Summertime, and the livin' is easy on Richmond rooftops. 

Ceiling Fans

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof it's peaceful as can be
And there the world below can't bother me
-Carole King/Gerry Goffin, "Up on the Roof"

Up here, they eat, sleep, work and play. Raise pigeons and grow corn. Trade stocks and contemplate Kierkegaard.

But mostly they just watch the sun go down and the world go by.

They're roofies; Richmond roofies.

Not roofers: roofies: people who spend time on their roofs doing something besides fixing them.

Like fixing them up.

Take Steven and Peggy Van Voorhees of Grove Avenue. Talk about a fixed-up roof: The 26-year Fan veterans have turned their turret into a veritable leaf-lined hideaway.

The impressive topside deck - largely screened from inquiring eyes below by a holly tree - comes complete with a removable canopy and other beachy features.

"The only thing missing is sand," jokes Steven Van Voorhees. "Because of the way the lot is situated and because of the trees [creating shade below], it's about the only place to get full sun and start on the tan." And when it gets too hot, up pops the canopy.

He and his wife reach their proud perch by climbing a wooden ship's ladder that pokes through a hallway skylight. Up on the deck, they read, listen to music (plugging into the electrical outlet he installed) or simply enjoy the sunset.

Richmond, where the floors of most buildings can be counted on one hand or two, may not have the reputation for roof-related creativity of New York and other horizontally challenged cities. Traffic-chopper pilot Whit Baldwin, for one, says he's yet to spy any truly unusual skyward scenes here. But when it comes to rooftop relaxation, Richmond may be tops.

At least once a week on Grove, for example, Van Voorhees breaks out a hefty Macanudo cigar. "They last about an hour," he says, just right for the summer-sunset ritual. "And there's no bugs up here."

Peggy Van Voorhees appreciates, to say no more, the cigar smoke sailing into the sky outside rather than pooling under the ceiling inside. Retired from 31 years with the Department of Defense, her husband now works as a consultant mediating labor contracts and disputes - serving as a "non-anxious presence," in facilitation lingo.

From that perspective, he jokingly agrees, the relaxing rooftop retreat could almost be written off as a business expense: "It's pretty damn relaxing and it's private. I think that's the most important thing. It's away from everything and yet you're right in the middle of it."

When I come home feeling tired and beat
I go up where the air is fresh and sweet
I get away from the hustling crowd
And all that rat-race noise down in the street

Homeowners aren't the only ones enjoying the change in attitude that a change in altitude provides; tenants are, too. Malcolm Venable, a writer for local Web site Richmond.com, rents an apartment on Park Avenue near Strawberry Street. Weekdays after work, he takes a blanket up on his building's roof for about-an-hour retreats to watch sunsets, meditate and unwind through yoga.

The roof is painted a serene blue to match the mood, and on weekends Venable finds himself topside "just about anytime," reading, listening to music, chilling.

Of course, such bird's-eye views also offer a new perspective on the struggle and strife of the world below: "Just today I saw some employees [at a business below] arguing," Venable says. Roofies see lots going on down here, including drivers drinking and smoking things they shouldn't be.

"And if they do look up at you, it's almost like a power trip," laughs Derrick Holt, who works at Cateraide and puts his culinary skills to work at his own rooftop cookouts: "Lots of burgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, corn. You name it."

The Lombardy-and-Floyd resident gets about two dozen friends and co-workers together each month to chow down, enjoy the new rooftop "bar" and people-watch.

It's become a popular place: "People just like to hang outside and enjoy the weather." With low brick walls around its edge, Holt's roof also serves as a makeshift soccer field in fall. Sure, the ball goes over a lot, but neighbors below - assuming it hasn't hit them in the head - don't mind tossing it back up.

"And now that it's summer, I want to set up a badminton court," he adds. "I think that would work."

You'll find another brand of such foolishness atop high-rises downtown. Fifteen stories above Franklin Street, Berkshire Apartments Resident Manager Anne McEvoy grimaces at the bottled remnants of a July 4 celebration where residents toasted last week's fireworks. The Berkshire's large roof - simple, elegant and sparsely furnished with wrought-iron garden-style seating in discreet clusters here and there - also hosts dinner parties, where caterers serve their fare beneath a portico that during the day shelters the sun-weary. For a few dollars, residents also can chill out across the street at the Radisson Hotel's rooftop pool, where today a noontime crowd is making waves and applying lotion.

Richmonders even find rooftop relaxation during the business day. In Shockoe Slip, investment bankers at Mann, Armistead & Epperson Ltd., a firm that specializes in mergers and acquisitions, have turned the top of their four-story, 1820s building into a regal respite.

"It's been a neat environment for us," says Mike Watson of the firm's two classy brick-and-board decks, which feature umbrella-table furnishings, topiary, a pair of iron-sculpted herons, and the more practical gas grill and golf practice net. Just inside is the firm's boardroom, where a luxurious semicircular couch, wet bar and entertainment center also help entertain clients and prospects. (Even the firm's Martin Agency neighbors are jealous, some anonymously admit.)

Right smack dab in the middle of town
I found a paradise that's trouble-proof
And if this world starts getting you down
There's room enough for two up on the roof

Justin Dray is an actor and currently roofless. "Right now I don't have a roof. That hurts, man."

Last month, as he moved from Parkwood Avenue - and a home with a roof - to South Addison Street, he lamented the loss of his lofty ledge.

"It wasn't much, but it was mine," he sighs. "It was kind of a porch roof, and mostly it was used as a smoking area or a gentle-talk area [during parties]. Kind of get away from the hubbub of the party. An intimate space."

Dray also will miss his communes with nature. "If you sat on the roof at certain times of year … the trees were filled with thousands and thousands of sparrows. It was amazing! But then, when they took off, that was the real thing. When they began to fly, that was pretty outstanding."

Dray pauses. Then, understandably, begins to exhibit symptoms of early-stage roof withdrawal.

"It's not really a good roof. I think I was spoiled because [on Monument Avenue] I used to have a great roof and a great basement.

"A great basement! Now there's something!"

Contact Rob Morano at rmorano@richmond.com or at 358-0825, ext. 318.


Latest in Miscellany


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Connect with Style Weekly

Most Popular Stories

  • Museum Makeovers

    Museum Makeovers

    How four Richmond museums are being transformed.
    • Jul 20, 2021
  • To Have and To Hold

    To Have and To Hold

    Wrestling returns to Richmond with UEW’s ‘Resurrection.’
    • Jul 20, 2021
  • Deep Dive

    Deep Dive

    A writer attempts to find the best dive bars in town.
    • Jul 13, 2021
  • One Stop Shop

    One Stop Shop

    Jackson Ward’s beloved Stoplight Gelato set to reopen this fall with a new partner, Richmond Seltzer Co.
    • Jul 13, 2021
  • More »

Copyright © 2021 Style Weekly
Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
All rights reserved
Powered by Foundation