drag up and down the East Coast had been dethroned by Interstate 95, and the new motels, gas stations and fast-food restaurants that were cropping up around 95's exits during the 1970s were slowly draining the life from Jeff Davis.
Without a tourist trade to support the local micro-economy, other less-picturesque trades moved in. Jeff Davis' reputation as a trouble spot for drug dealing and prostitution is not hype. Drive down Route 1 in the middle of the day, and in certain spots you'll still see streetwalkers and dope boys, operating right under optimistically posted signs that declare it a drug- and prostitution-free zone. That and a lot of vacant lots and shuttered businesses that haven't seen crowds in years if not decades. Jeff Davis Highway can break your heart if you let it.
So, why do I love Jeff Davis Highway so much? I guess it's partly nostalgia, but there is a hope there, too. Over the past 10 years, an influx of new residents, mostly Latino, have given this tired old strip of highway new life. Many of the closed honky-tonks have been reborn as new nightclubs, with names that recall the patrons' homes of origin — El Tenampa, Olocuilta, El Tequila Norteno. The newcomers have taken up residence in the trailer parks, the motels and the maisonettes, as well as the apartment complexes and post-war neighborhoods on either side of the highway. They are making Jeff Davis their own, bringing a new culture and a new economy. And the Pike is better for it.
Field trip for the curious: The Big Apple Supermarket, at the old Standard Furniture location in the 2900 block of Jeff Davis, is the Richmond area's largest Latino grocery. Online reviewers complain roundly about the smell (one actually pouted that it was "whiffy"), but they specialize in whole animals and organ meats, so what do you want? As a vegetarian, I can't say I have much need for a cow head, so I don't shop at the Big Apple too often. It wasn't at the Big Apple, but it was on Jeff Davis Highway that I had the best guacamole that I have ever eaten. I hesitate to mention this, because part of what I love about Jeff Davis is its lack of pretension, but I think that most foodies would turn into a pillar of artisanal pink Himalayan salt if they crossed south of Bainbridge, so there is that. —By Anne Thomas Soffee
40. Knitorious M.E.G.
You've probably seen the Knitorious M.E.G.'s work around town, colorful knitted adornments for telephone poles, benches, even a cannon, all installed late at night or early in the morning in a practice known as yarn bombing. In 2011, she pledged to execute at least one project a month, and she's kept to that schedule, despite having a new baby at home. "I like altering everyday spaces and giving something fun and unexpected to the public," she says. To keep up on her latest work — you never know how long it'll stay up — follow @KnitoriousMEG on Twitter or check her blog, Wonton Power, at wontonpower.com .
41. Virginia Screenwriters' Forum
Dreaming of penning an Oscar-winning screenplay? The Virginia Screenwriters' Forum ( virginiascreenwritersforum.org ) offers guidance and feedback from the area's smartest scriptwriters. Helene Wagner, who founded the forum 22 years ago, has had five screenplays optioned. Membership requires 30 pages of an original script and $25 dues. Guests must contact Wagner before meetings, which are held at Art Works from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. every fourth Wednesday most months.
42. Three Lakes Park
This Henrico County park is, pardon the cliché, a hidden gem. Want to look at REALLY big fish in their natural habitat? One of the park's three — count 'em, three! — lakes literally runs right up against the side of its nature center, where a massive glass partition is all that separates us air breathers from our ichthyoid cousins.
43. John Mitchell Jr.
The Library of Virginia and the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia both have copies of John Mitchell Jr.'s groundbreaking newspaper, The Planet, and they're worth checking out. In segregated Richmond not long after the Civil War, Mitchell put a black man's bicep with lightning bolts shooting out of it not only on the paper's masthead but also on the front of The Planet's office building in Jackson Ward. That shows and tells you it wasn't only the bicep that was strong.
44. Michael D. Gorman
Richmond National Battlefield Park historian Michael D. Gorman's website Civil War Richmond ( mdgorman.com ) functions as a one-stop site to see photographs, read period newspaper accounts, peruse maps and locate hospitals, prisons and other Civil War-era landmarks. His motivation: "I'm really tired of people still relying on hearsay and folklore — there is no excuse today not to have a source." He's working on an updated site that'll be easier to grow as more digital information comes online. "There's a lot to move, and it'll take awhile," he says.
