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, November 25, 2003

All of my friends who’ve suffered through—or been elated by—a night of dancing to the top 40 of 1928, with the assistance my of very loud Columbia Viva-Tonal, may wonder why I’m so reluctant to move into the modern age.

The simple reason is that every time I attempt to cozy up to technology, it promptly snuggles just close enough to bite me right in the ass.

Which is has done yet again. Tonight I turned on this benighted computer only to sit through ten minutes’ worth of wild screen color changes. I’m assuming that whatever passes these days for a picture tube is going up the creek. It seems to have settled back into its normal color scheme by now, but for a few minutes it was favoring a color most aptly described as “urine”.

This computer is not, by any means, new. However, it’s only about five years old. In my mind, this means it should still work. Those more technologically aware will laugh, snort and point out that I really should have replaced it four years ago. To them I say: Farb you. Why should I have to replace these rather expensive gadgets every eighteen months? So what if improvements are made? Why does this mean the old ones don’t work AT ALL anymore? For Christ’s sake, my record player is SEVENTY-FIVE GODDAMNED YEARS OLD and it still works perfectly well. Improvements were made, technology surpassed it, AND YET IT WORKS. Technology surpassed this crapweasel computer within a year of its manufacture, and now it wants to turn everything the color of beer pee. If obscurity just meant that I couldn’t run the very latest stuff on it, I wouldn’t mind, but in modern TechnoWorld, obscurity means that the whole freaking thing just shuts down because it can’t understand what’s going on.

Typewriters may have nothing more than a speedier version of pen and ink, but at least they had the virtues of finality and mechanic simplicity. If the ribbon wore out, you got a new one. A dead monitor requires a transplant of the sort most often found in Mary Shelley’s oeuvre.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

For quite a few years now, friends and recent acquaintances have sighed over my tendency to be an address snob. I am, though, and I’m not about to give it up now. In my native Baltimore, I’ve always held up the ideals. Nice people from Baltimore would never take a cross street address, nor would they live south of Baltimore street. Of course, my world is somewhat skewed in both Baltimore and Richmond by the influx of auslander, who are not entirely sure what cross streets and neighborhoods and correct stationery actually entail.

Given the architectural limitations of a rowhouse, it is not uncommon for a big, fancy corner house in Baltimore—or Richmond, or Washington for that matter—although very few nice people deign to live in what has unfortunately been designed our national capital—to actually have its entrance on the side street. Sometimes, that big house just works out a little more conveniently if the front door opens to the side, rather than the front. In every case, though, these houses take the address of the fashionable main street. The Hooper house, about fifty yards north of my own, sits at the corner of St. Paul and 23rd. Being one of those deranged Victorian piles with no apparent sense of design, logic or order, the house eschews any obvious place to put a front door. Probably through a quirk of design they stuck the front door on 23rd—but the Hoopers wouldn’t have dreamed of a cross street address, so despite the actual location of entry the house is numbered 2301 St. Paul. In the same vein, the McKim mansion a bit further downtown actually fronts on Biddle, but since it’s at the corner of the more fashionable Calvert street, it carries the Calvert address.

Perhaps my Baltimorean heritage compels me to carry this silliness wherever I go. For the few blissful years that I lived in Richmond, I gave my address quite simply as “2806, on the Avenue.” Native Richmonders knew exactly what I meant—though they probably found me more than a bit presumptuous. Those who had to ask “Which Avenue?” –well, I probably didn’t want to have them calling on me, anyway. (Confidential to non-Richmond readers: That’s Monument Avenue, l’addresse du choix in the Holy City.) My cat, by the way, has never forgiven me from leaving that hallowed precinct, and if she had calling cards would surely still list her address as “No. 4, The Jackson, The Avenue, City”.

