In January 1979, a 30-year-old Henry L. "Chuck" Richardson, who represented the Second District on City Council, was sharing his take on Richmond with this magazine.
"Richmond is at a crossroads: What we do today could mean it will become one of the finest cities in the East Coast," said the councilman. "Or we could make the same mistakes others have made."
Richardson's substance abuse and legal troubles eventually forced him out of public life. Nonetheless, in 1993 planning consultant James Crupi subtitled his infamous dismal assessment of the region's future, "Richmond at the Crossroads."
Perhaps it's time for the Richmond region to heed the great Yogi Berra's advice: When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
Or at least go to Crossroads Coffee in Forest Hill and just think this through for a while. And, in the process, consider this review of the exasperating and exultant unranked events from when we started observing them in 1979.
Then, the city's downtown didn't have the river-hugging high rises of the 1980s and 1990s. Best Products and Reynolds Metals, Thalhimers and Miller & Rhoads were going strong; "Innesbrook Road" was a rural lane; Parker Field held ballgames; Byrd Airport hadn't gone "international"; and major Richmond banks weren't yet owned by North Carolina.
Not yet here were historic tax credits and Neighborhoods In Bloom to help preservationists and developers spur the revitalization of numerous bereft buildings and communities.
We don't have monorails or even revitalized streetcars, but the tolls came off I-95 in 1992. And the city's renowned cross-dressing Dirt Woman, a feature subject for this magazine in August 1990, announced a short-lived mayoral run in 2008. Who would have dreamed?
1. Trani Town
In 1990, Eugene P. Trani came from the University of Wisconsin to Richmond. As president, he transformed Virginia Commonwealth University and earned his place as one of the region's most influential decision-makers.
A 1990s building campaign turned a derelict section of West Broad into the Valley of VCU, created a biotechnology research park, and added an engineering school and new buildings for the arts and business. More recently, Trani rankled preservationists by wanting to raze the West Hospital and overhauling the Cary Street Gym.
His leadership style is regarded as hard-nosed, even unyielding. Heart problems accelerated his resignation plans to this July. Also, scandals plagued him last year, including the school's granting of an unearned degree to then-Police Chief Rodney Monroe, Trani's position on a board of tobacco manufacturer Universal Leaf, and VCU's research agreements with Philip Morris USA.
2. Marketplace Driven
The Sixth Street Festival Marketplace, a downtown mall anchored by Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimers, opened with speeches and balloons in 1985. City leaders who advocated for the enterprise became the core of the public-private group Richmond Renaissance that later transformed into Venture Richmond. A pedestrian bridge across Broad was meant to symbolize the unification of the communities north of Broad and south of Broad.
But the department stores that the marketplace was supposed to support soon failed. In the meantime, the rehabilitation of Shockoe was left to its own devices, and riverfront development lagged for years. The mall limped along on city subsidies, a symbol of civic boondoggle, and was demolished during 2003-2004 to make way for another public-private revitalization project, the Virginia Performing Arts Center, which downsized into CenterStage, opening in September.
3. The Rise of the Independents
In 1981, ThroTTle, a monthly newsmagazine covering the city's counterculture and music scene, came into being. The publication seemed poised to become our version of D.C.'s CityPaper. But it staggered to its demise in 1999.
Founded in 1982 was Style Weekly, which began as a suburban calendar and lifestyles guide.
The publication evolved into a viable news and entertainment weekly, and in 1984 was purchased by Hampton Roads-based Landmark Communications. In 2008, Landmark began searching for buyers for the Virginian-Pilot and Style. This year, the two publications were taken off the market.
The irreverent PUNCHLiNE premiered in 1997, and adhered to its independence, rebuffing a 2002 acquisition offer from Style. It folded in February 2003.
And now, of course, there are blogs.
4. Foul Ball
The Diamond baseball park opened on North Boulevard in 1985, replacing Parker Field as the Richmond Braves' new home. It was an example of regional cooperation, with a partnership of the city of Richmond and the counties of Henrico and Chesterfield.
In 2008, however, the Atlanta Braves farm team vacated the Diamond, after years of the city's dickering about whether to keep the stadium, tear it down or move it to Shockoe Bottom or Fulton Gas Works. The Shockoe baseball idea, first uttered in 1974, was considered in 2004 and is trying to come back again.
5. Spider Power
Even well after the end of the college season, University of Richmond's campus was still abuzz with football fever. Consider, of course, all that the 2008 season delivered: Under the direction of first-year head coach Mike London, the Spiders won their first-ever NCAA Division I title on the gridiron, beating Montana 24-7 in the Football Championship Subdivision bowl game Dec. 19, 2008.
