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Kilgore Names Hicks to Transition Team; Long-Silent Church Will Open for a Day; Cynics Rejoice — Slant Returns; Byrd Theatre Looks to Future Foundation; Sticky Tape Situation Riles Council Watchers 

Street Talk

Kilgore Names Hicks to Transition Team

When Republican Jerry Kilgore takes over next month as Virginia's new attorney general it's the unexpected that might make the transition interesting. In a move that might surprise some, Kilgore has added a prominent Democrat to his list of initial advisers.

Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney David Hicks has been tapped by Kilgore to be part of the attorney general-elect's newly named transition team.

The committee is led by co-chairmen Richard Cullen, a former attorney general who recently served as chairman of Mark L. Earley's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign, and Del. Thelma Drake, R-Norfolk.

The committee also includes: Sen. Ken Stolle, R-Virginia Beach; Del. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights; Ashley Taylor, an attorney with Troutman Sanders Mays &Valentine; Ed Fuhr, an attorney with Hunton & Williams; Frank Atkinson, chairman of McGuireWoods Consulting; and Kate Griffin, a community activist in Winchester.

"The transition committee will be advising Jerry on how to structure the office, on personnel issues and, specifically, how to set up," says Ken Hutchinson, transition spokesman for Kilgore.

The reason Kilgore is teaming up with Hicks? Both men hope that together they can push stronger domestic-violence legislation through the next General Assembly.

Domestic violence is "not a crime that gets a lot of media attention," Hutchinson says. "But Jerry is a former assistant commonwealth's attorney so he's seen what David [Hicks] has struggled with."

For Kilgore, it's a matter of making good on his campaign promise for "Safe at Home," a domestic-violence initiative that calls for an increase in penalties for offenders, prevention efforts, resources and law enforcement. Likewise, Hicks hopes the allegiance will help his office address problems of domestic violence, too.

For four years Hicks says his office has fought to have Virginia lawmakers adopt three legislative items: a speedy trial within 45 days of a domestic abuse arrest; a felony provision for those who commit offenses while out on bail; and a hearsay clause that could make it easier for victims to prosecute their abusers.

In recent years as homicide rates have fallen overall, the number of domestic homicides has stayed the same, says Hicks. This means the percentage of deaths attributed to domestic violence has increased. Last year out of nearly 90 homicides in the city about 10 percent were domestic, Hicks says. The time to fight domestic violence, he adds, is now — both at the state level through new laws, and in his own office.

"Domestic homicides represent the next level of safety for the city," Hicks says. — Brandon Walters

Long-Silent Church Will Open for a Day

Most Richmonders have seen the crosses and angels in Hollywood Cemetery, standing as proud monuments to the dead. But few know that the city's most distinctive memorial stands in clear view on East Broad Street.

The unassuming columned building squatting in the shadow of the Medical College of Virginia is Monumental Church, which has been closed to the public for 25 years. Buried under the church are the ashes of 72 people who died on that site Dec. 26, 1811, when a single candle turned the Richmond Theatre on that site into an inferno.

The fire in the theater, which killed Virginia's governor and Richmond's mayor, was called a national tragedy. To commemorate the victims, the church was built by Robert Mills, later known for his work as the architect of the Washington Monument.

Yet today, Monumental Church is silent and largely forgotten. "I know a lot of people go by it and wonder what the heck it is," says Don Charles, executive director of the Historic Richmond Foundation.

That's why HRF is opening Monumental to the public for a free tour, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 8. The organization's hoping to raise support for its efforts to renovate the church — now deconsecrated — for use as an auditorium or meeting hall. So far, HRF has collected half of the $2 million needed.

The church is notable as "Richmond's best-kept architectural secret," Charles says, but he acknowledges it's the history, not esoteric details of design, that fascinates people.

Mary Hunton, an HRF trustee, knows the stories of the tragic night by heart. There's the story of a quarreling couple who went to the theater separately that night. But when the walls burst into flame, they ran to each other. "They were found later, clasped in each other's arms," Hunton says. "They definitely had reconciled." Another love story had a happier ending. A doctor rescued a girl by lowering her to the ground by her long braided hair, and later married her.

The most celebrated story is that of Gilbert Hunt. A slave and a brawny blacksmith, Hunt saved more than 10 women and children by catching them as they were tossed from a second-story window. In recognition of his courage, he was later freed.

The tragedy brought the entire city together, Hunton says. "At this time, you had slaves, free blacks, middle-class whites, on up to the governor-elect."

Maybe the renovated building should just be called Monumental, Hunton suggests. "You need to drop the 'church,'" she says. "It's a monument to Richmond."

Melissa Scott Sinclair

Cynics Rejoice — Slant Returns

Few Richmonders may remember Slant, a homegrown magazine that fluttered around town in the 1980s and early '90s, offering such mixed-bag options as cartoons, stock quotes, sports picks and scathing political satire.

But the idea of reviving the magazine has been burning in the brain of its creator, Terry Rea, for more than a decade. And now he's bringing Slant back in the form of a 48-page retrospective edition that'll be nothing like "very ordinary local periodicals," Rea promises.

Slant emerged in 1985, when an ankle injury provided Rea a pretext for sitting down to hammer out a project he'd always wanted to take on: a magazine that outlined Richmond and America as he saw it. The name Slant was an easy choice, he says. "I wanted to tip off the reader that no attempt was being made to be balanced."

