Monday, August 21, 2017

The Richmond Planet speaks - What did the African American newspaper of Richmond say about the Robert E. Lee Monument in 1890?

The Robert E. Lee Monument on Richmond's Monument Avenue was unveiled on May 29, 1890. The Richmond Planet, the city's leading African American newspaper of the time, published two items during the month of May of 1890 concerning the monument. It clearly made its view of the monument known. These two brief articles are worth reading today as we debate what to do about the monuments and statutes built to honor the memory of the Confederate States of America - the "nation" that was created to preserve slavery and that fought the United States of America and lost. Can you just imagine what Richmond's African Americans had to think - many of them born into slavery - as the monuments to the "Lost Cause" were slowly erected in the city?

The article above, taken from Chronicling America, was published on May 10, 1890.

And from the day after the unveiling:  

The article above, taken from Chronicling America, was published on May 31, 1890.
"The South may revere the memory of its chieftains. It takes the wrong steps in doing so, and proceeds too far in every similar celebration. 

It serves to retard its progress in the country and forges heavier chains with which to be bound. All is over." - Richmond Planet, May 31, 1890.
Read more about the Richmond Planet HERE.

UPDATE - just saw this - excellent coverage of the Richmond Planet and other Richmond newspapers and their coverage of the Lee Monument  entitled "Complicated History: The Memorial to Robert E. Lee in Richmond,"by Claire Johnson, Virginia Newspaper Project Intern.  Great job by Ms. Johnson. This was posted on the Library of Virginia's Fit To Print blog on the library's Virginia Newspaper Project. 

What should we do with the statutes and monuments of Monument Ave.?  I suggest putting them in a park outside the city. Soon. - Ray. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

When Dirigible Airships filled Richmond's skies - Aerial Views of Richmond taken from Airships, September 1920.

Aerial view of Capitol Square taken from a dirigible airship.

A dealer on eBay was recently selling a set of aerial views of Richmond taken from a dirigible/airship in 1920. Those images are presented here. It is possible that the date listed on the images, 9/3/20, is incorrect because accounts from the Richmond Times-Dispatch note that two airships visited Richmond and took images of the city in early October 1920 during the State Fair. It is also possible that the date is correct and that airship trips to Richmond occurred in both months. I could not find any mention of the early September visit in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I am still researching that issue but I wanted to present the aerial views as soon as I could. Enjoy. I will update this blog post as soon as I get more information. 

Click on each image for a larger view. 

Written at the bottom of each image is the following text: "From Airship Z-D, U.S. By Photo School L.F. 9/3/20 50 C.M."  L.F. stands for Langley Field. The "Airship Z-D" was also called "ZDUS-1" or, simply, The Zodiac. Two Zodiac airships were purchased by the U.S. Navy from the French airship firm the Société Zodiac company circa but were transferred to the U.S. Army. One of the Zodiacs, the one that visited Richmond in 1920, operated out of the Langley Field airbase in Hampton, Virginia. I assume the aerial views presented here are only a portion of the images taken during their trip. I hope to locate the others.

The Zodiac airship was what Richmonders saw in the sky in 1920. As stated here, it was 264 feet long, 49.5 feet in diameter and was powered by two Liberty 12 engines. 

Image of the airship hanger at Langley Field, National Service, 1921.

Image of the Zodiac airship from a silent film entitled "The Call of the Air" circa 1922 produced by the U.S. Army Air Service that is available on You Tube. It's worth watching. 

An image of the Zodiac airship from the National Archives, 1921.

The image above is from National Service, March of 1921,
describing the three airships based at Langley Field. 

The text above is from the Oct. 18, 1920 issue of the journal Aircraft Journal. It is not clear from the article exactly when the airship The Zodiac visited Richmond. On the aerial images of Richmond shown in this blog they are dated Sept. 3, 1920. Or could the article in Aircraft Journal be referring to early October of 1920 when articles referring to a visit by the Zodiac were published (see below) in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on October 6th of 1920?

