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, February 28, 2006

I am thinking very much about tablecloths right now. As my devotees--all ten of you-- have read, I've lately become dryer-enabled. (I feel so modern and fashionable using that sort of language, though my inner grammarian just shat himself. Why must we now create adjectives by combining a noun and a passive verb form?) Anyway, I have discovered that good linens do not fend well in a dryer. Their edges get all curly and you still end up having to starch the bejesus out of them and iron them, which was part of what the dryer was supposed to cure.

Oh well. In my endless search for proper linens I have been forced to turn to ebay.

Ebay is a wonderful invention. It is that much more wonderful for its origins, which I understand are traced to its inventor's girlfriend, who collected PEZ dispensers. Anybody who collects PEZ dispensers is pretty much OK in my book. I even have the prized OLD Halloween skull dispenser. If anybody has the PEZ gun, which could actually fire the PEZ at your mouth or at hapless bystanders, that person may advance to the front of the line, but be aware that I will probably hit on that person.

But I do not intend to speak of PEZ, nor really of ebay itself. I am forced to shop for linens on ebay because there are no nice department stores left in the United States. I'm fairly sure that I could shop happily for gigantic damask tablecloths at KaDeWe in Berlin, or for random lace doohickies (yes, that is the official term, as far as I'm concerned) at Galeries-Lafayette in Paris.

I am not in Paris nor Berlin, and Hutzler's and Thalhimers are both long gone, so I've got to troll ebay for all of this crap. Also fine, but the folk who sell crap on ebay are apparently confused about having dinner for anyone but themselves.

Since when is a 94" long tablecloth "huge?" Crimony. That's just long enough to serve six people, and even then the cloth won't hang all the way to the floor. It barely hangs down six inches, which means it's a luncheon cloth. Have any of these people ever entertained? If so, are they in Alaska somewhere, and are entertaining only small friendly forest animals who are not familiar with dinner etiquette? Sheesh. I have personally observed that small friendly animals aren't too good with handling soup spoons either, so it probably doesn't matter whether you let them eat on a damask cloth or not. (Large animals tend to be less friendly and pay no attention to the tablecloth, simply eating their host and having done with the whole ordeal.)

I did find one reasonably-sized cloth down in Williamsburg at one of the interminable outlet stores. Perhaps this is my best option. It is 150" long, and does have a lovely and unusual paisley pattern woven into the damask. Also, it is not real damask but has some unnatural fiber and will therefore hold up in the dryer without curling or doing something else weird. It also does not look very good because it can't be really and truly starched and ironed or it will melt.

My top three reasons for a time machine that will take me back to 1925: a) I will be able to watch Clara Bow movies at the Colonial in Richmond. b)If I play my cards right I can get a date with Reed Howes, the Arrow Collar Boy and a real live Marine. c) I can go to O' Neill's on Charles street, order two thousand dollars worth of linen, and have it put in a bank vault so that I can use it when I get back to the future.

And, having received my fifty-odd tablecloths, I will be able to entertain myself endlessly by taking care of them, and freak out my ausland neighbors hanging them outside.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

As much as I love to complain about "things just aren't what they used to be," there is a certain je ne sais quoi about a neighborhood that hasn't been fashionable for seventy years. (Oh, dear God, stop me now: I just uttered the most cliche of all French phrase cliches...but then cliche itself is cliche... maybe I'd better start just posting in German.)

Je ne sais quoi means, O non-Francophones, "I don't know what." It's become a cliche because it's so very applicable. It has to be, as it's completely ambiguous. The phrase is a delightful way to describe why you like something. The spider lights on North Avenue, which everybody for three states in any direction hated, and I alone loved for their hideous quirkiness? Well, they had that je ne sais quoi. See, it doesn't work if you say it in English, or German. The German language doesn't really even offer a comparable phrase. Germans don't need to make such distinctions; you either like it or you don't and there's no cultural impetus to excuse yourself. We feel the need to excuse our occasional goofiness, but we have to borrow a French phrase to make it sound acceptable.

The je ne sais quoi of my current neighborhood--which I was raised to call "midtown" and now, a la Madame Eglantine, hights itself "Old Goucher" or "Lower Charles Village," was that it went out of fashion right around the second World War and never came back. Nothing changed or was hideously updated because nobody would spend money on a house or a neighborhood that was no longer "der allerletzte" (Aha! see! German phrase--that one means "the very latest thing.") And so, the drowsy old place maintained a good bit of the ambience...dare I say, again, the je ne sais quoi of an earlier, homelier and more friendly era.

[NB: If you got the Madame Eglantine reference, you just passed my senior English class with flying colors. Take a ride on the Reading, pass Go and collect $200. If you didn't--well, you may sit in the hall.]

I regret to inform the general populace that the je ne sais quoi has been lessened, somewhat, as of today. (Does this mean that je sais quoi?) I had known for some time that the city intended to repave the alley, which very grandly hights itself Hargrove Street, that runs behind my house. The city, in its inimitable (thank God) fashion, has farted around about this for a couple of years. I wonder, does the bureaucratic nightmare of Wien get these things accomplished more readily? Probably not.

I received a little notecard yesterday that informed me, very politely, that I mustn't park in the alley or in my garage because the alley would soon be resurfaced. I didn't believe it. Luckily, I drove the car to school today, because when I came home the alley had been torn up from 22nd to 23rd. The ancient brick pavement that I knew and loved/loathed was quickly gone, and the dirt beneath Hargrove street was exposed for the first time since 1880.

Another cliche of old buildings is the idea that "those walls could talk." What would those bricks say, I wonder? They'd surely remember the era when this block was der Allerletzte. They'd remember a time when persons of color were not allowed to own St. Paul street property and were relegated to alley houses. They would remember four wars, peace, a few eras of plush decadence, and a couple of eras of neglect.

I think that I will enjoy the new Hargrove street. I will now be able to drive into my garage without scraping the Buick's undercarriage into oblivion. I will also be able to jog through the alley (yes, I'm getting all healthy) without tripping every ten steps.

I will not, however, be able to look out of the back windows and see the warm red bricks that had seen one hundred and thirty summers. There will be no more random weeds and wildflowers poking up between the bricks along the sides of the alley. One more block of the old, tired and soporific, but happy and welcoming Baltimore is now gone in the name of efficiency.

Perhaps I should still welcome the change. If the ancient bricks could talk, they'd most likely do what every good Baltimorean does, and they'd gossip. Those damned bricks knew WAY too much about me.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

While on the eternal quest to determine *exactly* which were the original Seven Hills of Richmond, I came across some (for me) heartrending pictures of the Thalhimers building coming down.

I'm not sure what the city thinks will be accomplished by this move. Now, the center city lacks one more viable commercial structure and has another gap in its smile. Thalhimers was never as aesthetically pleasing as Miller and Rhoads, but it was nonetheless a good building and an integral part of the city's streetscape.

Worst of all, in this picture
you can see my old office laid bare. It's on the right hand side, second room down from the top. At this point the Broad street front has already been torn down; my office was about half a block back from Broad.


On the bright side, one of my favorite little things about downtown survives and still makes people laugh. You can see it here: