June 07, 2006 News & Features » Cover Story


Bohemian Rhapsody 

Before there were bellhops, Linden Row was a magnet for Richmond's creative class. And it was all because of an eccentric preservationist named Mary Wingfield Scott.

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Richmond once had such a place, a necklace of eight 153-year-old row houses called Linden Row.

This enclave stretched from 100 to 114 E. Franklin St., across from the Richmond Public Library downtown. By 1950 it had been saved from development by an aristocratic and wealthy preservationist, Mary Wingfield Scott. For the next 30 years, she rented out the generously proportioned flats and crumbling outbuildings to tenants of whom she approved.

And what tenants they were.

They formed the core of an environment that existed decades before economist Richard Florida's influential book "The Rise of the Creative Class" posited that successful cities nurture expression and invention by providing spaces and amenities for talented individuals.

Many of the young people who lived in Linden Row during its last 20 years as a residential address — from 1965 to 1985 — have flourished, bought homes here and reared families. They recall their days in Scott's fiefdom as one of mutual support and encouragement, where they became more finely tuned to Richmond's rhythms and traditions.

"It was a magical time," says John Henley, a Richmond photographer who lived and housed his studio at 100 E. Franklin in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After returning to Richmond from the San Francisco Art Institute, he was hired by Dementi Studios on Grace Street. Nearby, he says: "I observed this really cool group of people who lived at Linden Row. I wanted to be a part of it."

James A. "Jerry" Jerritt, a former co-owner of Jerritt & Morgan music store who wrote occasional music reviews for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, moved to Linden Row in 1965. "Nobody was impressed with himself — everybody had a Bohemian bent," he says. You had to be, he says — "the way the place had been pieced together."

It was a good deal. A room might have rented for $55, the largest apartment for $100 — some utilities included. "Miss Scott charged just enough rent to cover the taxes," Jerritt says.

The place tended to draw residents with talent — and memorable personalities. The evolving, disparate mix included musicians such as rocker Bruce Olsen of The Offenders and Page Wilson of "Out o' the Blue Radio Review"; actor and comedian Garet Chester; journalist Gene Ely, editor of the former Richmond Mercury; and reporters for the Richmond Newspapers. There were artists, young and older, such as Isabel Mayo and Anne Wright, and filmmakers and photographers, and familiar names in advertising (Lloyd Shockley) and public relations (Peter Boisseau). Many of them are still plying their crafts in Richmond.

Still legend are the annual Halloween bashes thrown by John Hartmann in the early '80s at 102 E. Franklin St. There, he lived and ran Hartmann Communications, an advertising agency he still operates, famous for its Haynes Furniture ads, of which he plays one of the "Haynes Three."

"I'd invite everybody I knew and fill the place so full you couldn't hit the ground [if you passed out]," Hartmann says. "When we hit critical mass, it was over. But the police were always very nice. Of course, I'd always invite them."

One year he bought a 30-second ad on the Letterman show inviting people to the party. "There were some wonderful costumes," he recalls. "Once, some guy wore only baby oil and glitter. That was it."

"It was a strange place," says Hartmann, reflecting on life at Linden Row — "I don't think anybody had a regular job."

Mary Flinn, a cousin of Scott and executive editor of Blackbird, an online literary journal, says it was a welcoming place. "Miss Scott was accepting of odd behavior as long as you didn't do anything obscene in front of her," Flinn says.

From 1974 to 1977, Flinn worked at Evans bookshop at 102 E. Franklin St. Another Evans employee was Kent Willis, now executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

Despite their diversity, tenants shared a near reverence for landlord Scott and respect for her preservation efforts. Besides, to behave otherwise was at one's peril.

The late Donald Haynes, a director of the Virginia Historical Society, loved to tell of the experience a friend of his had after moving from a Virginia hamlet to Richmond in the 1950s. The brash young man was delighted to rent an upper floor apartment at Linden Row, but he wasted no time in bemoaning the lack of screens on his windows to the property manager. He was told to take his complaint to "Miss Scott."

