New group organizes to save old buildings from demolition ... 

Street Talk

Case Draws Coverage From Times to Star
Old Buildings Get New Pluggers
McQuinn Shows Off Her Publicity Skills
1708 Gallery Auction Goes High-Tech
Link Could Be Lifesaver For Animals

Case Draws Coverage From Times to Star

"I'm very eager to see that," says New York Times writer Ralph Blumenthal. He's referring to a piece in the March 14 issue of the Star, a supermarket tabloid, on the was-it-murder-or-suicide? case of Richmonder Roger de la Burde.

But Blumenthal's no regular reader of the Star. He's interested only because its report follows on the heels — in more ways than one — of the Times article he wrote last month about the controversial conviction of de la Burde's longtime companion, Beverly Monroe, who is serving a 22-year sentence for his 1992 shooting death.

The nearly decade-old case apparently continues to interest readers high and low. But aside from a few phrases obviously lifted directly from Blumenthal's Feb. 22 story, the Star version has little in common with its Times counterpart, though it does contain some interesting observations. Did you know, for example, that Richmond is a "blue-blooded, horse-breeding community"? Or that a 15-room home constitutes a "mansion" in these parts? Or that de la Burde's rural 220-acre Powhatan County property was actually "the count's posh Virginia estate"?

Contrasted with Blumenthal's sober, carefully worded account — which contained only one apparent error (a missing word) and a tame headline he did not write ("A Virginia Tale of Love and Death, Suspicions and Doubt") — the Star report makes up in entertainment value what it lacks in integrity. The article (headlined only as "Star True Crime: When a cheating, lying blue-blood was found dead, the list of suspects grew and grew") repeatedly refers to de la Burde as a "count," an honorific the Richmond Times-Dispatch debunked long ago, and which does not appear in the Times story.

Look for more national exposure of the Monroe-de la Burde case this spring, when TNT is expected to air a pilot program on potential wrongful convictions. Monroe's next parole hearing is in June, and according to the Times article, a judicial review of her case also could result in her release this year.
— Rob Morano

Old Buildings Get New Pluggers

arch 14, a group of 30 folks huddled at noon on the sharp incline of 24th Street in Church Hill. Yellow stickers pressed on lapels and baseball caps made it clear. A "Superior Solution" is what they want.

The 1853-circa Superior Warehouse building at the corner of 24th and East. Franklin streets, they say, should be saved. And now it's up to City Council to decide whether or not they get their wish.

But for some of these protesters, the Superior Warehouse is nowhere near their neck of the woods.

In their first public appearance, members of the new group Preservationists for Progress turned out last Tuesday in support of saving the Superior Warehouse building.

"It's an offshoot of the Historic Richmond Foundation," says Tom Fahed, who, along with Eugenia Anderson Ellis, serves as "facilitator" to the group that represents more than 17 neighborhoods from Chimborazo Park to Ginter Park Terrace to Monument Avenue.

The group's mission is to unite people from all different neighborhoods and districts who share a belief in the importance of historic preservation. And the goal of the group is to swell awareness of at-risk buildings and sites and to act as a collective voice to convince City Council of the economic and aesthetic value of keeping old structures around.

"We're going to send a message," says Fahed, explaining that new legislation passed by the General Assembly now makes some condemned — and historic — city buildings available to developers for one dollar.

Targeted to help preserve and market blighted buildings, Fahed says, the new "Homestead Law" helps show how popular preservation issues have become to Richmond city neighborhoods. And that's where Preservationists for Progress steps in — to show support with what it hopes will be more numbers than any one neighborhood acting alone.

"It sets a precedent," says the group's co-facilitator, Anderson Ellis, "and we're very much a democracy."
— Brandon Walters

McQuinn Shows Off Her Publicity Skills

Maybe she's all that, and potential opponents know it. Or maybe this is why Delores McQuinn is running unopposed for the 7th District seat on City Council: a knack for rallying supporters — and reporters — to her causes so quickly and completely that any opposition is preempted before becoming too public or pronounced.

Then again, maybe the secret of McQuinn's impending second-term success is just citizen apathy — apathy that, combined with (she says) lax enforcement of building and environmental codes, keeps much of Church Hill — "cradle of the nation" — looking like a landfill.

In any event, with half a dozen print and broadcast journalists in tow, McQuinn, the only candidate to file by the March 7 deadline for the 7th District seat in the May 2 elections, "officially" launched her campaign last week with a bus tour of abandoned and blighted Church Hill homes — eyesores and safety hazards she vows to vanquish one way or another.

"We're not going to settle any longer for being a second-class citizen in the city of Richmond," McQuinn belted while grasping the rear handle of a trash truck to emphasize her "clean up our community" message. "This would not be tolerated anywhere else in the city."

