I cannot stop myself from coming back to Richmond. I find the place so interesting. For this trip, I drove up there for the day, parking in the distant suburb of Gayton, in Henrico County. I pulled the bike out of the trunk and headed towards downtown, maybe fifteen miles away.
The more prosperous suburbs of Richmond are all on the west side. You get the feeling that these suburbs are geographically isolated from the rest of America. I imagine this isolation would lead to having a Richmond-centered life. Security seems paramount.
These guys had the Marine Corps flag.
It was pleasant cruising by bicycle through residential streets.
Getting closer to the Richmond city limits, the Tuckahoe area had block after block of “authentic” 1940-50’s postwar cracker box housing. This is original white flight housing. They were probably built identical to each other, but after sixty or more years each house starts to have its own personality.
Two blocks over these were all brick.
Perhaps as a prelude to Monument Avenue, these guys display the American flag and Rebel flag on the same pole.
Nineteen fifties suburbs are great places to stumble onto modernist architecture. The Markel Building of 1962 was designed by Richmond architect Haig Jamgochian. I read it was actually inspired by a baked potato wrapped in foil.
I liked a couple other buildings as well.
I had lunch in the shopping center now called The Shops at Willow Lawn. I have learned that Willow Lawn, from 1956, was the first shopping center in Richmond. At lunch on a Thursday people in this part of Richmond are definitely dressier than those in Chapel Hill. There must be an interesting cultural clash going on in Richmond. The upper class of Richmond was long been famous within Virginia for being insular and dressy. My father’s late friend Dickie Barron, who lived his whole life in Norfolk, once told me that Richmond would certainly be a nice place “if you just took all the people out.” But today Richmond has VCU with its excellent art school. Richmond has a beautiful urban fabric and a great mid-Atlantic location. Young trendy people are moving here.
After lunch I biked through the Fan District all the way to downtown. The Fan is a delightful easy to bicycle street grid of turn of the century housing. Statistically in America the vast majority of urban bicyclists are men, most likely because we are less risk averse than women. My sign of urban bicycle health is to see women riding bicycles without helmets. In the Fan you see this in spades.
Monument Avenue is a beautiful street but I still cannot get over how politically incorrect the statues are. Jefferson Davis helped lead a rebellion to preserve slavery that killed hundreds of thousands of people. My ancestors participated in it. This huge 1890’s monument to Davis is inscribed:
With constancy and courage unsurpassed he sustained the heavy burden laid upon him by his people. When their cause was lost with dignity he met defeat. With fortitude he endured imprisonment and suffering. With entire devotion he kept the faith.
I mean, what faith is that?
Lee still sits high on his horse.
I looped through downtown before biking back to my car in the suburbs. It had been a great day. In a nice area called The Grove I stopped at a Starbucks. Next door was a men’s clothing store. Is this what Richmond people wear to a summer event?
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