Meanwhile, former UR running back Tim Hightower racked up stats and accolades as an NFL rookie as his team, the Arizona Cardinals, reached the Super Bowl for the first time in the team's history (but lost in a heartbreaker).
After a prolonged season of cheering on their fellow Spiders, die-hard UR football fans may
be grateful for the off-season — it'll give them a chance to get their voices back.
6. No, After You, Gaston
The aftereffects of Tropical Storm Gaston arrived unexpectedly on Aug. 30, 2004, during the evening rush hour and dropped almost a foot of rain over four hours. Up until that happened, Richmonders thought they'd avoided the worst.
But storm drains couldn't handle the volume, and Shockoe Bottom filled like a bowl as water poured off Church Hill; the floodwall, designed to hold off James River floods, instead trapped the surge.
Power and pumps failed. SUVs floated like ice cubes in a whiskey glass, and Shockoe Bottom businesses were overwhelmed by floods. The neighborhood struggled for months to recover. Collapsed roads on Church Hill and the damaged retaining wall for St. John's Cemetery took a while to repair. Some $20 million in storm-water drainage improvments were then placed into the city's budget.
7. Rise of the Edge City
In September 1979, developer Sidney Gunst's Innsbrook Corporation received Henrico County's approval for acquiring the fields of Norwood Nuckols' Short Pump farm. Gunst envisioned commerce and cul-de-sacs in open fields.
By 1999, Innsbrook provided Henrico's largest tax base with more than 17,000 jobs in 400 businesses. By 2007, 750 firms employed 23,000, but recent fluxes in the economy nicked those figures. Innsbrook Today is conducting a census, with results out this month.
Innsbrook After Hours, established in 1985, is a seasonal-entertainment mainstay, featuring the Doobie Brothers and Foreigner this spring.
Innsbrook begat planned communities like Wellesley and Wyndham. The 2003 opening of Tommy Pruitt's Short Pump Town Center marked an evolutionary high point of Henrico's Far West End. Here was a "lifestyle center" that recreated architectural elements of Shockoe and Carytown.
Farther down Broad, the 2008 arrival of Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and West Broad Street Village, a mixed-use development still under construction and centered around a "Main Street" design, signify further why Henrico received its own postal designation last year.
8. iBook Stampede
The whole thing happened because Henrico County decided to sell retired iBooks for $50 each. On Aug. 16, 2005, at the appointed hour of 7 a.m., 5,500 people stood in a line a mile long outside the state fairgrounds.
There was no lottery system, no real planning, and just 10 police officers and security guards.
When the gates opened, the crush of the throng left 17 people trampled and a flattened baby carriage where moments before an infant sat (the baby was OK). One man slapped people with a folding chair. The ridiculous — and dangerous — incident made CNN, where wild-eyed deal seekers were shown running as though an iBook might possess the secret of eternal youth, or turn water into wine.
Not exactly our best moment.
9. The South Side Strangler
During 11 terrible weeks in 1987, the city was terrorized by the rapes and murders of four young women, including Dr. Susan Hellams.
In 1988, Timothy W. Spencer was tried for the crimes with the first use in Virginia of DNA evidence. Spencer committed the murders on weekends when signed out from the South Side halfway house where he was living following release from state prison on burglary charges.
He was executed in 1994.
A case bearing close resemblance to the Strangler forms the basis of crime novelist Patricia Cornwell's 1989 debut, Postmortem.
10. Ashe at Roseneath and Monument
On July 17, 1995, after an often-vociferous seven-hour debate preceded by months of public to-ing and fro-ing, Richmond City Council approved the placement on Monument Avenue of a statue honoring tennis great, author and activist Arthur Ashe, sculpted by Paul DiPasquale. Ashe died in 1993 of AIDS, contracted from a blood transfusion during brain surgery.
On Ashe's birthday, July 10, 1996, the 12-foot statue portraying Ashe's athletic and humanitarian achievements was unveiled before an estimated 2,000 people — including a few Confederate-flag waving protestors.
11. The Incredible Expanding Convention Center
The Greater Richmond Convention Center, first opened in 1991 and then expanded in 2003, is a responsibility shared by the region's localities. Richmond and the counties of Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover contributed to its 700,000-square-foot, five-and-a-half-block expansion, costing $165 million. It's one of the biggest convention centers in the state.
The construction generated controversy because it was in part funded by a 2 percent lodging-tax
increase — from 6 percent to 8 percent — to pay off the project's bonds.
Jackson Ward residents weren't enthused by having yet another chunk of their community grabbed up, and preservationists tried to rescue several buildings.