According to the article, the airship The Zodiac, which was then the largest airship in the United States, flew from Langley Field to Richmond under the command of Captain Dale Mabry - who would later die piloting the airship The Roma when it crashed in Norfolk on Feb. 21, 1922. It was considered the greatest disaster in American aeronautics up to that time and resulted in 34 deaths. Earlier this year the Virginia Department of Historic Resources approved  time and resulted in 34 deaths. Earlier this year, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources approved a historic marker that will be unveiled later this year. It reads: 
"The U.S. Army dirigible Roma crashed and exploded just west of here during a test flight on 21 Feb. 1922. The crash, the deadliest involving a U.S. hydrogen airship, killed 34 of the 45 officers, crewmen, and civilians on board. Roma, purchased from the Italian government, was based at Langley Field in Hampton and had been plagued with troubles since arriving in the United States in 1921. An investigation blamed the heavy loss of life on the use of hydrogen, a highly inflammable gas. After 1922, U.S. airships were inflated with helium. In later years, the story of Roma was largely forgotten.”

Advertisements for the Sate Fair, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct. 3, 1920.

The airship appeared at the State Fair which ran Oct. 4 - 14th in Richmond. Two airships appeared in Richmond that week including the Zodiac.

Image of article from page one of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct. 6, 1920.

The article above notes that aerial views of the city were taken by the two dirigibles, including the Zodiac, and that the images would be on exhibition at the Army recruiting station on Broad Street. 

And now the images:

View of Richmond's downtown area. 

View of the Fan District, Broad Street Station
(now the Science Museum), and the north side of the city. 

The Robert E. Lee Monument and Lee Circle.

Another view of downtown Richmond. 

View of Church Hill and St. John's Church.

A boiler Plant in Richmond - which looks like it was located just south of the James.
Anyone know the name of this area then or now?

Another view of the south of the James boiler plant. 

- Ray.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Alcoa Desisgned House in Richmond

Hobby Hills Farms and Fernleigh, Traylor Estates and Wayland.  You don’t hear these names very often, but these are Richmond neighborhoods in what was once north Chesterfield.  Today they are in the south-west corner of the City of Richmond.  Out beyond the crossroads of old Bon Air, these neighborhoods were the products of the great American automobile commuter culture, of Baby Boom America, and the spread of the city out from what in the late 1950s and 1960s was a declining urban core.

Broadly speaking, the architectural program along the winding streets of these Richmond suburbs were variations on one of two plans: the Ranch-style house, and the Tri-level (sometimes called a “Split Level”).  As two style houses covered what had been the forest, the driveways filled with station wagons and sedans with fins and only the curving roads and oak trees broke up the relentless vista of Ranches and Tri-levels stretching down to the James River.

There are a few bold exceptions to this architectural norm.  One unconventional Richmond home was the Half Moon House, owned by Howard H. Hughes, who operated a successful used car business on Broad Street under the name, “Mad Man Dapper Dan.”  It was designed in 1965 by  a Richmond architect, Haigh Jamogachian, who also designed the round Markel Building near Willow Lawn.  Sadly, Mad Man Dapper Dan’s crescent-shaped home was demolished in 2005 and some oversized mediocrity has taken its place on the banks of the James.

Counter to the usual styles of the Richmond suburbs, a house with unusual styling and materials was constructed on Cedar Grove Road by the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa).  This manufacturing giant was buoyed by increasing development of light-weight building materials.  Their aluminum-clad corporate headquarters, Pittsburgh’s 1953 Alcoa Building, was considered a great success and a showplace of the use of the metal.  In a grand campaign to introduce Americans to the  advantages of aluminum as a residential housing material, twenty-five examples of an aluminum house would eventually be built in locations across the country.
A view of the original Alcoa Care-free home from the original sales brochure.

Alcoa hired Washington, D.C. architect Charles Goodman to design a house that would free the owner from of the high-maintenance of shingled and painted houses.  Goodman had a long record of innovative design in what became known as the Mid-Century Style, having designed Hollin Hills in Northern Virginia in the late 1940s.  VCU student Kimberly Sacra, writing in 2006, noted that that houses of Hollin Hills and the design commissioned by Alcoa shared several common design features, such as large expanses of glass, carefully planned vistas, and similar patterns of interior arrangement.
The gable end of the Care-free home.