45. Shalom Farms
Founded in 2009 by the United Methodist Urban Ministries of Richmond, Goochland County's Shalom Farms ( shalomfarms.org ) is many things to many people. For most of us, it's a great experience doing a good thing for others by working the soil to grow high-yield crops that will make their way to FeedMore's Central Virginia Food Bank. For many students in Richmond Public Schools, it's their first introduction to where food comes from.
46. Show Choirs
Glee has sparked our national curiosity about the show-choir experience. If you've been hanging on the TV hit's every note, unglue your eyes from the screen and check out Richmond's homegrown talent at an array of local high-school competitions this spring, including the Powhatan Show Choir Classic (Feb. 24 to 25); the Central Virginia Show Choir Invitational (March 2 to 3); and the Hanover/Lee Davis Festival of Choirs (March 15 to 17).
47. Community choruses
Richmonders looking to join a singing group themselves are in luck. The racially diverse One Voice Chorus skips auditions, inviting you to "come to a rehearsal, sign in, find your section and start singing." The Greater Richmond Chorus, a female group, has auditions, but reading music isn't required. (See them at Riverfront Plaza during the Grand Illumination on Dec. 2.) Other options include the Richmond Men's Chorus and the Richmond Women's Chorus (both will perform Dec. 10 and 11 at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church), and the Richmond Symphony Chorus (performing Let It Snow! Dec. 3 and 4 and Handel's Messiah on Dec. 10 at the Carpenter Theatre).
An orgy of live music and mayhem, Hamaganza heads to Balliceaux on Dec. 16 and Capital Ale House's downtown location on Dec. 17 to celebrate its Sweet 16. (Here's hoping both venues survive the experience.) The Central Virginia Food Bank benefit showcases the musical talents of local politicians, members of the media (including our own Chris Dovi and Kate Andrews, not to mention WRIC-TV8's Juan Conde and Style Weekly's Jack Lauterback) and local "celebs" such as Donnie "Dirtwoman" Corker. A donation of $10 or more or a Black Label-style canned or cured ham is all you need to join the fun.
49. Holidays on Monument
A stroll along America's first street to be designated a national historic landmark is always worthwhile, but even more so when Monument Avenue's homes are all dolled up for the season. The Valentine Richmond History Center's Holiday Glitter walking tours, held on Dec. 26 and 27, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., give you a little history alongside the holidays. "In the past, residents have even invited us into their homes," says Melissa Sleeth, the Valentine's director of visitor services.
50. Deep Roots, New Traditions
We only get one mother and one birthplace, the faces that bore us.
As I grew up in here in the '50s and '60s, Richmond had an inferiority complex. We were rigidified by race issues, stumbling forward like the rest of the South with eyes turned backward. My childhood was a lower-middle-class affair. Tackle football in the fields, firecrackers, trick-or-treat, dog poop in a burning bag on the front porch for the mean folks. I was called David Lea because my neighbor was David Allen, and we couldn't both be called to separate suppers by the same name.
I left Richmond in the '70s for college and law school. I only went to Williamsburg, but it was far enough.
The '80s I spent busting my butt on Church Hill restoring houses and working as a freelance writer for any ad agency that would hire me. I don't recall much about Richmond for that decade either, just myself. Sorry.
In the mid-'90s I left again, to become a Californian. I made it for two years living among mannequins.
Every waitress was an actress, every waiter a screenwriter/actor, everyone else was in therapy or a therapist. I was never more glad to see the skyline of my earnest old city than when I rolled in from the West.
I put down shallow roots in Richmond and quickly found those roots deep. Memories as old as me arise out of that smell emanating from the Sauer's building, the peal of the Carillon bells, the block where Miller & Rhoads once was.
I love Richmond finally with an adult heart. You can eat better here for under $20 than anywhere in the U.S. We have more public parades, music, races, food festivals and walk-a-thons than any city our size. Our newspaper has a book review. Homegrown charities with incredible missions will let you make a difference.
Most important, I admire how we are on the cutting edge of America. As much as any city, Richmond is that burbling cauldron of living side-by-side in our many human iterations that was first envisioned as America. Unlike the town of my youth, where dirty laundry was kept indoors, today's Richmond washes its undies in public. Our pratfalls (Arthur Ashe's statue alongside all the Confederates, City Council's circus, Wilder vs. the School Board, etc.) define us as much as the climb to our feet that always follows.
Today's Richmond has guts. It defies the old mum traditions; now we struggle and celebrate openly. I, being an overt type, am confident I inherited some of what I love most about myself from the city that bore me.— By David L. Robbins