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.

Monday, May 31, 2010

I love tattoos. Really, I do. I've been too cheap to get one yet, but I've wanted one, or several, for quite some time now.

One of my biggest issues with tats on others, though, is the nattering insistence on having a tattoo that "means something." Jesus, people, it's just decorative. Sure, get something that YOU find decorative, but why search for an entire personal philosophy just based on the thing? Do Catholics look for neckties that symbolize the Holy Trinity? Do Buddhists look for shoes that symbolize...well, whatever it is that Buddhists believe?

I will point out that I would like to get tats that are Richmond-centric, because as everyone knows my sun rises and sets upon Virginia's sacred Capital. I am also a devout W&M alumnus. Therefore, I might get ink along the lines of the W&M cipher, or the City of Richmond's motto (for heathens, that would be SIC ITUR AD ASTRA. Look it up). Though I may be rabid about Richmond (oh, wait--what a cool marketing slogan for the City-- Rabidly Richmond! Get bitten!!!) I am surely not going to go the route of the white trash dude I saw last summer, who had the outline of the State on his chest with a giant star for the City and RICHMOND VIRGINIA in huge script involving both chest and arms.

And, I do like pretty designs that also cary a bit of personal meaning. Friend A., for instance, is a band nerd who's also into ocean-based zoology, and is a Marylander; hence, her ink involves big waves intertwined with the shield of Maryland and the marching band in which she once played. OK, cool and still decorative.

So what's up with the douchebag patrol and Chinese pictograms? Do you actually speak Chinese, much less read it? My guess is a resounding "Oh, hell no." So why get it tattooed on your body? Invariably, these idiots will tell you that "this is the symbol for a)power b)strength c)love d)patience e)tranquility." Are there also people zooming around in Shanghai with English words inked on their chests? And if so, do they really know what those words mean?

I occasionally wish that I were fluent in Chinese AND a tattoo artist, just so that I could do horrible things to these dudes.

Douchebag: "Um, yeah, I like serious want a tat with the Chinese symbols for Strong Silent Dragon?"
Me: "No problemo, dude. I GOT you."
Douchebag: "Fukin awesome."
Me: *snickering to self*....

...because what I would actually tattoo upon this dude would be the characters representing "If you must know, my sexual preferences involve small rodents."

And he wouldn't know, because he doesn't understand Chinese pictograms, but for some reason believes that Chinese pictograms for what he wants to say are more cool than saying the same Goddamned thing in English (which he may not speak very well anyway).

If you want permanent markings that explain your philosophy, for God's sake use a language that you can actually speak and understand. Otherwise, just get an anchor or a star and have done with it. It's still attractive and you don't end up looking like a moron.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity--well, sort of--to go back in time. One of the last surviving movie palaces in downtown Baltimore was open for tours, right before it gets destroyed.

Not destroyed entirely, of course. The city and the destructive organization are very proud of themselves for "saving" the place. Unfortunately, what they consider saving is pretty much the outside walls and nothing else.

The Town Theatre has had a long and rather beleaguered existence. It opened in 1911 as the Empire Theatre, supposedly a vaudeville house, but one that tended to the burlesque instead. It became the Palace in 1913 and was mostly a movie theatre. In this capacity, it was supposedly a rather beautiful place; it abounded in marble and mahogany and bronze fixtures. Unfortunately, it was always sort of in the wrong place at the wrong time: in 1914 the much larger and more beautiful Hippodrome opened around the corner, and in the '10s the best movie houses were several blocks away. The Hipp, despite an also-unfortunate location, managed to draw business; the Empire/Palace just never really did. By the late '20s it was showing crappy movies and extremely questionable burlesque, which finally killed it--the shows were just too sketchy for a big downtown theatre. It was gutted and became a parking garage. Finally, its glory days came in 1946--for a theatre already 35 years old! It was refurbished with spacy late Moderne interiors, extremely bizarre metal sculptures, black lights--the whole nine yards. Its reopening night feature was the Maryland premiere of "It's a Wonderful Life!" with Jimmy Stewart himself in the audience.

If there's one thing I hate about live theatre types, it's that they're live theatre types. Sorry, guys, admit that your art form should have died in 1915. There's a reason why God made movies.

Reason for that mini-rant? The Town is being taken over by the local Everyman Theatre. This organization is currently in my neighborhood, but is outgrowing its Charles street digs, and has been more or less given the Town to do with what they will. What they will is to completely destroy the 1946 theatre interior, create a "space" (Oh, JESUS, why do live theatre people always talk about a "space?") in which to perform, and of course acres of "support space."

While the '46 interior certainly isn't as pretty as the 1911 original must have been, it's undeniably a major part of theatrical Baltimore. The Town was one of the city's premiere movie venues for years. It finally died a day or two before the Hippodrome, in 1990. And, that interior, bizarre as it is, also represents an era of theatre design that is largely gone AND overlooked. Preserved, it could be the standout of its era in the entire country. Oops--it's in the hands of people who have NO use for movies or their theatres, and are willing to do anything to further their own "art"--that is, the clomping about onstage of an amateur theatrical. (Admittedly, Everyman isn't amateur at all; and I *have* enjoyed a few of their offerings, but damnit, I like movies and movie palaces.)

And of course, very few of those involved seem to be from Baltimore. This city is suffering from a vast influx of people who have lately moved in and then congratulate themselves for having "discovered" it. Look, assholes, this town's been here since 1729. It didn't take YOU to discover it. The Everyman folk are quite pleased that they "discovered" a big "E" at the top of the theatre's facade. Hell, I've known that was there for at least thirty-five years, although it wasn't until about twenty-five years ago that I knew the "E" stood for "Empire."

Rant over, I suppose. They're going to do whatever the hell they want to, actual history be damned. And, if they can pump some life back into that block of Fayette street (good goddamned luck), more power to 'em.

It was nice to see the old place again, though; it wasn't markedly more filthy than it had been the last time I was inside it for a movie. What was particularly odd was the realization that it had now been TWENTY YEARS since the last time I was inside the Town Theatre--and that I would never see it again.