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Most people who visit the corner of Pine and Spring streets in Oregon Hill are there to eat at Mamma 'Zu's Italian restaurant, not to peruse the offerings at the Flying Brick Library across the street.
The city's radical left has few spaces to call its own save the Flying Brick, a cozy collection of a few hundred volumes, magazines and newspaper clippings documenting political struggles, theories and histories pushed to the far banks of the mainstream. It's probably the only place in town where a small crowd gathers to hear about the travels of a Scandinavian anarchist, as a group did last week.
During the past decade, Greg Wells, a flooring contractor, activist and armchair city historian, has overseen the archive through various locations along with longtime roommates and co-conspirators Yvonne Sorovacu and R.J. Arey. The public has been invited to use the library, in the front room of their house, for the past six years. At the end of the summer, though, the gang is heading in different directions -- graduate school, Church Hill -- and the library and its history of Richmond radicalism will pass into new hands.
Wells recalls a golden era for activism in the late 1990s, when the community was organizing around issues of housing and Virginia Commonwealth University's expansion into surrounding neighborhoods.
Wells and his pals would break into vacant houses that landlords were letting rot, slap padlocks on the doors, then toddle down to Monroe Park and hand out keys to the homeless.
In 1998 Richmond and VCU police were actively enforcing a curfew in Monroe Park. The weekend the students were set to arrive for the fall semester, Wells and dozens of activists from Richmond and beyond joined the park's homeless residents and staked out a tent city in the park for the weekend.
That same year Stories Books on the South Side had a half-off sale. Everyone kicked in a few bucks and the gang bought up all the volumes on '60s social struggles, civil rights, gender identity, queer theory and, as Wells puts it, "every revolution or insurrection anywhere."
Fellow activist Robert Cataldo will take over the Flying Brick, hoping to raise the library's profile while easing a few rules.
"No fines for bringing back a book late," he says. "There is no such thing as bringing it back late. You just have to bring it back."