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, December 08, 2009

With the first Sunday of Advent just past, I am now entering the Annual Christmas Hell Experience. I believe this should be one of the major rides in a new adult-oriented theme park. Other exhibits/rides might include such horrors as "Reconciling your Hopes and Dreams with Dismal Reality," "Trying to get your kids into a decent College," and "Coping with Your Parents' Growing Senility." If the TV networks want reality shows, this is the kind of thing they need to examine.

I did some shopping on Sunday with a friend who really, really likes Christmas. He decorates his apartment within an inch of its life. Fortunately, I was able to exercise a little bit of proper Richmond taste, so he's using pretty white lights and candles in the window, and no neon or freaky plastic moving figures. We might BE in Baltimore, but we don't have to ACT like it.

We visited Watson's, which is a nice old nursery on York road a few miles north of the city. Since time began, this place has put up an annual "Christmas Wonderland." It really is pretty nice. There's a little walkway of decorated trees, acres of Christmas greenery, and a wonderful selection of nice German ornaments. There is also a showroom of other Christmasy stuff; china and linens, electric trains, lights, and all of that. Best of all, Watson's always has live animals.

Now, in my long-departed childhood, they had reindeer. Yes, REAL reindeer, and right there on York road in Lutherville, Maryland! But it seems that reindeer are much in demand and hard to accomodate, so in the past few years the animals have descended from reindeer to camels to llamas, and this year, to alpacas.

Alpacas are cute and do not spit, which is important, but I miss the reindeer.

The sparking of my Annual Christmas Personal Drama hit today when, as always, I heard that damned Chipmunk Christmas song. It's something that is meant to be cute and happy, but all I can think about is the day eighteen years ago when we learned that Thalhimers would close forever after the '91 Christmas season.

Downtown is so terribly changed now. M&R has turned into a condo/hotel development, and Thalhimers is just plain gone. The Colonial is nothing but a facade for an office building and the State is also just plain gone. The Hotel Murphy is gone, too; and the Hotel Capitol. But what's this? The National is open again! It has a pretty neon marquee again, too! And there, the Hotel Richmond is supposed to reopen sometime soon. And even though it's long closed, someone has fixed the Berry-Burk sign so that it still blinks out the company name. Look around the corner into Capitol Square; the State's own Christmas tree is as pretty as ever.

I hate to see MY downtown gone. I do so miss those wonderful stores and the big movie houses. I know that the crowds of shoppers will probably never again throng the corner of 6th and Broad; surely there will never again be a two-block line waiting for the Colonial box office. Much as we loved them, though, these things were flashes in the pan of Richmond Eternal. The city remains and weathers all storms.

Well do I remember the day in 1991 when, after learning that the store would close forever, I drove home to Monument Avenue with that damned Chipmunk song playing. It seemed the saddest thing on earth. It still does, but now I see hope for my world. For, while I stand on Broad street, with my back to the place where once was a great department store, I look around. The silly Chipmunks replay eternally as my mental soundtrack. But I look to the southeast and see the ancient Capitol; to the northeast and see a movie palace come back to life; to the West and see the fashionable bars and restaurants that are slowly but OH so surely moving back to downtown.

Merry Christmas, Richmond.