The center's full potential, however, still depends on the opening of more downtown hotel rooms. The former Miller & Rhoads department store reopened Feb. 12 as a Hilton Garden Inn with 250 rooms.
12. The Old Yaminion
Though Richmond contributed to the music world such artists as Aimee Mann, GWAR, D'Angelo and Jason Mraz, one cannot underestimate the power of appearing on a mega-hit television show.
Such was the case of Westbury Pharmacy clerk Elliott Yamin, who in 2006 finished third in the fifth-season competition of American Idol .
When he visited Richmond in May as a finalist, he sang "Home" for an estimated 4,000 people gathered downtown; Mayor Doug Wilder gave him the key to the city; and he threw the first pitch for a sold-out Richmond Braves game.
The July 2006 issue of this magazine with Yamin on its cover shattered newsstand sales records and attracted readers worldwide. His mother, Claudette, who passed away in 2008, also received her share of fame for her no-holds-barred enthusiasm for her son.
Yamin's self-titled 2007 album went gold in October. He's since toured the world and become an advocate for juvenile diabetes research. A new R&B-flavored album is due in May.
13. Murder City Turnaround
Contributing writer Eric Sundquist noted in our December 1989 issue that "from Jan. 1988 to Sept. 1989 Richmond totaled 168 homicides."
This was part of the dreary, numbing trend that began the mid-1980s, with the arrival of crack cocaine, leading to a seemingly unstoppable death toll.
In 1995, late-blooming punk rocker and VCU music scholar Dika Newlin lamented Richmond's homicidal tendencies in a song called "Murder City."
After 2001, though, the numbers began tumbling; 95 in 2004; and 2008 ended with only 33 violent deaths.
Officials cite community policing and more neighborhood outrage over the killings; no parole; and more success in closing murder cases. Police Chief Rodney Monroe received credit for his leadership, and he left for Charlotte, N.C., in May. 14.
14. Frank's Richmond Swan Song
During a March 6, 1994, performance at the Mosque (now the Landmark Theater), 78-year-old singer Frank Sinatra smoked and drank. Sweating, he told the audience at one point, "It's hot in here."
During his encore, he started "My Way" but leaned against a stool, muttering, "Boy, I need a chair."
Then he keeled over, his head glancing a speaker. The audience gasped, a scramble ensued, and a wheelchair appeared. Medics slipped an oxygen mask on him, and Sinatra made a feeble wave in the spotlight as the audience rose and applauded.
MCV physicians wanted to keep him overnight, but, doing it his way, Sinatra checked out just past midnight and was chauffeured to the airport.
He performed only twice more and died May 14, 1998.
15. Not Fit?
From 1993 to 1996, Sharon Bottoms, a divorced mother from Henrico County, and her mom, Kay Bottoms, made national news when they became locked in a custody battle for Sharon's son. The elder Bottoms declared that Sharon was an unfit mother for her 2-year-old son, Tyler Doustou, because she was a lesbian. Also caught up in the mess was Bottoms' partner, April Wade.
On Sept. 7, 1993, Judge Buford M. Parsons Jr. of the Henrico County Circuit Court declared Sharon's conduct "immoral" and awarded sole custody to Kay. The Virginia Court of Appeals overturned his judgment in 1994, ruling that homosexuality alone was not grounds for losing custody. The 1995 Virginia Supreme Court, however, decided 4-3 that Sharon Bottoms should not have custody of her son.
A 1996 Lifetime film, Two Mothers for Zachary , dramatized the events. The General Assembly passed the 1997 "Affirmation of Marriage Act," and then a 2004 amendment outlawed any contractual union resembling marriage between members of the same sex. Sharon Bottoms was granted visits with her son in 1996.
16. Big Crowds for Barack
When presidential candidate Barack Obama visited Richmond a week prior to the general election, he drew a 13,000-capacity crowd to the Richmond Coliseum, and about 7,000 others gathered outside to hear his speech over loudspeakers. Prior to taking the dais, Obama came out of the Sixth Street entrance, causing some audience members to cry and fall to their knees. He said this period was the toughest part of the race, and urged those in favor of him to get five of their friends to vote.
Must've worked, because he carried Virginia — a feat not accomplished by a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.
17. Shrink-Swell Soil
During the late 1980s, shrink-swell soil in Chesterfield's Brandermill and Woodlake communities caused house foundations to crack; it became a matter of suits, charges, denials and deliberations. A 1995 suit by a group of homeowners against the county was dismissed from federal court.
