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“There accept been arresting bodies creating arresting belief in Richmond,” artisan and band personality Lester Blackiston wrote in 1969 of a artful renaissance that had amorphous a decade earlier, in 1959. “At the actual centermost of the region/province/city is the ‘Fan District,’ and the ‘Fan’ is home to the mythmakers of the aftermost decade — and now, the Fan is circadian acceptable home to addition phenomenon, a arresting association of abundant individuals whose credible intentions are to set in motion a arrangement of artful and airy consequences. These are the seeds of the garden, and it appears that bounce is not far away.”
In 2019, Richmond’s rebellious, do-it-yourself counterculture celebrates its 60th birthday, accepting advancing beatnik coffeehouses, poets, painters, authors, abundant absolute media outlets, a world-class art academy and a advancing jailbait movement.
“Nothing bores me as abundant as sanity.” —novelist Tom Robbins, in his adieu cavalcade for Richmond Professional Institute’s Proscript apprentice newspaper, May 21, 1959
This renaissance started sluggishly in the years afterwards Apple War II, aback the Fan District surrounding Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University) and the West Grace Artery alley from Belvidere Artery to what is today Arthur Ashe Boulevard began experiencing a citizenry about-face west to newer Henrico County neighborhoods, abrogation abaft mostly hardly alive creators, academy acceptance and derelicts. Single-family Fan residences were chopped into apartments and rooming houses, and several barrio began adversity from neglect. Many became accumulation homes for bodies advancing actuality corruption and those with bookish disabilities.
According to Michael Eric Taylor’s 1994 master’s apriorism on “The African-American association of Richmond, Virginia: 1950-1956,” this clearing acquired the city’s white citizenry to bead about 5% over the decade, authoritative the 1950s the aboriginal decade in which Richmond’s absolute cardinal of association declined. And while the African American attendance in the burghal grew, with atramentous populations affective into ahead all-white neighborhoods on North Side and the East End, blacks alone the corrupt Fan District.
Bored and antagonistic in their crumbling Fan neighborhood, the actual adolescent association approved ball wherever they could acquisition it. There were no clubs, no absolute confined — it was actionable to advertise liquor by the alcohol — and no bounded bands. Nightlife consisted of communicable acts such as Frank Sinatra at the Mosque or Johnny Mack at “the South’s grandest ballroom,” Tantilla Gardens at Hamilton and West Broad streets.
An oil painting by William S. Amlong of rooftops forth Park Avenue in 1963 (Image address Longwood Centermost for the Visual Arts)
Young Fan citizenry congregated on Albemarle Artery in Oregon Hill to watch the caliginosity of inmates battle axial the Virginia Accompaniment Penitentiary. They explored the boscage of Belle Isle and roamed Hollywood Cemetery, picnicking below a pitted, ashen statue of Jefferson Davis.
“Each morning, including Sundays, the sun rose with a golf tee in its mouth,” biographer Tom Robbins wrote of comatose 1950s Richmond summers in his 1976 atypical “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”
“Its application were reflected, alone but equally, by West End bird baths, South Side beer cans, ghetto razors,” Robbins continued. “Middays, the burghal acquainted like the axial of a napalmed watermelon.”
By the additional bisected of the 1950s, the civilian rights movement affective headlines, but aloof out of sight, a baby accumulation of believing artists, poets, writers, agnostic radicals and misfit acceptance able that America — and abnormally Richmond — didn’t fit their ethics and lifestyles anymore. Like the aboriginal Beat writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Philip Whalen, these bodies appropriate an ambiance in which to amalgamate their abolitionist account and focus their postwar acrimony adjoin the 1950s way of life, which answer afterwards catechism God and country, ancestors and, best important, conformity. Their response, according to Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman in her 2012 book “Beat Poets,” was an “open acrimony of accustomed social, sexual, and arcane norms; the battle of a cold, mechanistic apple with apparent romanticism.”
A accidental amateur in this era of depression was Richmond Professional Institute, or RPI. Scorned as a best un-Richmond beginning of the Academy of William & Mary and around abandoned by its Williamsburg administration, it nonetheless admiring painters and sculptors from the North who were fatigued to the alluring administration of Theresa Pollak at its acclaimed art school.
Tom Robbins in 1959 as a apprentice at Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University (Photo address VCU Special Collections and Archives)
An affair of The Ghost, Richmond’s aboriginal agitator absolute newsletter (Image address VCU Special Collections and Archives)
By the bounce of 1959, those RPI artists and writers, accompanying with a growing beatnik attendance and an bookish and artful gay underground, coalesced in the bearing of Richmond’s counterculture. They became the city’s aboriginal avant-garde, and their attendance — and antics — advancing 60 years of slam-bang, do-it-yourself adroitness that continues today with endeavors such as WRIR radio, the Feels Blind Arcane annual and the Richmond Indie Comic Expo. In 2019, Richmond’s do-it-yourself media mural and alive counterculture is still bravely apprenticed by bodies who — adjoin abundant banking and artful allowance — accompany audiences absolute radio, amusing media, literature, film, art, music and action annotation audibly altered from the achievement of mainstream, corporate-owned media outlets.
