The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

When I was a little rugrunner back in the ‘70s, I thought that it was really cool when the lights went out. Now, in those prehistoric days when brightly-colored polyester daisies ruled the world, things were not quite as dependent upon power grids as they now are. Central air wasn’t yet ubiquitous; nobody had a personal computer and everybody still had something in the house that was just a radio with no extraneous functions. Many people had radios that worked on batteries. I’ve found that in the past ten years, if anyone has a battery-operated radio at all, it’s probably the unused part of his Walkman. And people actually relied on newspapers for information—which they should do still, given the laughable incompleteness of television news.

My parents did not seem amused by the power outages, which were frequent in suburban Baltimore of the mid-‘70s. I didn’t understand why; they had a windup alarm clock and we always had plenty of candles. Even in those days when people actually still sat outside in the summertime and visited with neighbors, it was always a social event when electricity decided to go on vacation.

It finally occurred to me that perhaps my parents and the other grownups were freaked out by power outages because of what had happened a few short years before in the giant blackouts of the late ‘60s. In the wake of that destruction, I’m sure that my mother was probably imagining looting and lawlessness on Lexington street every time the lights flickered.

Interestingly, now that I live in a house much older than any that my parents ever owned, and in a much older section of the metropolis, the lights go out only on the rarest occasions. The last time I can remember was about five years ago. Since Baltimore Gas and Electric is operating on ancient systems and serves a city full of decrepit old wiring, this is pretty amazing.

I realize now that in the ‘70s, it’s quite likely that BG&E was frantically trying to keep the city itself lit to avoid the horrors that had befallen other cities—thus, our little suburban enclave got short shrift. Natch, the TV news programs these days never fail to interview a suburbanite from some far-flung corner, irate that his PlayStation is incapacitated. Sorry, bub, but when it comes between keeping your McMansion air-conditioned and keeping the lights on at the Hotel Lord Baltimore, you just kinda lose.

I’m thankful that I maintain such an anachronistic household that I never have to really worry about such things. I can even be the center of the neighborhood if the lights DO fail; with a manually-operated phonograph and a foot-pumped Pianola, I’m the only one for blocks with entertainment. Still, I think the only blackout problem that ever really worries people around here is the potential lack of cold mixers.

Congratulations to New York and Detroit for not imploding when the lights went out. Perhaps some of the unpleasant events of the last two years have convinced people that small inconveniences are exactly that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Everyone knows the maxim that blood is thicker than water. On the most superficial level, this is entirely true; I had a nasty shaving accident last week and am still trying to get the blood out of the towel. With my luck, one of my neighbors—probably the Californian lady who’d never seen anybody hanging laundry out to dry—will report a massacre to the police.

But if water washes away the sands of time, blood has no effect. I received a rather unpleasant email last night, and I’m still reeling from it.

Last night I listened to a homegrown CD that a friend made; it was compiled with me in mind, and featured mostly German dance bands from the ‘20s and ‘30s—“Schlage aus dem 20er u. 30er”, if you will. There were a lot of delightful numbers, including a few German versions of some American favorites, but I was most delighted to hear one of my own favorites from Berlin. This lovely little number, “Eilali, Eilali, Eilala” was fairly popular in its day, but the most famous recording was made by the renowned “Comedian Harmonists” backed up by the stylish orchestra of Dajos Bela.

There’s nothing special to the song; the lyrics are sort of silly and the music is just a happy and frantic melody. It’s fun, though, and I like it. It’s the sort of song that always makes you smile. I’ve loved it since the first time I heard it about four years ago, and having just heard it again, I decided to go on a search for the sheet music so that I could butcher the song at my parlor piano.

And so I posted a message on one of the boards that I frequent; one that focuses on dance music and operettas and that sort of thing, just asking for the music to this little dance tune.

Within half an hour, I got an email entitled “Eilali”. I opened the email to receive the message:

“People like you are the ones who dance on the graves of millions of innocents.”

I was a bit shocked, to say the least, but I had the presence of mind to respond:

“I’m sorry if I didn’t receive your message in time. I am polishing my dancing shoes for the big show at the Kabarett-Metropol tonight.”

Whoever this idiot might have been, he obviously overlooked a couple of important points. “Eilali” was a hit for the Comedian Harmonists—a sextette of whom fully half were Jewish. The orchestra which accompanied them was mostly Hungarian, another ethnic group not particularly beloved by National Socialism. Therefore, it’s fairly safe to assume that this innocuous fox-trot was not a tool of Satan, or at least not in the incarnation of Hitler’s Reich.

Attitudes such as these are perhaps the most dangerous of modern society. The implication here is that anything German is bad, particularly anything German from the early ‘30s. Had the anonymous emailer done his homework, he’d know that the artists involved were probably more to his liking than he’d thought.