She redressed him in her gravelly, bass voice: "Young man, if you were from Richmond … [dramatic pause] … you'd know that flies do not go above the second floor. If there are insects in your apartment, you brought them on your person."

Case closed.

Scott herself never lived at Linden Row. She drove there from her home in Westhampton near the University of Richmond, in a black Mercedes-Benz that Jerritt recalls being "always dirty."

Such details seemed to be of little importance to Scott, who oversaw her Linden Row domain protectively from a small office in the rear of 110 E. Franklin St. At the front of the place, she maintained a pied-à-terre with double parlors. It was furnished with a high pier mirror, elaborate gas chandeliers and a huge square piano. There she hosted parties, including occasional post-Richmond Symphony soirees.

"At Christmas she'd invite the tenants to her place," Jerritt says. "It was typical of her that she served the finest wines, beers and liquors. It was also typical that she served the drinks in jelly glasses. That was Miss Scott."

A graduate of Bryn Mawr, Scott earned her doctorate — rare for a woman in that era — in art and art history from the University of Chicago. She published three books on Richmond architecture, including the seminal "Old Richmond Neighborhoods" in 1950, and took no prisoners in attacking local business leaders in the name of historic preservation. She bristled at what she called "the parking lot mentality."

She'd put her money where her mouth was, buying seven of the eight remaining Linden Row houses to protect them from demolition after two Greek revival houses at the eastern end of the block were lost to make way for the high-rise Medical Arts Building.

Scott was also an educator and operated a kindergarten in Richmond. She adopted two boys, John and Robert Walker, brothers who kept their names.

But she never quite fit the Richmond high-society ideal. "She was a scholar and had been to Paris," says a family member who asked to remain anonymous. "Her general attitude was not one of submission."

"Miss Winkie," as she was called, "was too smart and not pretty enough for Richmond society," the family member says. "She had these beautiful cousins [Elisabeth Scott Bocock, Mary Ross Scott Reed and Isabel Scott Anderson] who were belles. None of them were stupid, but she just didn't fit into her family here. They were not tremendously accepting."

Eventually, "to escape the confines of Richmond," the relative says, "Scott bought a getaway house in Wytheville, Virginia, with her partner, Virginia Withers." That relationship wasn't seamless either. "When Miss Winkie directed her affections elsewhere and took up with a French professor at Hollins, Withers tried to kill herself."

For decades and almost until her death at 88 in 1983, by which time she had deeded Linden Row to the Historic Richmond Foundation, Scott ran the show.

Linden Row residents basked in the romance of living in a place that exuded the picturesque, storybook-like, antebellum South — with white columns, magnolia trees and wisteria gracing the street front. Broad, if dilapidated, multilevel porches, shared brick terraces, outbuildings and an enormous mulberry tree defined the back of the place.

But there were challenges to living there. Some tenants had to traipse through a shared or public hallway to reach their unit's bathroom. Other residents split electric bills with neighbors as best they could, because it wasn't always clear whose apartment was on what circuit. No screens in summer? In winter there were no storm windows. Frigid air swept through cracks in loose window panes and weathered woodwork.

"One winter my mother was visiting from Wisconsin and we were having one of the most horrendous snowstorms," says Jerritt, who lived at Linden Row for most of the period from 1965 to 1980. "I had to keep sticking rags in the cracks to keep the air from coming in so we wouldn't freeze."

Barbara Green, a reporter for the former Richmond News Leader, who refers to herself as a "recovering journalist," lived on the second floor of 112 E. Franklin St. from 1980 to 1985. "I must have put off at least a million roach bombs," she says.

"But," she continues, "it was also the most beautiful place — elegant architecturally — that I have ever lived. The moldings around the windows and doors were handsome. It was a beautiful slum."