“We accept to accept that RPI … has accustomed bearing to bodies of artful leanings and this in about-face has lent itself to the development of a affectionate of socio-religio-politico-musico-art-oriented colony,” an bearding biographer declared in a January 1960 archetype of The Ghost, Richmond’s aboriginal agitator absolute newsletter. “We now accept a able adjustment of artists, writers, poets, musicians and those who angular adjoin the artful beatitude in one way or another.”
“RPI was alive!” a apprentice alleged Adam Strange is quoted by Robbins as adage in his “Walks on the Wild Side” cavalcade for the Feb. 12, 1960, affair of RPI apprentice bi-weekly Proscript. “Furious artful activity. An electric atmosphere. Bodies were painting and autograph and acting, and aback they were not creating they were talking about it.”
Beat coffeehouses — capital to the beginning counterculture — afforded those bent artful types a accepted abode to congregate. In 1958, David Fridley, accepted as “Shady,” opened the Rhinoceros Coffee Abode (later alleged the Pink Rhinoceros) at 524 N. Harrison St., and Robbins was a desultory clairvoyant of his balladry there afore he accelerating in May 1959.
Shortly afterwards the Rhinoceros, “The Coffeehouse” was opened in Carytown by “Pope” Gregory, an Episcopal priest who was affable to the arising Beat movement. They were liquor-free “hep cat” hangouts, with annular tables and candles placed in blooming Portuguese Mateus wine bottles, featuring coffee, tea, balladry and acoustic music advancing by the Kingston Trio, Woody Guthrie and added aeon folk performers. Both additionally were predecessors of the Crossroads Coffee House, which operated at Park Abode Methodist Church from 1964 until it was destroyed by blaze in 1967.
An oil painting of Lester Blackiston by William Kendrick in 1961 (Image address Longwood Centermost for the Visual Arts)
For a time, the artisan Lester Blackiston served as a burnable focal point for this alienated community.
Back in Richmond afterwards a abrupt assignment as co-owner of the Coffee ’N Confusion Coffeehouse on D.C.’s K Artery with allegorical beatniks William and Ruth Murray Walker, Blackiston drank biggy amounts of bootleg wine, afresh prowled the aisles of the Village Restaurant amid black-turtlenecked artists and anxious business majors, blubbering balladry and sometimes smacking any assemblage not advantageous attention. An art collector, he was accustomed by arduous beastly personality as baron of the Beats, and he was consistently amidst by an array of hangers-on.
“Lester lived best because he was stronger,” Richmond artisan and biographer Bob Haddow says of Blackiston’s 2007 death. “No career. No pension. No tenure. No bloom [insurance]. No admiration he was crazy. A absolute beatnik. But beneath of a poet. Abundant less.”
Blackiston could accomplish alike a simple balladry account a atrocious activity. “There was a balladry account on Hanover and Lombardy — three or four [poets] showed up,” Richmond citizen Bill Beville recalled in a 2014 interview. “This guy started blubbering in a actual advancing manner, and Lester was affronted by the composition or the guy debating him about the poem. Lester pulled a pistol out of a drawer and attempt him in the shoulder.” Blackiston anguish up confined bastille time for a shooting, but afterwards accustomed a gubernatorial pardon.
Eton’s Inn, about 1966, was a acquisition abode for anarchistic personalities. (Photo from the RPI Cobblestone annual address VCU Special Collections and Archives)
The Village and Eton’s Inn, both amid in the 800 block of West Grace Street, were acquisition places for this assemblage of addition lifestyles and abolitionist attitudes. Eton’s originally opened as a booth in 1947, and by the backward 1950s, it had become a safe anchorage for artists, gays and added personalities advised anarchistic at the time.
“Teddy Bears won at a Martian carnival tucked beneath her mum-encrusted armpits, she skip-dances bottomward mad-cat alleys of the Fan …. admirable avoiding from a wino’s dream.” —excerpt of “Mary Lou,” a composition Tom Robbins wrote for The Zoo arcane magazine
A ample annular table at the advanced frequently built-in painters Susan Bush and Ray Herman (nicknamed “Charlie Brown” by Blackiston due to his annular head), Faith Butler, Gypsy, Kenny Potts, and others. One of them, Norman Lassiter, afterwards confused to New York City, breadth he ran a silk-screen operation for Andy Warhol. Addition Eton’s regular, Pat Williams, was a archetypal for a actualization in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”
Included in this mix was Cuban-born gay-rights activist Tony Seguro and his partner, gay fiction columnist Marsh Harris, whom he met at Eton’s. Seguro came to Richmond in 1959, and two years later, he abominably attempted to anatomy a bounded affiliate of the Mattachine Society, an aboriginal gay-rights group. According to a 2016 commodity in Slate, Seguro told announcer Bob Swisher in the backward 1980s that Mattachine did not assignment in Richmond because a abridgement of badge aggravation provided an acid bridle for gays to organize.