In addition to pressing for increased code enforcement, "maybe we need to reveal to the community ... the names of the people who own those particular buildings," McQuinn said, referring to "absentee landlords" and speculators who keep properties vacant in the hopes of selling them to developers at a high profit.

The sobering-to-depressing hour-long tour culminated with signs of hope, however — the city's East District Initiative building and the new, socioeconomically mixed Jefferson Mews project. McQuinn also cited tree- and flower-planting efforts to beautify Church Hill: "When you change environment, you change attitudes."
— R.M.

1708 Gallery Auction Goes High-Tech

Twenty-one years ago, a group of Richmond artists banded together to form 1708 Gallery, an artist-run gallery dedicated to showcasing and promoting contemporary art. Today, 1708, the second-oldest artist -directed gallery in the country, remains on the cutting edge as it taps into the technology revolution.

This year, the gallery's annual art auction will have an online component, allowing Web surfers to bid on selected works before and during the live auction on April 1. The gallery's new Web site, www.1708gallery.com, is hosted by CitySearch. In addition to being linked to CitySearch's local Richmond site, visitors can also visit the national site www.cityauction.com to bid on seven works that will be sold during the upcoming auction.

On the night of the auction, CitySearch representatives will bring their computers to 1708 to monitor the live auction. Bids on the seven selected pieces will be posted online, and Web surfers can continue to bid right along with those attending the auction.

"Somebody from New York or San Francisco can be bidding on these works at the same time as someone from Richmond," says Bob Steele, 1708 board member and auction chairman. "... In future years, we hope to get the whole auction interactive. It's not that we don't want people to come to the auction here in Richmond, but we want it to be appreciated and reviewed by those outside of our immediate region."

Steele says the site was modeled on the online auction sites hosted by the respected auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's. "We definitely reviewed how [they] perform their auctions,' he says. "Our goal is to put our auction through a similar process."

This year, 1708's auction will feature more than $100,000 worth of artwork by more than 130 local artists. The auction is the gallery's largest fund-raiser, supporting 30 to 40 percent of its annual budget.

It is especially important that the gallery meets this goal as 1708 looks forward to a year of possible transition. Its home at 103 E. Broad St. is for sale, and if it is purchased, the gallery may have to eventually move. Sandy Kjerulf, 1708's board president, says a committee is looking into the gallery's options for relocation. In addition, Nancy Gray, who assumed the role of executive director at 1708 last summer, recently resigned after only six months on the job. Kjerulf declines to comment on the matter because it is a personnel issue, but says the gallery is working to fill the position as soon as possible.
— Jessica Ronky Haddad

Link Could Be Lifesaver For Animals

Harris Spindle's used to driving as far away as Charlottesville to save animals that turn up lost or don't have a home.

Since becoming a volunteer with Beagle and Basset Rescue four years ago, Spindle says he's whisked away nearly every breed of dog and cat — not to mention rabbits and gerbils — from possible encounters death. Word has gotten around town that often, when other places are full, Spindle can find homes for unwanted animals.

But Spindle is convinced there's an easier way to help animals find their way home, get adopted and even be placed temporarily in foster homes. The answer, says Spindle, is the Internet.

"We could put the word out to every pound and shelter in Central Virginia," says Spindle, who has organized a meeting for all animal rescue groups, shelters, and interested individuals to take place April 1 at Westminster-Canterbury.

The mission of the meeting is to develop something that Spindle says can't be found anywhere in Central Virginia: an online Web page that connects all area rescue groups like Second Chance, Save Our Shelter, the SPCA and the Hanover and Henrico Humane Societies together in one database.

"Right now, all this is so manual," says Spindle, explaining that sharing information by word of mouth is simply outdated and slow. "There's also no inventory. No way to check to see which dogs are missing, and which ones have been found."

And while all of the groups have Web sites, there is no collective database of shared information on animals and volunteers.

Vicki Owen with the Hanover Humane Society says information can travel slowly, but it's a system that's worked for years. "It's not in any formal fashion," says Owen, "but we stay in contact with the others." According to Owen, since appearing months ago, their Web site has received many hits, but ultimately, has led to only one adoption — and that one fell through because the owners were allergic to the dog. "It may not be the Internet," says Owen, "but we communicate by just picking up the phone."

Still, Spindle says his proposal for a linked-together community of animal volunteers is essential. "This could solve locating lost dogs and cats, and put an end to putting them to sleep."

For more information on the April 1 meeting, call 266-5081 before 9 p.m. or send an e-mail to: loweryr@erols.com
— B.W.


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