This very assumption of inherent evil is the path that led National Socialism to power in the first place, and has been responsible for countless other purges and holocausts over the centuries of human history.

As convenient as it might be for me to hold up the combined banners of Austria and Germany and declare enmity towards Russia, France and England—perhaps my native United States—it is high time that the civilised peoples of the world transcend the kind of pettiness that results in spitting matches over a dance tune.

I hope that I can get the sheet music to “Eilali, Eilali, Eilala”, because it’s a really happy little song. If I can find it, I will play it for all of my friends at New Year’s, and I think that everyone will enjoy it. The New Years crowd tends to involve a wide variety of religions and ethnicities, and it has been my observation that champagne and happy music dilute both blood and water.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Another fun filled day of New Teacher Training. Today's exercise in Jargon Justification was held at Dunbar High School, one of the old "colored" high schools. Actually, the OLD building, the pretty Deco one, is behind the current school. Dunbar now occupies one of those grotesque brown-brick, translucent-windowed '70s monstrosities that was built for air-conditioning but...surprise! isn't air-conditioned.

I've never quite figured out why the school was named for Paul Laurence Dunbar. The poet was famous in his day, but he was born and raised in Ohio, and if he ever even set foot in Baltimore it was probably only for a speaking engagement or, more likely, changing trains. He WAS black, however, and apparently it was crucial that a high school intended for black students be named for a black person.

Though almost nobody reads Dunbar's work anymore--it IS pretty schmaltzy--his name lives on across the country. He was a shining example of the "be a credit to your race" philosophy, and segregation-era institutions from New Orleans to Boston bear his name. Even if I'm not so fond of Dunbar's oeuvre, it's impressive that he's one of the VERY few literary figures to have garnered such public recognition in America's institutions. Well--there is Walt Whitman, whose home state of New Jersey has fanatically named everything from schools to rest areas for their writin' son.

Weird anecdote du jour from the wonderful world of Baltimore transit:
On the way home this afternoon I boarded the rather genteel #61 northbound car. I was followed by a flock of Koreans, all of whom looked completely terrorized. Apparently, only one woman was fluent in English, and she had been appointed ambassador to the world at large. Having boarded the bus, none of the group seemed quite sure how to get it to stop when they wanted to get off. One of the crowd must have noticed somebody pushing the little yellow ringer thingy, though, because around the Sunpapers building the whole bunch started gingerly fingering the yellow thingies. At Mount Royal avenue, the designated English speaker yelled "Train Station!", pushed the thingy and was able to escape the car, asking the operator to tell the others when to get off. The rest of the group, bereft of their connection to the outside world, were still casting looks of wide-eyed horror out the windows when I stepped off at 22nd street.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

What passed for a vacation this summer was a weekend trip to Allentown and Bethlehem. Not, one might say, the most idyllic of vacations, but it was superb all the same.

Underlying the entire weekend is that I got to stay in what must be one of the premier estates of the entire Lehigh Valley, home to friends Richard and Frank. This is the kind of gorgeous ‘20s mansion that sells for a song nowadays, because the people that can afford to live in this sort of thing no longer want to live anywhere except New York or some overpopulated beach. When “Sunset Acres” was finished in 1929, local industrial barons lived in the town that made them wealthy. Now, outside interests just bleed these towns dry and live elsewhere, never seeing the town that makes them rich.

Sunset Acres is something else, though. It’s not too imposing from the outside—it’s meant to look like a grand version of an old Pennsylvania farmhouse—but when you get inside and discover the ballroom, library, morning room and tack room, not to mention the acre-sized dining room-- you realize that you’re on a different plane of existence. And the pool helps. Pennsylvania isn’t supposed to be as steamy as Maryland, but it is, and my God, the pool helps.

Aside from playing Manor House guest, I got to spend a good chunk of Saturday in my beloved Allentown. Like most cities its size, A-town has taken a nasty hit from America’s deindustrialization. And, natch, all the locals think that downtown is dangerous and scary.

I LOVE walking around Allentown. It might be run down and faded, but damnit, I did not see one piece of trash blowing in the street. Baltimore’s most elegant neighborhoods have blue grocery bags drifting down the sidewalks and yesterday’s SUN clogging the gutters. Allentown’s most bombed-out section has flower urns hanging from the streetlights.

After lunch and a few drinks at the Hotel Traylor—my Adresse du Choix in Allentown—I migrated to the nifty old 19th Street Theatre to see “The Jazz Singer”. The theatre management wisely decided that, besides Mr. Jolson’s singing, the Warner soundtrack was crap, and so they turned on the Vitaphone only for Jolson’s singing parts, and used the theatre’s beautiful Moller organ to cue the rest of the picture. An infinite improvement, in my book.

I also found some very stylish houses for sale on Linden street. Hmm—perhaps I could live on that side of the Mason-Dixon line.