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.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

A few creepy thoughts about the aging process that struck me over Friday evening cocktails:

I am now two years older than my father was at the time of my birth. When, in my childhood, we vacationed in Virginia Beach, he liked to tell stories of his college Beach Weeks there. The time span between his Beach Weeks and my six-year-old vacations was about the same as the span between MY college beach weeks and, well, now.

I have been alive longer than the Valencia Theatre was open. (1926-1958, for those who are counting.)

My senior class students were born the year that I became a high school senior. Many of their parents are younger than I am.

In college, my friends and I decided that I should have been born in about 1904 or 1905, so that I’d have been a college senior and a dashing young man about town in those halcyon days of the mid-20’s. If that were true, I’d now be stuck in 1938 or so. I’d have (possibly) weathered the Depression, would be in the midst of a world poised for what is probably history’s most hideous war, and would be surrounded by music that was already deviating wildly from what I enjoy.

There’s also a parallel. Had I graduated in ’26, I’d have seen the beginnings of what was then W&M’s “new campus”. By ’38, the main campus as we know it in the 20th century was complete and made the early ‘20s campus look like a nickel show. In reality, I graduated in ’91; the changes made to campus have transformed the old place yet again. It’s recognizable, but there are plans to change that. And of course, in the fine William and Mary tradition, all the building names have changed. I firmly believe that one day of the annual Homecoming should be designated Building Name Change Awareness Day.

I have been alive for a longer time than that in which the screen was silent. (Not really, if you count the dawn of film, but I’m tracking on actual feature film beginning in 1903. If you accept ’29 as the last year in which a full-length silent feature was filmed—wow, I surpass silent film by eight years.)

In the past thirty-four years, I have witnessed: The last gasp of “Old Baltimore” prosperity, the death of traditional Baltimore, the Renaissance of downtown Baltimore (focused on the waterfront), the death of the Renaissance, and now the Re-Renaissance (focusing now on the old shopping district, which was what had died the first time around).

Considering aging from a positive viewpoint, not all is ill. I have realized many of my life’s goals, although in the daily strife it’s not obvious. I am finally using my degree and my studies to achieve a higher goal. I have a big Stieff Pianola in my parlor, even if it doesn’t happen to play by itself at the moment. I also have service for eighteen in one china pattern, service for twelve in another, two silverplate patterns and one sterling pattern (as yet still incomplete). In the dining-room alongside the plethora o’ china lives a giant Columbia Viva-Tonal Grafonola. The parlor and dining-room in question lie in a house with an impeccable address (no matter how run-down the neighborhood is these days, it’s STILL on Saint Paul street). Thus, I should be pleased—I’ve realized most of my material goals.

Would I trade all of that for one more Delta Gamma Golden Anchor Ball at the Hotel Chamberlin? Five hours in 1989 with old friends, a lovely old hotel porch, good dance music and the lights of Norfolk glittering across the Hampton Roads? I don’t know. The jury is still out.

At the very least, I now know that mixing gin with iced tea is inadvisable.