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Inaugural Insult

What's the symbolism of holding an inauguration in a historical theme park rather than the actual capital city?

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So what's wrong with the picture? Plenty.

First, Richmond is the state capital and has been for 225 years and counting. (Williamsburg had the distinction for only 80 years.)

Second, what does Williamsburg have to do with Jamestown's settlement anyway? It was a swampy backwater for most of the 1600s, while Richmond, at the falls, was the strategic beginning of the wilderness, where The West began. If history and 1607 is what the move of the inaugural is about, why aren't the ceremonies being held on Jamestown Island with the naturally majestic James River as a backdrop?

Finally, just because the Capitol is a construction site doesn't make Richmond any less the state capital. But I suspect that many lawmakers, while in Richmond, get the bends if they have to venture too far beyond Capitol Square. In fact, over the past few years, as state government and the need for additional office space have expanded, Capitol Square's boundaries have expanded. This has often meant closing historic city streets and making them part of a Vatican-like enclave. Does anyone alive remember that there was once a thoroughfare called Capitol Street? And take a walk down curvy Governor's Street, because it's closed to traffic.

Don't fault Williamsburg-area lawmakers for sucker-punching Richmond and yanking the inauguration out from under us. They have their own hotel rooms to fill and economic development to consider.

I do fault Richmonders for having so little civic pride that nary a peep of protest was heard. Where was Richmond's legislative delegation? Where were our City Council members and tourism officials? If the Capitol in Washington, D.C., were under construction, would Congress move the quad-rennial inauguration to Annapolis, Md., Princeton, N.J., or any of the other former U.S. capital cities? Of course not. They'd find another grand location in the District.

Richmonders should have insisted that the General Assembly do the same thing here. Numerous elegant and interesting locations could have served as ceremonial backdrops for the swearings-in, and we have no shortage of streets for a grand parade. Many of these sites are state-owned and would have shown off the glories of Richmond's architecture and public spaces.

Consider these:

The front steps of the elegant, modernistic Library of Virginia on East Broad Street are near Capitol Square, and the building's dramatic front canopy would have offered some protection from the elements for platform guests. The parade might have proceeded up Broad Street, offering more Virginians a chance to enjoy the color and sound. Guest bleachers could have been placed in the surface parking lot at Ninth and Broad streets. The library's sweeping lobby would have been an excellent staging area for inaugural participants.

The front lawn of the Science Museum of Virginia is well-tended and the classical colonnade of this structure is just as handsome as Jefferson's portico. The broad driveway would have swept the parade to the inaugural platform. There's plenty of parking.

The Carillon, Virginia's spectacular World War I memorial in Byrd Park, is underused for ceremonial occasions. With Virginians serving and dying in Iraq, the symbolism of holding the 2006 inaugural there would have been powerful. After the oaths and the speeches, the great bells from the tower could have pealed patriotic songs as the official party repaired to a location somewhere on the Boulevard for the inaugural parade.

The grounds of the Virginia War Memorial on Belvidere are hilly and this is a tight site, but a dramatic staging area could have been devised. There are few more sweeping vistas in the state with both impressive city skyline and the James River visible at once. This site has it all — the modern and the ancient — including a view of the river that transported settlers in 1607.

Of course, the most obvious spot for the swearing-in would have been outside the handsome Patrick Henry Building on Broad Street (the former Virginia State Library and State Supreme Court). The state has just completed an elaborate renovation, and the building will house permanently the governor's office. It's also the temporary legislative building until the Capitol renovation is complete.

Any of these historic places would have shown off Virginia's capital city to dramatic and fascinating effect.

What's the symbolism of holding an inauguration in a historical theme park rather than the actual capital city? Let's don't go there. But it is clear that there is tremendous symbolism in Richmond's getting the back of the hand. Cities just don't get respect.

For 225 years, Virginia's inaugurations have belonged to Richmond. It's a once-every-four-year event that should be honored and developed. Consider London without royal weddings, Pasadena without the Rose Parade or New Orleans without the Mardi Gras. Ridiculous.

If Richmonders don't care about our rich traditions, others won't either. S



Edwin Slipek Jr. is Style's architecture critic.



Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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