Living downtown appealed to her, she says. "It was mostly quiet; however, I did have a downstairs neighbor who had some kind of business. He insisted on keeping the front door open so his clients could come in. I remember coming home from the News Leader and catching a man in my bathroom stuffing my towels in a bag. I said 'Get the [expletive] out of here.'" After that, Green says the downstairs door was kept locked — "at least some of the time."

John Hartmann rented the entire townhouse at 102 E. Franklin St. from 1980 to 1985 for his home and office. "I don't know whether it was a mansion in the city or a firetrap in a high-crime district," he says.

"I liked being across from the library. Cokesbury was still a bookstore. The big stores were open, and the Capri was the finest restaurant in town. Richmond hadn't grown into the murder capital it grew into."

Because his house was close to First Street, he says, he was kept up some nights by noise from continuous gay pedestrian and vehicular cruising that took place in the block of First Street between Franklin and Main streets. "The cruising went on all night long," he recalls. "Those guys were indomitable."

The trade-offs for such drawbacks of downtown life were the low rents and spacious rooms — ripe for decorating.

Jerry Jerritt says his $55-a-month third-floor apartment at 108 E. Franklin St. had its glories, including high ceilings and handsome fireplaces. The institutional green walls, however, had to go. He enlisted two friends who lived nearby, interior decorators Robert Watkins and deVeaux Riddick, to enliven his place. They chose a shade of pale yellow and added custom-made green and blue window shades.

"They were really attractive," Jerritt says. But maybe too flashy.

"One day I looked outside and saw Miss Scott parading up and down Franklin in front of the public library and looking up at my place. 'Where did you get those god-awful green window shades?' she asked. 'They don't go with Linden Row. Furthermore, you have an air conditioner.'" Both had to go.

Jerritt protested to no avail. Scott had the last word: "I didn't buy Linden Row for your comfort or mine either."

"She didn't care if she hurt your feelings," Jerritt says. Shortly after the encounter, he was contacted by Hatcher Crenshaw, the leasing agent (who later served in the Virginia House of Delegates), and told that Scott was evicting him. He intervened successfully on Jerritt's behalf. "Miss Scott wasn't above breaking leases and kicked many people out," says Jerritt, listing names.

Miss Scott reigned, but was not the only lady at Linden Row. Over the years a number of distinguished and talented women lived there.

Isabel Mayo, who lived at 112 E. Franklin St., is remembered by L. Frederick Chapman III, who lived at Linden Row in the late 1960s and is now a retired accountant in Smithfield. She was "a very talented artist whose style was that you knew what you were looking at," Chapman says. Linden Row itself was among her favorite subjects. Although he commuted daily to New Kent County, where he taught school, he always enjoyed coming home, he says: "We used to have a drink every afternoon in her place. It was furnished with family pieces. She always had Scotch. She could tell you stories about Richmond. She was a gentlewoman of the old South."

Another single woman living at Linden Row was Margaret Charlesworth Stanley, an English-born divorcee. She lived at 104 E. Franklin St. and worked at Miller & Rhoads in the Boy Scout department.

"British to the core," is how one of her former neighbors, who asked not to be named, describes her affectionately. "She had a copy of a painting of the Queen hanging in the hallway. A friend of hers once told me that when she was in America she was very English, and when she was in England she was very American."

"Miss Stanley had read everything in print and was very articulate," Jerritt says. "She was extremely direct. But if you got into a battle of words, you were going to lose."

She had her dislikes, Jerritt says: "She did not like women and hated everything German. She was completely disgusted with 'Silent Night.' She had lived through World War II as a young woman and always had stories to tell of crawling under a table as bombs fell."

"She wasn't that proper," says photographer and former neighbor John Henley. "She had a pretty salty sense of humor. One night I heard a banging on a door and looked out to see that one of our neighbors was completely naked and for some reason had been running around on Franklin Street. Mrs. Stanley went down, unlocked the door and let him in. It was a very colorful place."

