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.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I'm just back from a reasonably pleasant afternoon with the parental units. We motored up to Pen Mar Park, in Western Maryland.

Pen Mar was one of those little mountain resorts that peppered the more vertically vigorous topography of western Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Its heyday was already dead before the second World War, but while the hotels and dance halls faded away, the spectacular scenery did not. We were therefore able to spend a pleasant afternoon looking over the Cumberland Valley and eating ice-cream.

Sadly, I ended up coming back to the city and embarking upon a rather unpleasant disagreement with one of my best friends.

This friend, it seems, is not alone in being frustrated with my consistently depressed and negative views about the city. I should, apparently, enthuse over the city's bright future.

It's very hard, though, and this is a prime example of why:,0,2310034.story?coll=bal-local-headlines

Honestly, I was never particularly enamored of the Rochambeau. It was a pretty apartment hotel; never anything exciting. I never walked down the north face of Cathedral Hill thinking "Gee, I'd really love to live in the Rochambeau someday." It was never one of the buildings that I pictured when I scanned my mind for images that just said "Baltimore."

Yet it was a part of the fabric of the city I knew and, like so many other things, it's now gone forever.

And, yes, my blood does still run with water from the Jones Falls. Yes, I want to live in Richmond; but my ideas of behavior, food, silver and decor were all spawned not on the James, but the Patapsco.

Where, though, is the Baltimore I knew? With the destruction of every building like the Rochambeau, real Baltimore is vaporizing. Perhaps even more telling than the Rochambeau's death are the deaths of thousands of perfectly good old rowhouses all over the city. Newcomers, you see, don't get rowhouses. They don't want to live in them, don't understand them and don't want to. They want condos. They want "townhouses," built with parking-lots in front and garages built into the first floor. Nice, in theory--but if they want that, they can have it in countless suburban milieus. Why ruin our city to do it?

A quote lifted from the above-referenced article:

"Patti Sue Nolan drove in from Lutherville with her husband, Terry, and her two children. 'They're not going to have any more of these,' she said, gazing at the Rochambeau. 'You knock it down, you don't get it back.' " (The Sun, 9/17/06)

Exactly, folks. You'll never get it back. This is the problem that makes me really not want to live here anymore. The same problem is already making me question if, even, I want to go back to Richmond. Everything that was beautiful about these cities is going away rapidly, and no one seems to mind. Oh, hell, who am I kidding? No one ever believed that the rowhouses just north of the Hopkins medical campus were beautiful. They were plain, respectable middle-class houses. But--weren't they beautiful, really? Hadn't they been well-kept for years, until recent blight took them? Even in their decline, didn't they still have smart and trim marble steps and fresh-painted Italianate cornices? And, when you looked at them, didn't you just know that you were in Baltimore?

The Archdiocese has planned a "prayer garden" for the site of the Rochambeau, and a less-Catholic, less-Baltimorean concept I cannot imagine. Hopkins has envisioned some sort of wondrous complex to replace those Madison street houses--I'm sure it will be quite cutting-edge, but not very Baltimorean at all. Richmond is happily in the process of destroying its storied old Hotel Murphy. I'm not sure what is going to occupy that once-stylish corner, but I guarantee that I won't like it, and further that it will look about as much like Richmond as would a Soviet-era platz in Magdeburg.

Perhaps for too long we have entrusted our cities to planners who have the pedigree of several degrees (is that reverse alliteration?). People left the cities back in the '60s and '70s for a variety of reasons, but they're not going to come back just to see something that they could easily have in a modern office park or mall. The thing that makes every city viable is its own individuality--its native architecture, its specific buildings, its institutions. Nobody is going to go into downtown Richmond to a big concrete-and-glass shopping palace when they can have the same thing without going downtown.

I realize that, for the most part, I'm preaching to the choir. My--what, six?--faithful readers probably feel precisely the way that I do.

Yet, I'll throw this out for all of those who don't like my endless negative aura: If it hurts you to hear me denigrating the current state of civic affairs, just think how it must hurt to watch the two cities of whose granite, and marble, and very dirt your life is composed, willingly transform themselves into nothingness.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sometimes, even I need to break free of the ironclad restrictions of upper-South society. There are times when communication via calling-card does not adequately fill the evening's leaner hours. So, when I discovered that a few people I know had ventured into the weird little universe that is MySpace, I tagged along for a joyride.