“Tony Seguro was an aboriginal trailblazer in Richmond,” recalls Bill Harrison at Diversity Richmond. “He was an organizer during a time aback accident one’s job afterwards advancing out was not uncommon. And he was in his 40s and 50s aback he was best active.”
“[Eton’s] had a advanced ambit of audience because themselves the counterculture,” Richmond artisan and historian Richard Bland says. “Areas were appointed in the advanced for straights, and aback added in the attenuated [hall were] set up the gays’ booths, while alike added were accomplish aperture to an animated breadth with booths for lesbians.”
Robbins was hypnotically admiring to this beginning Grace Artery counterculture, abnormally the abstruse artery bodies who roamed amid the “square” atramentous apparel and flat-top haircuts. At Eton’s, he became abutting accompany with painters William Fletcher Jones, Bill Kendrick and Bill Amlong (known as the three Bills). He wrote that “[Bill Kendrick] and Bill Jones were the archetypal models … warriors of the affection in Richmond at a time aback Richmond was in a accompaniment of cardiac arrest,” according to actual appear in 2007 by Longwood University’s Centermost for the Visual Arts. Robbins’ allure with Richmond’s best marginalized connected throughout his administration at RPI, and he profiled these anarchistic citizenry throughout his bounce 1959 semester. He declared painting apprentice Paul Miller, who lived in an unheated carrying abode abaft RPI’s Anderson Building, as “tall, gaunt, athirst looking, with acute eyes, Near Eastern beard and actual continued atramentous hair, he looks like a angelic man who has beyond the hot chastening and absolved the aback alleyway of the worlds.”
“The bohemians in Richmond had a added faculty of amusement than the bodies out here,” Robbins told Richmond annual in September 2012 of the aberration amid the characters of 1950s Richmond and his accepted burghal of Seattle. “The characters I bethink from the Fan District, they were aberrant in a way that transcends the accustomed aberration that one finds in Seattle. Seattle has a lot of heart, but no soul. Richmond has a lot of soul, but not abundant heart.”
Despite the affluent assortment of personalities and lifestyles, there was about no African American attendance in this counterculture scene, added than a few Virginia Union University acceptance who may accept periodically fabricated an appearance. Artisan Sir James Thornhill, who was built-in in 1955 and grew up in Jackson Ward, says that blacks were added acceptable to accept pursued their artful talents in adjacent Monroe Park, “making music and about adequate themselves.”
Art is displayed forth a sidewalk in the Fan District in 1959. (Photo by Malcolm Carpenter)
Other businesses in the 800 and 900 blocks of West Grace Artery seemed to bloom during this cardinal time aloof to board the arising subculture. Meadow Laundry, at the bend of Grace and Harrison Streets, became Richmond’s aboriginal artery art gallery. For 89 cents, acceptance and locals could wash, dry and bend while examination paintings by citizen artists. Owner Ed Steinberg — himself an able painter — presented a appearance of his own works there from January through April in 1959, and sidewalk shows and sales were a accepted happening.
“The art acceptance would blitz during the aftermost night afore the auction to get a ’genuine oil painting’ done in time to adhere on the fence,” says above RPI columnist Malcolm Carpenter. “Notes on them said, ’Don’t touch, acrylic still wet.’ ” Carpenter added that sometimes three or four acceptance would assignment assembly-line-style aloof for the sale, with anniversary accomplishing his or her specialty on a alternation of canvases — “one would acrylic a sky and clouds, addition trees, and one accomplishing figures.”
“DeKooning, Rothko, Jackson Pollock, etc. were the artisan idols of our art agents [in 1959],” recalls above RPI art apprentice and biographer Paul Steucke. “Anything smacking of accuracy was out.”
Other notable painters who frequently apparent and awash art alfresco Meadow Laundry included Rubin Peacock, Art Wimberly and North Carolina built-in Homer Vernon. According to Carpenter, back no banking aid was accessible in those days, Vernon becoming his out-of-state RPI charge money by active amoroso for moonshiners in the Carolina hills, application a car with a adapted abeyance so a low-riding rear would not tip off the bounded sheriff.
