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Monument Avenue's Branch House may become a museum … 

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Architects' Museum Eyes Branch HouseReva: The Cops Are Trailing MeGifts Are Sub-Par, City Council SaysIs Gilmore Retaliating For Rumor Stories?

Architects' Museum Eyes Branch House

The Virginia Foundation for Architecture could soon have a famous Monument Avenue address — perhaps the most famous of them all.

The group, which shares space and some members with the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects, is deep in talks about purchasing the Branch House, the 27,000-square-foot Tudor-style building located between Davis and Robinson streets at 2501 Monument Ave.

Doug Tice of Sigma National, agent for the seller, tells Style that the property is under contract. The listing price: $2.5 million.

While it's looking at the Branch House, the AIA has put its own home up for sale. "That's why the Barret House is on the market," confirms Maggi Tinsley, spokesperson for the AIA's Virginia branch, which for now is based at 15 S. Fifth St.

In 1992 the foundation restored the Barret House, a national historic landmark built in 1844. Now the 5,000-square-foot house and its side building can be yours for $950,000.

The VFA and the Virginia Society of the AIA had been considering a move that would help put their museum — the Virginia Center for Architecture — near the museums along the Boulevard and Broad. The Branch House would provide the group with much-needed space to offer more programs and educational opportunities, says Tinsley.

Plus, it's one of the most notable pieces of architecture in the city. Who better than building buffs to keep it safe and show it off?

The mansion was designed for banking magnate John Kerr Branch by famed architect John Russell Pope, whose work includes Broad Street Station, now home to the Science Museum of Virginia. It was completed in 1918.

It's simply astonishing to imagine that one family called this building home. The Branch House boasts 72 rooms including servants' quarters, 17 bathrooms, trunk and rug rooms, along with 11 landings, wood panels originally built 600 years ago for a church in Italy, ceilings in relief that were hand-crafted in England, a chapel, a dumbwaiter, bowed casement windows, and much, much more.

"It will take some philanthropy to keep up," Tinsley says of the Branch House. So the VFA and the Virginia Society of AIA are working hard to raise funds. And they hope to do that before the Barret House has a buyer.

"We're not going to be homeless," muses Tinsley. "If we had angels we would love to be in by 2002."

Brandon Walters

Reva: The Cops Are Trailing Me

Cops are trailing Reva Trammell — or so the Richmond city councilwoman says.

Not only that, Trammell says, Police Chief Jerry Oliver has ordered a special police unit to follow all nine council members.

She says it's all part of a "witch hunt" against her led by Oliver. Trammell first developed her theory in the fall when she was fighting charges against her by the Richmond commonwealth's attorney. The charges, that Trammell had given direct orders to city employees, eventually were dropped.

But Trammell maintains she's been trailed by police since then. Earlier in May, she publicly accused Oliver during a Council meeting. She says the chief is upset that she's trying to find out why the department overspent its budget by $5.5 million.

As for proof that she's being secretly watched, Trammell says she has noticed things that just seem out of whack. Take one Sunday three weeks ago, for example. A guy in an old, beat-up van stopped at Trammell's house, she says, and asked whether she needed her grass cut.

She was suspicious: Apparently, her yard has little to offer in the way of a lawn. So when the man asked if he could mow her grass, Trammell says, she replied, "What grass?" She suggested that the man try the home across the street. But the mysterious driver never took her suggestion. Instead, she says, he drove off.

Could he have been an undercover cop? "I wouldn't doubt it," Trammell says. "I wouldn't put nothing past Jerry Oliver."

So is Oliver having Trammell — or any other Council member — followed?

"The chief is not responding," Oliver says through Jennifer Reilly, a police department spokeswoman. "He just doesn't want to respond to it."

Apparently, he did deny Trammell's claims when the city manager's office recently asked him about Trammell's charges. The office passed along his denial to the members of City Council.

That's assurance enough for Councilman Bill Johnson, although he admits he wouldn't really know whether he was being followed or not. "I just have to trust that it's not being done," he says. "I wouldn't appreciate it at all."