It had not dawned on me, when I created my MySpace (I hate saying that -- it sounds redundant even if it isn't), that the stupid thing exists primarily as a communication tool for teenagers, and secondarily as a hookup line for the desperate.

Fortunately, thus far I have avoided the teenagers, though I fully expect that any day now one of my students will stumble upon my profile and send me some message to the effect of "OMG, Mr Gibbs, were you like totally wasted when you posted that comment! I'm gonna tell!" (To which I will reply: "Like, Whatev!!!!") I have not been able to avoid the desperate, and I've gotten "add friend" requests from every kind of mutant under the sun. Or, more likely, under Jupiter's third moon. When I first started to receive these unsolicited freakshows, I simply denied them; now I've resorted to sending messages back to the desperate ones to ask just why they think that they've anything in common with me. You're a fifty-five year old five-time divorcee/high school dropout from Dothan, Alabama. You like NASCAR, Coors Lite and truck drivers. I'm thirty-six, a badly-aging fraternity boy from Baltimore who likes Marines and pretty sorority girls, whiskey and old movies. Where do you really see a future in this relationship?

Monday, September 11, 2006

I've copied this little list of "four things" from Bill. It makes me realize that, no matter how hard I try to portray myself as a cosmopolitan type, I'm about as parochial as they come.

My world -- with an occasional foray into Pan-Germania -- is entirely comprised of four states. Maryland is my home; Virginia is my adopted home. Delaware is my vacation home and also dear because of its isolationist nature, and its not-so-secret Southern leanings. Pennsylvania is really "der Pennsilvanienraum," home of happy German food and Musik.

This evening, I paid a social visit at a small cocktail gathering. There were only about eight in attendance, and most of us were Baltimoreans. Yet, I found my mind wandering when the conversation moved towards the beauties of Maine's coast, and travels to Ireland.

I cannot imagine why I would ever want to visit Maine, or Ireland. Maine is scary and Northern. I have been informed by reliable sources that they kill and eat Southerners up there. Ireland? Well, it seems pretty, and it's all Catholic, which is good. It also appears to be treeless, and if I want to eat boiled beef and potatoes, I can do that quite well without ever leaving my own house. If I travel again to Europa, I'd much prefer to visit the perpetually-electric Berlin, Barock-Wien and the distinctly tree-enabled Bad Ischl. Besides, Austria is every bit as Catholic as Ireland, without the creepy guilt thing that most Americans associate with Catholicism, but from which I've never suffered (being more Austrian and Italian than Irish).

And, once again, as I peruse the list of "four things" about myself, I find myself looking back to the Falls of the James River:

Four jobs I’ve had
1. Collections rep, Thalhimer Bros.
2. Secretary, Johns Hopkins University (the most self-important institution on the East Coast)
3. Retail Account Rep/data monkey, T. Rowe Price and Associates
4. English teacher, Baltimore City and now Baltimore County, Maryland

Four movies I could watch over and over
1. It
2. Footlight Parade
3. Show Boat
4. Gone With the Wind

Four places I have lived
1. Baltimore
2. Williamsburg
3. Richmond
4. Walkersville, Md.

Four TV shows I love to watch
1. Cheers
2. M*A*S*H*
3. Friends
4. Gilmore Girls
(cut me some slack, here, people. I don't have cable and I like cheesy stuff.)

Four places I’ve been on vacation
1. Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
2. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Screw the other two. If it's not Maryland Avenue or the Hotel Cavalier, I'm not particularly interested. Insularity is one of my art forms.

Four websites I visit daily
1. Baltimore Sunpapers
2. Richmond Times-Dispatch
3. Allentown Morning Call
4. Berliner-Zeitung

Four of my favorite foods
1. Crab cakes
2. Rheb's orange creams
3. spoonbread
4. Smithfield ham

Four places I would rather be right now
1. balcony at the Byrd Theatre, Richmond
2. lobby of Loew's Theatre, Richmond
3. dance floor of the Hotel Cavalier Beach Club, Virginia Beach
4. porch at 14 Maryland Ave., Rehoboth Beach

Four blogs I’ll tag
1. Pam
2. Bill
3. Lisa
4. Casey