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.

Friday, September 14, 2007

In the event that you haven't heard by now, I'm back at good old Carver High. My experiment with Baltimore County proved to be less than fruitful. While I can deal with fifteen-year-old assholes, fifty-year-old assholes are something else. One is supposed to grow out of that. I had met with adversity in the workplace before, but never had I encountered such open and direct hostility as I did at Parkville High School. In any case, I've moved on--or, more appropriately, as I always do--backwards, where I generally belong.

In the wake of the sixth anniversary of 9/11, I've been thinking about the idea of "the loss of innocence." This is rather apt as well; it's a concept that the city's newly-written 11th grade curriculum includes as a unit focus. Newly written, I wish to point out, by my friends and esteemed colleagues Tonya (TLust) and Hassan (Big KC).

For English majors, the concept of the loss of innocence is right up there with using electric lights. It has become such a standard of literary genres that it is frequently ignored. Yet, it is a mainstay of our culture. Isn't there some time in all of our lives at which the scales fall from our eyes, when we realize that there is no Santa Claus (despite Maureen O'Hara's best efforts) and that there were really about sixteen different dogs who played Lassie? Sure, we all have a loss of innocence.

Over the last ninety-odd years, our collective innocence as citizens of the United States has been bashed to pieces over and over again. We managed to hold onto shreds of it, beaming and smiling with idealism, but I wonder if 9/11 didn't put our innocence into the attic for good.

Other leading nations had dealt with this sort of thing for years. In the year 1848, revolutions swept through most of Europe. Most were summarily crushed, but the established order was badly shaken. It held out for almost another century until the cataclysms of the two Great Wars wiped it out for good. Over here, though, we sailored on happily secure--in our beliefs, our trust in ourselves, and --to no small extent-- our isolation from all of the other bickering powers.

In the interest of recalling the pretty innocence we once enjoyed, I'd like for you to listen to the selection I've attached below. This is a happy little song from 1920. When I play it at home on the Grafonola, it's usually performed by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra as a spazzy foxtrot. This version is from Deutschland, about 1934, performed by the Comedian Harmonists. I think that the Harmonists really "got" this song: it's fun as a spazzy foxtrot, but there is something very wistful and lovely about it that Paul Whiteman clearly didn't want to express. Even though the artists are German, to me this rendition of "Whispering" evokes most poignantly the lovely and innocent world that was the United States in 1920. This is the era of porch swings and tea dances, the time of masquerade parties and white linen dresses. These are glory days of the Colonial Theatre and its Tea Garden and long, languid summer afternoons on Rehoboth's boardwalk; streetcars trundling up Charles Street Avenue Boulevard, and crepe myrtles all in bloom; the time when my grandfather was trying to acclimate his awkward Yankee bride to Proper Baltimore. In my garden now is one ancient rosebush--I like to think that it must have been planted in that stodgy and proper, but much more sweet and innocent time. (I do love paired adjectives.) Browse through your photographs of old Broad street, and Monument Avenue, and Charles street, and Druid Hill Park while you listen to this song. Let's take a quick walk through a time when everything seemed perfectly and permanently assured. Over the next ninety years, it will all come crashing down over our heads, but for now, it is 1921, and you are sitting in the lounge of a lovely movie palace in a pretty, genteel old city in Virginia...