Cornwell Friends Toast 'ATF' 

Street Talk

Cornwell Friends Toast 'ATF'Historic Jackson Ward Church Faces DilemmaFamiliar Face Joins Council RaceThirteen Acres Is Space Enough for TwoAin't It Nifty, Guv?Cornwell Friends Toast 'ATF'

[image-1]Photo by courtesy Dr. Joe NiamtuDr. Joe Niamtu, author Patricia Cornwell, April Niamtu, and Dr. Marcella Fierro celebrate the airing of Cornwell's"ATF" TV pilot.Not everything Patricia Cornwell writes is an immediate success. Two years ago, the best-selling novelist wrote a pilot for ABC titled "ATF."

"A little known fact is that Patricia writes movie scripts too," says Cornwell friend and local facial surgeon Dr. Joe Niamtu. According to Niamtu, "ATF" was written as an action movie based on the adventures of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "The pilot was never aired," says Niamtu, "but most likely due to the recent attention of the Waco incident, the piece became very timely."

ABC aired the two-hour pilot on Labor Day. And to celebrate, Niamtu held a "debut" party at his home on the James River for Cornwell and some of her close friends. "It was pretty cool to see her credits roll across the screen," says Niamtu.

And even though Cornwell's famed Kay Scarpetta character didn't appear in "ATF," Richmond Medical Examiner Dr. Marcella Fierro, a friend of Cornwell and the inspiration for the sleuthful character, was one of the guests at Niamtu's soiree.

— B.W.

Historic Jackson Ward Church Faces Dilemma

Third Street Bethel AME Church is thriving. Most congregations would love to say that about themselves, but for the future of one of Jackson Ward's most historic structures, it's a problem.

Recent growth has led to plans for expanding the church to accommodate more of the faithful, but doing so will threaten one of the black community's few architectural treasures here.

Third Street Bethel is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. It's one of the state's handful of black churches to survive the Civil War, and is possibly the oldest. And after the war, Third Street Bethel was the scene of the formation in 1867 of the Virginia Conference of the Philadelphia-based African Memorial Episcopal church.

Pastor Arthur Jones has repeatedly declined to comment on the impending project, leaving preservationists alarmed but unwilling to press the issue because of its inherent racial dynamics. And after a summer spent wrangling over Canal Walk murals, others are even less interested.

Calder Loth, senior architectural historian at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, has written about the church in "Virginia Landmarks of Black History." He's one of the few people willing to speak out about what will be lost if the project to renovate Third Street Bethel's sanctuary goes ahead as planned. "They feel they need a bigger sanctuary and that the fa‡ade is the historic part of the church, when it's really the main body of the church," he says. "That's the original portion. The fa‡ade was added in the [18]70s and subsequently remodeled." As his book notes, the pressed-brick church front, dominated by two Gothic towers, was added in 1875.

"We're dealing with one of the rarest forms of black heritage," Loth emphasizes. "Is the new church going to be architecturally compatible to the rest of the neighborhood?" He suggests construction of an addition that keeps the existing sanctuary intact, or the city donating a nearby facility for the church to hold larger services, or even moving the body of the church elsewhere to preserve it. But above all, even he seeks to avoid confrontation: "Can we work together on this?"

— R.M.

Familiar Face Joins Council Race

Another hat soon may be thrown into the ring for the 1st District City Council seat John Conrad is leaving in May.

And this time it would be a familiar one: Ben Warthen's.

The local attorney already has practice rubbing elbows with politicos. He spent 15 years in practice with Jim Gilmore, held a Council seat from 1992-94 — until Tim Kaine was elected — and now serves on the board at U.Va.

"I've been encouraged by a number of people," says Warthen. "I know the city." And, now that Warthen lives within the 1st District's compass, and Conrad has decided not to seek reelection, the time seems ripe again for Warthen to join the running.