Hazel Carrington, who lived at 106 E. Franklin St., worked in the Thalhimers fine foods department and was the wine buyer. Many residents saw her as a reclusive, if familiar presence, often reading on her back porch. "She was quiet and sweet and lived in a dream world," Jerritt says.

Bob Griffith, a filmmaker at 104 E. Franklin, recalls her "striking blue eyes, silver gray hair and a chiseled face. She kept to herself."

Hartmann saw other facets to her personality. He recalls a late night when a man attempted to break into her apartment, "and wasn't being very quiet about it. Hazel did something violent and chased him out of there." He refrains from elaborating.

"She'd sometimes come over for a glass of wine and talk about things like having seen Lindbergh land in France," Hartmann says. "She was a genuinely wonderful woman."

Another Linden Row resident, Isabel Dunn, devised a festive ritual out of the monthly chore of paying bills with two other ladies prominent in Richmond's social and cultural circles, says Robert Watkins, a friend. The threesome gathered in Dunn's Linden Row flat and placed the bills on the table. Taking turns around the table, they'd each pick up an unopened bill. If they feared it was going to be excessive, they would pass it on to the lady on the right. Then all would let out a scream and they'd each throw back a swig of whiskey. Round and round they'd go.

Amid the shifting roster of residents, two steadfast individuals, in addition to Scott, were essential to life at Linden Row. Susie Henley and Joe Monroe looked after the place.

"Susie was pretty old, Joe was very old," is how one longtime resident describes them when he lived there in the 1970s. "They came every day." Although Henley lived In North Side and Monroe lived in Jackson Ward, each had a designated work space at Linden Row where they spent their downtime when not cleaning or gardening.

Henley had high standards about housekeeping and in addition to her work for Scott was a domestic for some of the other residents at Linden Row.

"Joe was always chopping around in the flower borders," Jerritt says. "He worked in one of the dependencies. It wasn't much more than a shack, really. Sometimes ... I'd see him working late in the afternoon, I'd ask him why he was still there. 'I like to work in the cool of the day,' he'd reply."

Filmmaker Griffith says that some of his fondest memories of Linden Row were times spent with Monroe. "I used to go down and play checkers with Joe," he says, "Sometimes Joe would say, 'Let's get some cold ones.'" Then he'd tell stories of seeing the first automobile and the first airplane, Griffith says.

When Monroe turned 90, Scott had a birthday party for him. "She sent out invitations on Crane's cards with blue/black ink on his 90th birthday," says a former resident. "Her telephone number was in the corner. I called to accept. She said, 'It's going to be very simple, whiskey and cake.' Miss Scott opened up the parlors and we had lovely whiskey and cake."

"When Susie retired, Miss Scott paid off her mortgage and bought her house for her," says Rosemary Stiegler Griffith, an artist who lived and worked at Linden Row and married resident Bob Griffith.

"On a day in early August, I came out and found Joe lying on the ground and looking straight up at the sky," Bob Griffith says. "He was suffering heat exhaustion. We called 911 for an ambulance to take him to MCV. I followed along in my car. When we arrived Joe was wandering down the hall [half-dressed] asking, "Where're my clothes? Why did you do this to me?"

"I once took a picture of Joe, the gardener, leaning on a hoe," Griffith says. "It says Linden Row to me."

Among the last people to live at Linden Row before it was converted to an inn were Rosemary Stiegler and Bob Griffith, who are now married.

A native of McLean, Stiegler had studied art and sculpture in England and on Cape Cod before returning to Richmond in 1981 to study psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University. She got a job painting porcelain doll heads of historical figures for a local company and made it a point to return to rent a Linden Row apartment, "It was cosmopolitan."

Among those pals was Bob Griffith, a native of the Hampton Roads area who had been in the merchant marines. A high school art teacher had always promoted Richmond and its arts community as the next best thing to being in New York City. "She perked my interest," Griffith says. Because art and communications were his interests, he came to Richmond, enrolled in some photographic workshops and eventually took a job working as a cameraman at Channel 6. "I had long hair," says Griffith, who covered Nixon and Agnew. After a brief stint in Washington he returned to Richmond and decided to pursue filmmaking.