Charles Goodman is also credited with the design of Highland Hills, a neighborhood adjacent to the older section of Bon Air.  With their open gables and airy floor plans, carports and wooded setting, the entire neighborhood looks like it is populated by smaller versions of the Care-free house.  These houses were available as prefabricated kits from a company called National Homes, whose Goodman designs could be mixed and matched according to the customer’s needs and the site.  To place the Care-free home campaign in Goodman’s work during this period, his development called Hollin Hills began in 1946, Bon Air’s Highland Hills was created in 1955, and the Care-free house on Cedar Grove Road is 1958.
This is the house that Alcoa built in the Richmond suburbs near Bon Air.

For the Alcoa commission, Goodman was also said to have drawn on surveys and advice from the 1956 Woman’s Congress on Housing, in order to fine-tune his planning on living spaces, privacy, social spaces and private rooms.
In addition to simplicity of floor plan, the Congress determined that a house should lend itself to both private and semi-public family living.  The dining area should be equally accessible to living room, family room, and kitchen so that children may be familiarized  with the polite forms of social living.  The 1,900 square foot Alcoa Care-free Home satisfies these requirements.  It has a living room and family room separated by the dining area, plus a central kitchen, three bedrooms, two baths, heater room, a 288 square foot storage-workroom, and a two-car carport.
Floor plan of the Alcoa Care-free home.
For the stay-at-home mothers of the 1960s, managing and cleaning the house became more and more of a chore as families moved from post-World War II housing into a comparatively sprawling suburban home.  The house was clearly marketed toward this increasingly affluent demographic with the lure of modern living that carried freedom from the tasks of the housewife:
Freedom from backbreaking home maintenance - long the dream of the housewife - comes closer to reality Sunday with the opening of the Alcoa Care-Free Home…More than 80 per cent of this structure can be kept clean with a damp cloth, due to architect Charles M. Goodman’s careful selection of materials and the development of new ideas and products by Aluminum Company of America.
Detail of decorative aluminum screen on the windows of the Care-free home.
The Care-free house campaign was begun in 1957 with much fanfare, and Alcoa vowed the house design would be “the most talked about home in America this fall.”  The company lavished promotional money on the campaign, starting with a four-page advertisement that ran in House Beautiful and Better Homes and Gardens.  Artwork of the house and photographs were distributed to hand out.  Thirty decorative aluminum butterflies “of assorted sizes” were distributed for eye-catching window dressing in department stores and a hundred thousand color brochures were printed extolling the virtues of aluminum and the stylish house the metal could produce.

Instead of high-maintenance gutters, the Care-free
home has aluminum rain diverters along the roof edge.

Relatively rare in most Richmond homes but a tantalizing element of care-free life in summertime Virginia was central air conditioning in the Alcoa homes.  In contrast to an era where electric fans were the principal weapon against summer heat, the General Electric Corporation and architect Goodman named central air as an essential part of “good living” in the Eisenhower era:

G. E. Year-Round Air Conditioner, made by the Home Heating and Cooling Department in Tyler, Texas, is featured in the twenty-five Alcoa Care-Free Homes that are being shown this September and October in selected cities through the country…considered to be a necessity in finer homes today, Year-Round Air Conditioning is demanded by the public as one of the requisites to good living according to Charles M. Goodman, architect for the Alcoa Care-Free Homes.

Richmond housewives toured the Care-free house and Kimberly Sacra reported the reactions of members of organizations like the Three Chopt Woman’s Club when the low, modern house was open for inspection.  Many of the ladies were taken aback by the deep purple and gold anodized aluminum panels, but even the most conservative Richmond housewife could appreciate the easily cleaned surfaces and convenience of the galley-style kitchen.  The very latest electrical appliances were used in the Alcoa house, and the women who toured the house marveled at the high-tech, push-button conveniences.  