Conrad's seat is a hot one. It's not hard to guess why. The area includes affluent old-Richmond neighborhoods west of the Boulevard such as Windsor Farms and Glenburnie. Since Style reported on Aug. 24 that John Conrad won't seek reelection, names of possible candidates have popped up including local prosecutor Manoli Loupassi, former School Board candidate Charles Price, and retired city employee Charles Peters.

It sounds as if Warthen could have his work cut out for him. Still, there's an eagerness in his voice when he speaks of the city. This is serious business. "I'm still investing in Richmond," says the 57-year-old Warthen. "The image and concerns of the whole city need to come first," he says, frustrated by what he calls City Council's state of inertia. Warthen is best known for his work with the city's Planning Commission on land-use issues and his ardent support for the restoration of Second Baptist Church. "We need to get key players in directorships," stresses Warthen. "We're not going to find happiness in rewriting the past."

— Brandon Walters

Thirteen Acres Is Space Enough for Two

These days the playground at the new Linwood Holton Elementary School in North Side looks busier than ever.

And it's not just because it's smaller than the one built on the same spot more than 10 years ago. This year at recess, more little bodies are swinging, sliding and bouncing around than did on the old set.

Linwood Holton Elementary School has agreed to share its tag time with 23 students enrolled next door at Thirteen Acres School, a Richmond city school for kindergarten through fifth-grade children with various learning and developmental disabilities.

But this isn't the half of it. If all goes according to plan — and the suggestions of administrators and teachers at both schools — more resources will be shared between the two schools.

"We've really been affected in a positive way," says Tom Larkin, principal of Thirteen Acres. "A schedule of interaction has been set up for our students. We've been having our breakfasts and lunches at Holton."

And he hopes that as the year goes on, more resources like computer technology and training will be exchanged. Thirteen Acres will have its Back to School Night at Holton later this month. "It's great that these two groups of students are talking and interacting daily," Larkin says. — B.W.

Ain't It Nifty, Guv?

Imagine you're 50, secure in your career choices (or at least comfortably acclimated to them) and perhaps even looking forward to early retirement. For better or worse, you know where you're headed. It's time to relax and savor the milestone as best you can.

That won't be the case next month when Gov. Jim Gilmore carries himself across the semicentennial threshold, however. He'll be holding five — count 'em — campaign events (organizers are calling them birthday celebrations) around the state for Republican candidates for the General Assembly. And, insiders say, Gilmore will be helping himself find a new job as well.

The fun starts innocently enough in Bristol Oct. 5 on behalf of the GOP's house and senate wannabees. But after then it becomes clear that the governor's own vocational goals are at issue — and lashed to the Bush campaign for president.

First Lady of Texas Laura Bush will get face time with Virginia voters when she joins the governor Oct. 6 — Gilmore's birthday — in Roanoke. Then it's her father-in-law, former President George Bush, who will be with Gilmore Oct. 8 in Richmond to stump for state GOP hopefuls.

Bushfest '99 — The Old Dominion Tour wraps up Oct. 12 when George W. himself pops in at two Gilmore bashes in Roanoke and McLean.

"Gov. Bush has come to Virginia quite a few times already," says Todd Reid, director of the New Majority Project PAC that is coordinating the events. "They're good friends."

Some understatement. Ever since Gilmore announced he'd chair Bush's Virginia campaign, rumors have been flying about the payoff.

Reid, the closest we can get these days to people in the know, reluctantly agrees talk of a VP spot for Gilmore has been eclipsed by chat about cabinet-level appointments. Politicos say they hear the attorney general post mentioned most often — Gilmore was elected Virginia's AG in 1993, remember, and he "led a nationwide effort to stop arson against African-American churches," his Web bio states — but Janet Reno doesn't seem to be having much fun. Probably without any real design, Reid also mentions he's heard talk of commerce secretary.

Hmm. Gilmore has been active in electronic commerce and economic development. Makes as much sense as anything else. Start looking for a new job, William M. Daley!

— Rob Morano


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