“Death is an associate / From continued ago / Whose name one can’t absolutely / Put one’s argot to.” —Rik Davis, “Death”
The Lee Theater, at 934 W. Grace St., reopened on Christmas Day 1959 as an alternative- and foreign-film area afterwards closing in 1956 afterward a 20-year run as a purveyor of “fine art films.”
“[The Lee Theater] was dying from the abridgement of business,” Steucke recalls of the theater’s resurgence. “[Malcolm Carpenter] and an RPI acquaintance of his wrote a letter to the administration and appropriate they appearance acclaimed films fabricated by Orson Welles and others (they provided a list). It adored the theater.” Despite Carpenter’s suggestions, the awakening was brief — by 1962, the Lee was shuttered again. It was active in 1965 as an developed blur and caricatural dancing venue. Now, as the Grace Artery Theater, it appearance performances by VCU’s Department of Dance and Choreography.
By mid-1959, Eton’s seems to accept absent abundant of its bohemian appeal, causing a clearing beyond the alley to the Village Restaurant. Originally opened in 1956 by Steve and Stella Dikos, the Village developed that year its beatnik admixture of leftists, Beats and artists. At a time aback abundant of Richmond was segregated, African Americans were consistently acceptable at the Village, at atomic to those adventurous abundant to cantankerous society’s blush barriers.
In abrupt adverse to Blackiston’s atrocity was addition added easygoing beatnik poet, James Patrick “Rik” Davis, who additionally accustomed in boondocks in 1959 afterwards affair Blackiston at a D.C. bus stop in 1957. A 19-year-old beginning from balladry readings at the Lighthouse Club in Hermosa Beach, California, the lanky, 6-foot-5 Davis brought his affable West Coast sensibilities to Richmond, falling in with the Grace Artery crowd. He wrote balladry out of love, and afterwards — out of banking call — he wrote chicanery beneath the name Jack Vast. “Rik apprehend ’On the Road’ and took off, acquisitive that he would accommodated the added Beats in confined and flophouses on the West Coast and Manhattan,” Haddow explains. “Rik and I hit it off because we’d both clocked bags of afar the adamantine way. All that in the account of abstract and poetry.”
James Patrick “Rik” Davis (left) and Lester Blackiston casting fishing curve in the mid-1970s. (Photo by Eddie Peters)
But the bohemian arena wasn’t all acidity and affable feel snaps. The Richmond Badge Department’s carnality band took acid apprehension of this cultural about-face and went to accurately ambiguous lengths to abate it. An bearding motorcycle cop cutting an blurred face absorber would sometimes access unannounced in the Village and aberrate the alley like Blackiston, not blubbering poetry, but pointing out beatniks, poets and artists to be ushered outside, breadth Lt. Joseph Higgins would appeal identification and booty them city for booking if none was forthcoming. In 1959, a askew majority of Richmond’s arrests for drunkenness, biologic control and advancing the accord occurred in those two blocks of West Grace Street.
Similarly, Richmond’s circadian newspapers in 1959 editorially savaged attempts to claiming allegory as able-bodied as annihilation accounted subversive. But in a camp accommodation that about bridged the abysm with the city’s counterculture community, Richmond News-Leader editor James J. Kilpatrick, whose racist address bolstered Virginia’s Massive Resistance to academy desegregation, assassin Blackiston’s airy friend, artisan Ezra Pound, as a adopted correspondent. It did not go well.
“He has beatific me bisected a dozen things,” Kilpatrick wrote that year to the Adopted Press Club in Rome of Pound’s work, “but abominably all of them accept defied my abilities as a archetype editor.”
On July 14, Kilpatrick begin one of Pound’s bulletproof essays publishable. “Keynes Brainwashed Electorate with Economic Hogwash” was his aboriginal and aftermost editorial, and he was let go aural a year.
From 1959 to 1967, the community’s Beat art and balladry talents began overlapping with the accretion civilian rights and New Larboard movements. Richmond’s hippie era unofficially launched in 1966, aback Tak and Holly Keck opened a coffeehouse and sandal boutique on Laurel Artery alleged The Scarlett Griffin.
“It was bohemian central,” recalls artisan Phil Trumbo. Then, in aboriginal 1967, Howard Fisher opened a coffeehouse at 802 W. Grace St. alleged Grant’s Tomb. In October of that aforementioned year, a artisan alleged Art Dorow started the Sunflower, Richmond aboriginal underground newspaper.
While the Sunflower and these second-generation coffeehouses were created by a newer beachcomber of writers, artists and poets transitioning from Beat aesthetics to the added political New Left, it may be argued that Richmond’s aboriginal destructive Beat generation, built-in in 1959, was dead in 1983, aback founding ancestor Rik Davis — still autograph balladry — was stabbed to afterlife during a still-unsolved robbery of an developed bookstore. His afterlife larboard consecutive ancestors to backpack on Richmond’s countercultural legacy.
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