Heads Down at Symphony House 

Street Talk

Heads Down at Symphony House
Richmond In Tune With State-Song Crooners
Council OKs Maggie Monument
Controversial Voter ID Program Will Debut Soon
Architects Honor RBHC's McClenahan
Death Penalty Opponent To Be Honored
OHHIC, SOHO Welcome VCU Into Oregon Hill
Cronkite Will Speak At Red Cross Convention

Heads Down at Symphony House

That sound you heard last week was the collective gasp of Richmond Symphony volunteers as two dozen animal heads appeared from the back of a delivery truck parked in front of the Symphony Designer House.

The heads, accessories for the foyer's hunting theme, were on loan from safari enthusiast Henry Baskerville and were mounted across the immense tartan plaid foyer. The glass-eyed trophies of gazelle, moose, zebra and smaller animals so shocked some of the volunteer ladies (some of whom had worn their fur coats in the house during the colder months) that three decisions were made over the next few days: no, compromise, and finally, no. Out the heads went, along with 25 yards of fabric that Plaids & Stripes co-owner Michael Baker had installed, but ripped out as his firm withdrew from the project.

The designis "not what everybody would do," says Baker. "We're sorry society has become so dictatorial as to control an artist's design and taste."

Ann Parsons of the Symphony League says there was no choice but to remove the heads: "Just as clients sometimes must change their minds, we had to say this wouldn't work. We have community support and feel we've made the right decision."

Designers had different takes: "It's not like they were fresh kill or anything," observes Chris McCray, whose bear trophy, Bill, also was banished from a third-floor bedroom. John Taylor's live goldfish remain in a moss-covered bathtub, though he jokes that as each fish dies, it should be pinned to the wall in mock protest.

But designer Todd Yoggy, who has participated in the project in past years, has already staged a real protest: He says he will never participate in another Richmond Symphony designer house.

Trophy heads have appeared in previous Symphony designer houses, but these generated an unusually vocal reaction, Parsons says, with reported threats of boycott or canceled symphony subscriptions. "It was simply overkill."

The foyer walls were hastily repainted hours before the gala benefit April 16. The house, located at 2312 Monument Ave., is open to the public through mid-May. — Deveron Timberlake

Richmond In Tune With State-Song Crooners

Sure, everybody's heard about Jimmy and Donna Dean's "Virginia" or Robbin Thompson and Steve Bassett's "Sweet Virginia Breeze," but how many know about Elben and Frances Frame's "This Land We Call Virginia" or Gary Parker's "Take Me Home To Virginia?"

The Deans and Thompson and Bassett have long been capturing headlines in their efforts to replace the retired "Carry Me Back To Old Virginia" with their own compositions for official state song. But earlier this month, some less prominent musicians from the Richmond area made the cut alongside the big boys when a state song subcommittee pared the list of considered songs from 59 to 19.

Native Richmonders Elben and Frances Frame, members of the gospel group "Born Again Country," say they weren't surprised their song made it. Over the years, the Frames have traveled the nation playing backup at State Fairs for country stars like Buck Trent and Grandpa Jones.

Connie Cost, a stay-at-home mom from Hanover County, was added at the last minute with help from committee member and Hanover Supervisor Jack Ward. Her song, "Virginia (Heaven on Earth To Me)," has also been supported by state Sen. Bill Bolling and Del. Frank Hargrove Sr.

She's been performing it lots of places, including with the choir at Cold Harbor Elementary, where her 10-year-old son McGhee attends. "We sing it at home a lot and in the car," Cost says.

Another hopeful composer with Richmond roots, Gary Parker, also made the cut with his song, "Take Me Home To Virginia," a composition he wrote in 1991 for the Virginians choir, the Richmond chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society. He moved to Connecticut last year.

The state song subcommittee plans to winnow the list of candidates down to five songs by June 30. — R.F.Play It: Listen to the songs

Council OKs Maggie Monument

A monument to pioneering black entrepreneur Maggie L. Walker is closer to reality after City Council passed a resolution last week to donate land to a Henrico group raising money for the statue.

"We are extremely elated that Council not only voted for us but that Council can see the community benefit and the idea that Maggie L. Walker will soon be a national icon," says Alfred "Doug" Goodwein, who is leading fund-raising efforts for the Henrico Section of the National Council of Negro Women Inc.

Council has not yet designated a site for the statue, but the group hopes the city will donate a triangular parcel of land at the intersection of Adams Street, Brook Road and West Broad Street near Jackson Ward.

The group estimates the statue will cost $250,000 and will be completed within 15 months. A local publishing company, which does not yet wish to be named, has pledged more than $100,000, Goodwein says.

A national search will be conducted for a sculptor, Goodwein says, though the group has now contacted acclaimed Los Angeles artist Tina Allen, whose works include a monument to "Roots" author Alex Haley in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn.

The group is hoping to bring Allen to Richmond to meet local officials and examine the site, Goodwein adds. — R.F.

Controversial Voter ID Program Will Debut Soon

This week, the state Board of Elections will choose 10 localities to participate in a controversial pilot program requiring Virginia voters to show identification at the polls.

As of last week, 24 localities, including Charlottesville, Roanoke and Virginia Beach had volunteered to be testers for the pilot program, which passed the General Assembly this year by one vote when Del. William Robinson Jr., D-Norfolk, accidentally pushed the wrong button and voted in favor of the measure.

No Richmond localities signed up to participate.

Democrats have opposed the Republican-backed measure saying it's a reminder of Jim Crow and poll taxes and other disincentives to black voting. They also believe it may increase waiting times at the polls.