An interior view of the Care-free home from the original sales brochure produced by Alcoa.

The distinctive Alcoa house was a landmark on Cedar Grove Road and universally known in the neighborhood as “the aluminum house.”  Like the surrounding neighborhood, the Richmond example of the Alcoa Care-free house is well preserved and has changed little. In fact, comparing the Richmond example to images the original sales material shows very few modifications to the house since it was built.  In contrast, changes have been observed in other examples of the Alcoa design, such as the completely understandable conversion of the carport into a garage in the Minnesota house.  The house built in the state of Washington has enclosed the “garden court” with skylights, perhaps another regional adaptation for rainy Portland.
The carports of the Care-free house in Minneapolis
have been converted to garages because of the Minnesota winters.

Ten years after the campaign ended and twenty-three houses had been built all over America, Alcoa returned to the subject of the Care-free home in another ad campaign.  The advertisement extolled the timeless of the design and the durable material from so much of it had been constructed.  Alcoa said the design had proven the application of aluminum for building materials and had led to a world of new uses for the metal.  Nevertheless, the Richmond house and the other twenty-two identical homes may have helped develop and shepherd applications of aluminum for building materials such as siding and gutters and roofing. 

This Alcoa ad, still extolling the design and modern
materials, ran ten years after the Care-free houses were built.

Richmond’s “aluminum house” has remained little more than an architectural curiosity for sixty years, but never heralded the coming of a new wave of Mid-Century housing in stoutly Colonial Revival Richmond as we clung to our Ranches and Tri-levels. Even today, the house’s purple aluminum panels and modern design still speak seductively of a more innocent age, and the lure of an illusive, “care-free” life in the Richmond suburbs.

- Selden. 


NOTE: the Alcoa house on Cedar Grove Road is a private residence and not open to the public.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Shockoe Hill Cemetery: A Richmond Landmark History (2017) by Alyson Taylor-White.

Our own Alyson Taylor-White has just published a history of Richmond's Shockoe Hill Cemetery. Shockoe Hill Cemetery: A Richmond Landmark History was published by the History Press last month. It's available in local book stores and HERE.

Alyson will be speaking about the history of the cemetery locally including an event (and book signing) at the Library of Virginia at Noon on August 22nd. and at the Univ. of Richmond at 10 a.m. on Sept. 19th. Both of those events are free. And free to members of the Virginia Historical Society is her talk and book signing at the VHS on Dec. 7th at Noon. Let us know if you need more details.

Elizabeth Van Lew (1818-1900) - a "Yankee spy" during the war- is buried in
Shockoe Hill Cemetery. Her tombstone is very distinctive. Image by Alysson. 

The History Press describes the book as such: "Established in 1822, Shockoe Hill Cemetery is the final resting place for many famous and infamous icons of Richmond. Most visited is the tomb of Chief Justice John Marshall, the longest-serving chief justice of the United States, who elevated the Supreme Court to equal standing with the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew operated an extensive espionage ring during the Civil War, and though reviled in life by many who resented her activism, she rests prominently near her elite neighbors. The burial places of friends and foster family offer a glimpse into Edgar Allan Poe’s personal story. Author Alyson Lindsey Taylor-White charts the history of the celebrated cemetery and brings to life the stories of those buried there."

- Ray

First biography of the Richmond Crusade for Voters is released.

The Richmond Crusade for Voters (RCV) was founded in 1956 with the goal of increasing African American participation in the city's political process. The RCV has been the longest serving Civil Rights organization in Richmond history. "Images of Modern America: The Richmond Crusade for Voters" is the first published biography of the organization. It contains over 150 images and tells the story of the organization and the history of political race relations in Richmond. Published in July of this year, the book was compiled and written by Dr. Kimberly A. Matthews, a member of the Richmond Crusade for Voters and professor of education and leadership at VCU.The book is available in local book stores and HERE

Dr. Matthews was recently interviewed about the book on Chanel 8 News

- Ray