When the Rev. Gwen C. Hedgepeth, 9th District councilwoman, first heard Trammell's warnings, she says: "I didn't think that there was very much credence to it. I know that I have never sensed that there was anyone following me."

Jason Roop

Gifts Are Sub-Par, City Council Says

It may be the thought that counts, but some members of Richmond City Council are embarrassed by the dull, relatively inexpensive gifts they've been giving to foreign dignitaries who visit the city.

Coffee mugs with Richmond logos and Jefferson cups with vague connection to the city don't cut it anymore, they say.

"It's just terrible," says Councilman Bill Johnson, who describes the tight purse strings for such expenses as a "low-rent situation."

The issue came up during one of the council's budget workshop meetings earlier this month. Gail E. Bingham, director of the city's Office of International Programs and Protocol, suggested that a fund be set aside for entertaining foreign visitors and purchasing gifts that symbolize Richmond.

Bingham's office runs a sister-city program that links Richmond to such places as Windhock, Namibia, and Uijongbu, Korea. The city also takes economic-mission trips abroad. Last week, a delegation visited Richmond upon Thames in the United Kingdom.

Such visits generally spawn exchanges of mementos. The mayor's office contains examples of what officials have given to the city: A framed display of carved masks hangs on the wall from Uijongbu. A Korean wall scroll sits in a box. There's an encased picture of the city flower of Urawa, Japan; a bronze medallion; a wooden soccer ball; coffee-table books and handmade scrapbooks.

The issue is, Mayor Tim Kaine says, "We get this great gift they get to us and we give them a paperweight." Kaine recalls that once — he won't name names — a gift was returned, he says, "like, 'This isn't enough.'"

"It's all about relationships," says Councilman Manoli Loupassi, who recalls being sent as a city representative to a Little League baseball game last summer with dignitaries from Richmond's sister city in Japan.

The foreign visitors presented five to 10 gifts, Loupassi says, including Japanese artwork and lapel pins. The gifts weren't extravagant, he says, "but it was something — and it was wrapped, you know what I mean? I didn't have anything, and I was embarrassed."

So council members are searching for gifts that are uniquely symbolic of Richmond — but that won't cost a fortune. For now, they'll have to make do.

"We probably do the best with what we have," Loupassi says. "You can't make chicken salad if you don't have chicken."

J.R.

Is Gilmore Retaliating For Rumor Stories?

The Richmond Free Press' editor and publisher says that ever since he published a vague rumor about Gov. Jim Gilmore, the governor has cut off communications with the newspaper.

The Free Press, in a May 3 editorial, quotes Lila White, Gilmore's press secretary, as saying "the governor's office refuses to recognize the existence of the Free Press." As for phone calls the paper places to the press office, the Free Press says White told a reporter, "You'll be wasting your time."

According to Raymond H. Boone, editor and publisher of the Free Press, Gilmore's alleged shutout of the Free Press is the result of a story he published last fall. In a roundabout way, the piece alluded to a years-old rumor about Gilmore's supposed marital infidelities.

That sounded familiar to Style. On March 6, Style fully explained the pervasive rumor, as well as its origins. That article apparently infuriated Mark Miner, Gilmore's former press secretary and currently Gilmore's spokesman at the Republican National Committee. In a phone call the day the story was published Miner told Greg Weatherford, Style's managing editor, "Our relationship is severed."

"This is not the first time that this has happened from the governor's office," says Boone. "We had a similar situation with Gov. [George] Allen. We were very critical of his brand of conservatism. And so ... he just took us off the press fax list. He just cut the communications."

Regardless, Boone vows that his reporters will continue to call Gilmore's press office in the course of their newsgathering to get his side of any story. "We intend to be fair with the governor — continue to be fair with the governor," Boone says.

Style tried to talk to White about the Free Press' charges but was unsuccessful. After Style left repeated messages, White left a voice mail message with a reporter last week apologizing for the missed calls.

But despite a number of subsequent calls to White's office, and promises from the governor's press-office staff that she would call, she had not called again by Style's press time. —

J.R.

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