Even so, I thought that the Baltimoreans had gotten out of hand back in the ‘70s when they created nonexistent addresses for new Urban-Development Hell buildings. When O’Neill’s department store and the beautiful Century and Valencia theatres were destroyed, one might think the old addresses on Charles and Lexington streets—two of the city’s most revered thoroughfares—would have garnered a bit of respect. A tract of land that should have been 200 North Charles was miraculously christened as One Charles Center. Its baptismal gift was a black steel and black glass horror, immortalized thanks to the tag line of Mies van der Rohe. (Hmm. This is a concept: no matter how old, ugly and unfashionable I might become, if I attach myself to a bad Dutch architect, I can live forever!) Meanwhile, the Blaustein Building across the street—the Blausteins had hoped to compete with the miserable Charles Center development—hights itself One North Charles, although it isn’t really. That address should properly be held by an unassuming storefront one half-block south.

And in this week’s New Yorker, I discover that the big new development on Columbus Circle has decided that its address is on Central Park West. Hmm. By that logic, I suppose I live on Mount Vernon Place, instead of on St. Paul near 23rd. Turning a house around a corner is one thing—and a foolish one at that—but glomming onto an address by several blocks takes presumption into the field of idiocy.

In old Baltimore, if you couldn’t afford to live on one of the “Social Streets” and HAD to take a cross street address, you made the best of it. At least you lived around the corner from everyone in the Blue Book, and they knew you and you probably got invites to their parties. If you had a corner house, you could still legitimately claim the main street as an address. No one ever dreamed of giving his 22nd street house an address on Maryland Avenue.

The wonder is that the New Yorkers will actually buy into it.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Operating a household to the standards of 1913 means that one is bloody unlikely to find necessary items at the local Wal-Mart.

Not that Wal-Mart isn’t useful. It’s not fashionable, by any means, and the store closest to my house is in deepest, darkest South Baltimore, which means that I get to see an awful lot of fat, unwashed, stretch-panted and inbred people if I shop there. But—it’s unbelievably cheap, and that appeals to Baltimoreans of all classes. I routinely score cheap cat food and ramen noodles at Wal-Mart (actually I think it’s WalSTARmart but I don’t have a STAR key on this computer). You think ramen is cheap at the grocery store? Try Wal-Mart—about a zillion packages for a dollar.

Unfortunately Wal-Mart does not sell antimacassars and place-card holders. Nor do they deal in Limoges, or white damask cloths upon which to set the Limoges.

Since there are no more real department stores in this country (with the possible exceptions of Strawbridge’s in Philly and Marshall Field in Chicago), one must find these things in flea markets and antique shops.

Even more unfortunately, antique shops ain’t what they used to be. Since everyone of my generation is terrified by white damask tablecloths—which denote the table manners that their hippie parents deplored and didn’t enforce—they collect things like Scooby Doo lunchboxes. I know this because I had a Scooby lunchbox in the first grade at St. Alphonsus School. I was overjoyed to see that very lunchbox (well, I know it wasn’t MINE, but it was the same design) until I noticed the $75.00 pricetag. Sweet Jesus. My Mom got that lunchbox for me at Kresge’s down on Lexington street, and knowing my mother, it couldn’t have cost more than three dollars or I’d have been brownbagging.

Today I encountered a casserole dish that matches one of mine. It’s a Super Seventies design that most people really wouldn’t want, but I figured that I could always use another casserole dish. Oops. It’s now “vintage” and was tagged at thirty bucks. Hello!?!? This thing should be in the fifty cent bin at Goodwill! Another dealer—one of those dealers that sticks pink ribbons on things and hand-calligraphs the price tags—rhapsodized over the beauties of a tablecloth. Too bad it wasn’t even old—I have the matching napkins in my sideboard, and I bought them six years ago at Woodward and Lothrop.

I was never adequately informed about the trauma of aging, but going to an antique shop or mall brings the point home rather painfully. It was bad enough to realize that my fraternity’s new pledges were born shortly before I went to college, but it’s horrific to realize that they consider my childhood lunchbox an antique.

And even more horrific that they’d pay seventy-five dollars for it.