"I started looking for a place to hang my shingle, and I liked the way Linden Row looked," he says. "I rented the basement of 104 East Franklin for $45 a month, right behind a magnolia tree. I'm not sure that I would have gotten the space, but longtime resident Isabel Dunn liked me and intervened on my behalf."

He later moved there. "I loved my apartment from the first time that I saw it. There were original floors, walls painted white. "I thought, 'Whoa, I'm here.'"

Griffith sublet part of his studio to John Henley, a photographer who taught some photography classes in Linden Row for J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. It worked out for Henley. In 1980 he married Julie Bier, a Media General employee who also lived at Linden Row.

Ask Linden Row's former residents about their biggest character and you'll get different answers.

For some it was Garet Chester, the radio personality who also did voice-overs. "Most of the units didn't have air conditioning, and Garet kept his windows open and was always practicing at two, three, four o'clock in the morning," Rosemary Griffith says. "Bob would shout, 'Garet, go to bed.' It didn't do any good."

"It was so colorful, it was so eclectic; it was the most unusual environment," Griffith says. "As it opened up, Linden Row got a mixture of old and new people."

In 1982 the Griffiths and a number of other residents went in together to purchase a communal picnic table. They placed it on the brick terrace under the trees in the rear of Linden Row. Some residents had planted corn, tomatoes, peppers and herbs nearby. "Whoever is the last to leave would take the picnic table," says Rosemary Griffith. In 1985 she and Bob Griffith took the table with them to their new home in Forest Hill.

That's the year the Foundation started giving everybody notices, she says.

Scott, a determined preservationist to the end, had given Linden Row to the Historic Richmond Foundation in 1980. She died in 1983.

"When Miss Scott left, we all felt like the writing was on the wall," says John Henley. "But a lot of us were ready to move to the next step, to buy our own homes anyhow."

And Linden Row would enter a new chapter, too. It became the Linden Row Inn in 1988.

"It was amazing that this lady was willing to run this apartment complex just to keep it afloat," Henley says. "Nobody else would have done that."

"The fun thing of course," Flinn says, "was having Mary Wingfield Scott as the engineer of the whole thing."

"I loved living there," says Jerritt, who eventually became friends with his intimidating landlady. For him, she stands out in a vivid memory: "It was misting one fall morning and I looked out in the back courtyard, and there was Miss Mary Wingfield Scott. She was sweeping the bricks with a yard broom and wearing a mink coat and tennis shoes."

There's no doubt, he says: "She was the greatest character of Linden Row." S

Linden Row's Legacy

It's been a generation since Linden Row, at Franklin and First streets, wasn't a hotel. It started as 10 Greek revival houses designed by Otis Manson and built in stages from 1847 to 1853 by prominent Richmond families.

It's a place rich in history. A girls' school founded by Virginia Randolph Ellett in 1890 once operated there (it was renamed St. Catherine's when it moved to the West End in 1917). The Richmond German, one of the city's oldest and most exclusive cotillions, held its first dances there in 1888.

In 1922, two houses at the eastern end of the block were demolished for a medical building. By the 1930s Linden Row had declined residentially but housed at least seven antique shops; a tearoom operated in the English basement at 100 E. Franklin St.

In 1936 historian Robert Beverley Munford Jr. wrote that the houses "have fallen into a state of partial decay, and present now little of the charming aspect that they once boasted." By 1957 Mary Wingfield Scott, a Richmond architectural historian and preservationist, had purchased seven of the eight remaining houses. She rented these spaces to individuals and small businesses, who injected considerable energy into the compound during the next 30 years.

In 1980 Scott donated Linden Row to the Historic Richmond Foundation. Eight years later, seven of the contiguous houses began a new chapter as the 69-room Linden Row Inn. The cobblestone alley connecting First and Second streets is designated "Miss Scott's Alley." — E.S.

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