In 1998, Bill Dupler, the county's chief of building inspections, was quoted in a Richmond magazine story that covered Brandermill's history. He moved to Woodlake in 1988 and began his county service in 1991. "The developers were aware of the potential for problems with shrink-swell," Dupler said. "And most of the contractors said they would take that into consideration."
The event spurred concrete-pouring inspections and countywide testing for shrink-swell soil on sites
slated for building.
18. The Man of the River
In 1980, native New Yorker, world traveler, teacher and naturalist Ralph White became director of the 500-acre James River Park System. Back then, the city's ribbon of green wasn't as appreciated.
Ordinances forbade swimming, wading or launching a boat. White makes choices guided by principles of common sense coupled to his understanding of natural processes. And bureaucracy isn't one of those.
In 2005, he was suspended for two weeks for opening gates to park users after hours, reinstated after huge public support and then in 2006 received the Sierra Club's Distinguished Service Award.
White galvanized volunteer efforts to support park maintenance, including building paths and canoe takeouts. Today, there are blue herons, otters, many varieties of fish, and bald eagles nest on
In February, Richmond Planning Commission endorsed a proposed conservation easement for the riverside parks. City council approval is needed to make it official and protect the park from development.
19. Power Corrupts, Even in Richmond
Richmond learned the hard way: Just because the mayor is a minister doesn't make him more moral. Leonidas Young, senior pastor at the East End's large Fourth Baptist Church, served as a councilman from 1992 and was appointed mayor by his peers from July 1994 to June 1996. He lost everything after Joel Walker Harris, his former personal assistant, testified at length to federal authorities as part of a plea deal in a "drugs-sex-and-bank-fraud scandal," as Style Weekly described the salacious comeuppance. Young spent money on jewelry and a penile implant, and even bilked the life savings of an elderly parishioner. The consequence: Young was sentenced in 1999 on 14 charges including fraud, racketeering and money laundering.
After serving 15 months of a two-year sentence, Young returned to Richmond in 2001 — and started a ministry near the airport.
20. Testing Teaching
The Virginia State Board of Education adopted the Standards of Learning in June 1995 to bring accountability to public schools. At least, that was the theory.
In Richmond magazine's March 2008 issue, statistical data showed that while the city students' testing scores were improving, they still lagged behind the state average in math, science and English — in some cases by up to 10 percent. Teachers can help with that, but not necessarily if they're constantly teaching about test taking.
21. Art Foundation
The 1708 Gallery, named for its East Main Street address, signaled a Shockoe Bottom rebirth in its first operating year of 1979. Gallery coordinator Nancy Gunn said at the time artists got tired of complaining "about no place to show and decided to do something about it."
The founders included sculptor Joe Seipel (the outgoing associate dean of the VCU School of the Arts); sculptor Tom Chenoweth; painter Gerald Donato, multimedia artists Richard Carlyon and Davi Det Hompson, and painter James Bradford. The latter three are deceased.
The gallery moved to Broad Street and created the annual Wearable Art event, launched the InLight festival of illumination and art, and held gallery openings before First Fridays. It remains a vibrant nonprofit exhibitor of new art.
22. Circuit City's Plug Pulled
Circuit City began in downtown Richmond in 1949 when New Yorker Samuel Wurtzel opened Ward's, Virginia's first retail television store. The name was an anacronym: "W" for Wurtzel, "A" for the founder's son, Alan, "R" for his wife Ruth, "D" for his son David, and "S" for Samuel.
In 1984, the name changed to Circuit City, which opened superstores nationwide. In 2000, it quit selling appliances, and a few years later got rid of its commission-sales structure. It spun off CarMax in 2002.
Then things started to go wrong. The company abandoned its use of knowledgeable showroom assistants (some of whom departed with the loss of commisions), and made management blunders as retail buying habits changed, including underestimating Best Buy. Finally, a staggering national economy caused the company, on Jan. 16, to flip the "Off" switch — leading to the liquidation of all of the stores.
23. The Golden Road
After 15 years of on-again, off-again construction, budget troubles and neighborhood disputes, the 32-mile-long Virginia State Route 288 was completed in November 2004. This was the most recent major non-toll road construction. Its course wends from I-95 near Chester to I-64 by Short Pump. The route was officially dedicated as The World War II Veterans Memorial Highway.
The $450 million highway opened verdant swaths of Chesterfield County to more residential building. At the interchange of 288 and Midlothian Turnpike, the 640-acre Watkins Centre is on the rise — yet another "lifestyle center" of mixed retail, residential and green spaces.
24. The Crupi Reports
In 1993, Texas planning consultant James Crupi was hired by Richmond businessmen to evaluate the city's potential. The result was an indictment of the city's inability to govern itself.