Slant lapsed after its first issues, but reemerged in 1986 as a handbill tacked to utility poles. "That sort of put it in a different category from most periodicals," Rea says.

The magazine evolved from weekly handbill to newsletter to tabloid and back again.

Slant finally folded in 1993. Since then, Rea has worked as an artist and a free-lance writer for local media such as Richmond.com and Style Weekly.

The commemorative edition will contain mostly new material, Rea says, while focusing on offbeat Richmond history: the 1973 porn-flick scandal at the Biograph Theatre, the many reincarnations of Fan celebrity Gus the Cat, rowdy tales of the annual High on the Hog barbecue.

Rea's even putting the magazine together the old-fashioned way, with his "Flintstones-era computer," paste and a pair of scissors. He's hoping to finish it by the first week of December.

The new Slant will be on sale for $1.50 at Carytown Books, Lombardy Market, Soble's to Go, Fountain Bookstore, Plan 9 Music and at least a dozen other locations. — M.S.S.

Byrd Theatre Looks to Future Foundation

Todd Schall-Vess, general manager of the Byrd Theatre, is out to set the record straight.

For years, he says, he's heard misunderstandings and rumors about who owns Richmond's "landmark movie palace" and how it got there. Schall-Vess has heard people say the William Byrd family owns the theater; that Richmond developer Jerry Cable owns it; and that it once was a live theater for plays. None is true.

Schall-Vess says he recently heard his favorite: A woman walking down Cary Street passed in front of the theater, pointed it out to friends and said it had been shipped here brick by brick from Germany at the beginning of World War II. Uh, no.

"There are a whole lot of misconceptions about the theater," Schall-Vess notes. Now he hopes to clear them up — particularly because the Byrd's future is at stake. Well, sort of.

The Byrd Theatre opened in Richmond as a movie theater in 1928.

For the past 20 years the Byrd has been owned jointly by the Samuel P. Warren estate and Duane Nelson of Nelson Communications. (Prior to Nelson, Richmond developer Jerry Cable owned 25 percent of the theater and helped with some important renovations.) The Samuel P. Warren estate owns about 75 percent of the theater. (Warren, an Alexandria resident, died earlier this year.) Nelson owns the rest, and for 20 years he and his staff of about 25 have maintained the property.

That's about to change. Nelson and the Warren family hope to eventually sell the theater to a nonprofit foundation that can help protect it and raise the much needed money it costs to run it.

"The Byrd Foundation is not in place yet," Schall-Vess explains, though he says the process is about 80 percent complete. "But once the foundation is in place it will give us access to funds we don't have."

Those funds are necessary if the Byrd is to stay open. The roof, for example, is in dire need of repair. Schall-Vess estimates it could cost upward of $75,000.

Nearly all the money the theater makes at the box office goes to its movie distributors. What is made through concession sales goes toward workers' wages and expenses. And Schall-Vess says those expenses are high.

"I don't think people realize how close to the borderline we come," Schall-Vess says.

If all goes as planned, Schall-Vess says, the Byrd Foundation will operate as a nonprofit entitled to tax cuts and grant money. It will have a governing board of directors. Duane Nelson and Nelson Communications will continue to manage the facility. And the foundation will be responsible for securing corporate and private donations too.

"The purpose of the foundation is to preserve the Byrd Theatre as what it is — a motion-picture palace," Schall-Vess says.

"People think there's some magical resource tantamount to a money tree out back," Schall-Vess adds. "And there isn't." — B.W.

Sticky Tape Situation Riles Council Watchers

Miss the live broadcast of last week's City Council meeting, in which Council gave Dominion Resources the go-ahead on its controversial new office building?

Too bad. You won't be able to catch any reruns.

Normally, one of the city's public-information officers records Council sessions for broadcast on public-access cable channel 37. But last Monday the woman in charge of taping was on leave, says Colleen Decoster, a public-relations specialist for the city. Being new to the job, Decoster didn't know how to operate the camera, she says, and "there wasn't enough time to get people up-to-speed technically."

Public television station WCVE aired the live broadcast Monday night, but programmers say they didn't record it.

Randy Slovic, a constant Council-watcher, says she "just blew a gasket" when she heard the meeting wouldn't be shown. "Isn't this just strange, when they have a controversial thing?" she asks, a trace of hilarity in her voice.

The Nov. 26 meeting was more colorful than usual, as the meeting room was crammed with citizens loudly protesting the Dominion decision. People held up cards with messages; one woman wore a devil suit; and Council members repeatedly admonished the audience to hush.

Slovic called Decoster and offered her own copy of the tape for broadcast. Decoster told her the city had already found a tape, but still wouldn't be showing it because the videographer wouldn't be back for a few weeks.

"It won't be timely and there will be a new one to show," Decoster says. "The party line is we never promised to show it."

A message on the public-access channel had previously announced that the meeting wouldn't be shown, Decoster points out. "It has nothing to do with content," Decoster maintains, emphasizing that circumstances beyond her control prevented the replay. "It's sort of a staffing issue that probably won't happen in the future."

Decoster says a transcript of the Nov. 26 meeting should be available from the city clerk's office in a few weeks. — M.S.S.

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