"For many of us, this harkens back to a darker day when people were intimidated at the polls," says state Del. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico. "There are many African-American people who remember those days and who would quite frankly be intimidated by having to show ID at the polls."

Proponents of the pilot program say showing identification at the polls will eliminate voter fraud and will reduce lines in localities with high numbers of immigrant Americans with hard-to-spell names, according to Cameron Quinn, secretary of the state Board of Elections.

Quinn says it will also eliminate any perception of unfairness caused by motor voter legislation, which allows unregistered voters to vote upon showing their drivers licenses to election workers. "Our hope is this in fact will minimize any sense of discrimination," she says.

Democrats say the proper method to eliminate voter fraud is to cross-reference voter registration records with records from the Department of Corrections and the Bureau of Vital Statistics. A measure to do so passed with bipartisan support this year. — R.F.

Architects Honor RBHC's McClenahan

Think of "architecture," and chances are, you think of lofty, gravity-defying skyscrapers and classical, marble temples.

But the American Institute of Architects also cares about affordable, unglamorous low-income housing. That's why they are awarding Mary Tyler McClenahan, chairman emeritus and founder of the Richmond Better Housing Coalition, with an honorary membership at their annual meeting in Dallas next month.

"It's such a great compliment, which I don't deserve," McClenahan says.

Local architect Robert Steele disagrees. Steele, a past president of the James River chapter of the AIA, began the nomination process last year. He says that the honor of membership in the 10,000-member group is only awarded to a few individuals each year.

"That's a very high honor," Steele says. "Mary Tyler is very deserving ... she really does take a passionate, sincere interest in our community's needs. — Mark Stroh

Death Penalty Opponent To Be Honored

Gerald Zerkin has spent almost 20 years defending those accused of capital crimes and urging changes in the way Virginia executes criminals.

Virginians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty (VADP), a Charlottesville-based nonprofit group, will honor that commitment May 1 by presenting Zerkin with its first Joseph M. Giarratano Award for Truth in Action.

"It's an honor, especially in light of the fact that it's named after Joe Giarratano," Zerkin say. Giarratano was a death row inmate whose sentence was commuted in 1991 by then-Governor Doug Wilder because of questions surrounding his guilt. Zerkin calls Giarratano, currently an inmate in Red Onion prison, "an extremely well-read, articulate defender of the constitutional rights of not only himself but others on death row."

Says VAPD Director Henry Heller, "[Zerkin] is one of the stalwarts in representing men who have been sent to death row."

The award will be presented by Judge Robert Merhige and actor/activist Mike Farrell, from the sitcom M*A*S*H. — M.S.

OHHIC, SOHO Welcome VCU Into Oregon Hill

Virginia Commonwealth University may soon be breaking its pledge not to move south of Cary Street into Oregon Hill, but neighborhood leaders in Oregon Hill are far from upset about it.

VCU President Eugene Trani recently called representatives of Save Oregon Hill Organization (SOHO) and Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council (OHHIC) to discuss VCU's possible acquisition of the vacant Advanced Electric building in the 600 block of West Cary Street across the street from VCU's new School of Engineering.

VCU officials and neighbors in Oregon Hill had heard there was a possibility that either a Wendy's restaurant or a gas station could be built on the site, and neither was very happy with those options, says Allen Townsend, executive director of OHHIC.

Trani told the groups that a private buyer was interested in purchasing the building and selling it or donating it to VCU, possibly for use as storage, office or study space for the engineering school, says Don Gehring, VCU's vice president for external relations.

In discussions with neighbors, Trani talked about providing tutoring and athletic assistance to Oregon Hill children, similar to VCU programs in Carver. He also talked about signing a letter pledging that VCU would buy no more land south of Cary Street.

Finally, Townsend and Gehring say, as a gesture of goodwill, Trani said he will donate a VCU-owned vacant house on Cherry Street to OHHIC so the home could be renovated for use by a low-income family.

Townsend says OHHIC is excited and pleased by the possibility of a neighborhood partnership with VCU. Even SOHO head Kelley Lane who has long battled with VCU over encroachment into Oregon Hill says, "This is much, much improved over the way things went in the '80s around here, so my hat's off to them."

The only concern over the rosy transaction is the Charles Phillips House, a historic home built by a shoe merchant in 1842. The Advance Electric building is built over and around the old house, which juts out from the back of the cinderblock warehouse. SOHO and OHHIC both want VCU to make efforts to save the house and VCU has said it will try. — R.F.

Cronkite Will Speak At Red Cross Convention

And that's the way it was — er, will be — May 22, 1999, the day Walter Cronkite comes to town.

Cronkite will be the keynote speaker at the 74th annual American Red Cross Convention to be held May 22-24 here in Richmond. Speaking at VCU's Siegel Center to a crowd of more than 3,000 Red Cross officials and volunteers, the veteran CBS newscaster will kick off the convention's Parade of Volunteers, a tribute to volunteers across the nation.

"We're excited to say the least," says retired Signet Bank executive S. Joseph Ward, the volunteer convention chair. "Mr. Cronkite is a well-known personality whose life mission complements our programs, and whose reputation and integrity will excite our conventioneers."

No word on the topic of Cronkite's speech, but the event will not be open to the public. Former Red Cross head Elizabeth Dole, who stepped down in January to pursue a bid for the presidency, has been invited to the event as well but has not said whether or not she'll attend, according to local Red Cross spokesperson Bill Harrison.

The convention, themed "Have you seen the future?", will be held in variety of locations from the Richmond Centre to downtown hotels. Topics to be discussed include preparing for Y2K-related disasters. Attendance is anticipated to break all previous records, with 10 local hotels already booked for the event, Harrison says. —

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