Crupi, using anonymous interviews, revealed a city of black political leadership at odds with a white-dominated financial class.
He slapped the hand that fed him, but the stinging subsided enough to have almost the same people request his services a second time in 2007. Crupi reiterated that Richmond, despite its riches of culture and history, still didn't know what it wanted to be.
The report sparked positive discussions and forums, in part because the Richmond Times-Dispatch published the entire report, and local blogs gave voice to those not supporting 0a status quo.
25. The Darn-Good Eight
In 1993, Richmonders flocked to watch what was then heralded as possibly one of the greatest minor-league baseball teams of all time. The stellar lineup of the Richmond Braves was dubbed "The Great Eight" by a Times-Dispatch sportswriter and included infielders Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, Ramon Caraballo and the late José Oliva; outfielders Tony Tarasco, Melvin Nieves and Mike Kelly; and catcher Javy Lopez. The team posted a regular-season record of 80-62 — one of the best in the R-Braves' history — but flamed out in the playoffs, suggesting that the "great" moniker was a little overzealous.
Most of "The Great Eight" moved on to productive major-league careers, with Jones — the only one still in the majors — and Klesko making the biggest dents.
26. Manchester Makeover
The demolition of subsidized housing in Manchester's Blackwell neighborhood began in March 1999 through the federal Hope VI project, dedicated to replacing substandard living conditions with mixed-income residences. Of the 440 units razed, just 75 have replaced them, in part due to shortages of government money, as Style Weekly reported in October 2008.
In March 2004, the Plant Zero arts center opened, the product of attorney and developer Tom Papa, and the center renewed life within former warehouses and dormant factories. In 2006, Old Manchester was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The new Manchester Courthouse is slated to open in 2010.
27. Who Runs This Joint?
Public dissatisfaction about a tempestuous City Council, ineffectual appointed mayors, and lightweight city managers led to the present form of city government.
In 2002, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, then a radio talk-show host and VCU lecturer, teamed up with former city councilman and U.S. Rep. Thomas J. Bliley to create the "Bliley-Wilder Commission" to advocate for an elected mayor at large.
A public referendum, passed by a large majority in 2003, was sent for review to the 2004 General Assembly. A winning candidate would need to carry five of the city's nine districts. The U.S. Department of Justice ruled the measure in compliance with the Voting Rights Act.
Wilder — who previously said he wouldn't run for mayor — won 80 percent of the city vote in November 2004 and became mayor in 2005; he was succeeded this year by former state Del. Dwight Clinton Jones Jr.
28. School Offices Imbroglio
On Sept. 21, 2007, while Mayor Wilder was celebrating the opening of a Shockoe plaza with a glow stick around his head, City Hall was locked down as movers seized office equipment and files of the Richmond schools administration and began to haul them to a new office up Broad Street.
Wilder and the school administration weren't on good terms from the start. He'd insisted the school offices move out of City Hall, but school officials said their rental agreement was with the City Council.
Richmond Circuit Court Judge Margaret P. Spencer halted the fiasco with a late-night injunction. Ultimately, she laid out two rulings that restricted mayoral power. The aborted move has cost the city nearly $1 million.
29. Isabel's Wrath
The strongest storm of the 2003 season, Isabel was a Category 2 hurricane with 105-mile-per-hour winds when she roared up North Carolina's coast. The storm propelled into the Richmond region on Sept. 19, depriving 1.8 million in Central Virginia of electricity. Some people went without power for several days, others for weeks. Isabel wrecked scores of houses, and 23 Virginians died.
An unusually wet August had saturated the ground, and when Isabel's winds slammed into trees, their loosened roots couldn't hold on. In Richmond, according to the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, some 7,710 trees were cleared. Byrd Park alone lost 287.
30. Don't Believe the Hype
In November 1992, this magazine enthusiastically described the dreams of Frank Jewell, executive director of the then-Valentine Museum, as being in "CinemaScope and Technicolor."
Jewell wanted to establish an industrial museum in the Tredegar Iron Works called Valentine Riverside; it cost $22 million and closed in September 1995 after only 16 months. The abrupt end left the museum in arrears.
The city assumed a $9.1 million note the Valentine owed Crestar as part of a $25 million incentive package to keep the bank in the city and encourage it to build a $68 million suburban-style office on the edge of Old Manchester.
Valentine Riverside proved a prescient use for the Civil War-era buildings. Today Tredegar is the site of the American Civil War Center and the Richmond National Battlefield Park Civil War Visitor Center.
Today's Valentine Richmond History Center on Clay Street remains healthy and dynamic under the direction of Bill Martin.