Photoshop Saves the Day

The defiled rock.

The cleaned rock.

Old time photo people often smirk at the use of Photoshop and like editing programs that often make those of lesser talent quite acceptable. Sometimes, Photoshop simply saves a pretty good picture. This is a case.

The photo was taken Sunday at North Mountain (first overlook, reached by climbing a rock) and the beautiful rock at the top had been defaced by creeps (probably Trump supporters who respect absolutely nothing). When I got home and was reviewing the photos, I saw that this was appealing, but for the graffiti. So I removed it.

Grumble if you want, but it’s a much more appealing photo without the blue paint.

Lora Katz and the City Win

Roanoke architect Lora Katz has overcome the pitchforks and tiki torches and can develop the 1820 groundskeeper’s house at Fishburn Park. I’m frankly surprised that Roanoke City Council not only agreed to sell the house and .75 acres of land to Lora, but that it did so with such strong belief in her.

Matt Chittum’s story in today’s local daily had two telling quotes from council members Bill Bestpitch and Mayor Sherman Leah:

Lots of work to be done.

Bestpitch: “The only use this building has ever had is as a home. All this is doing is restoring the use that it has always had.”

Leah: “I trust Lora Katz, She gets it.”

Councilwoman Michelle Dykstra (who has been a disappointment to me since her election) was spot-on in saying, ““We’re at a point where this building needs to be preserved or it’s no longer going to be able to be preserved in the future.”

The look of the neighborhood will be improved.

Council members agreed that those opposing the sale’s idea that the building should be developed for business was nonsense. Said Dykstra, according to Chittum, “Private ownership is much less intensive on the neighborhood than any kind of commercial use would be.”

Now, the work begins for Lora, who must get the land rezoned, come up with a specific preservation play and invest $135,000–at least–in the preservation.

The best result though is this: The good guys won.

North Mountain: God’s Big Acre

This church has no walls and no rigid doctrine.

Look closely and find the grasshopper.

My good friend Susan and I took a 65-mile drive north to Rockbridge County yesterday so we could climb out on the spectacular views of North Mountain. We took our cameras and were rewarded with spectacular scenery.

These Sunday trips serve as our spiritual center, our church, as it were. I challenge anybody to find a more spiritual place on earth than the ones Mother Nature provides and we don’t even have to tithe. We just sit, meditate, shoot photographs, smile and soak up the joy of it all.

Here’s some of what we saw.

This is my favorite photo of Susan. It is her, absolutely her.

Am I happy here? Yep. Got my mountain, my rock and my camera.

No explanation needed. It’s simply gorgeous.

Hey, Pampa, wanna go to church?

We love it, it loves us.

Think old men can’t climb? Guess again.

Susan has this meditation thingy down.

Rows and flows of angel hair, and ice cream castles in the air … (Joni Mitchell)

More rows and flows.

Peek-a-boo, I shoot you …

It’s a celebration of life from the mountain top.

See you later alligator.

Let Lora Katz Save the Historic Cottage!

Fishburn Park and the house in question.

There’s a question about the park access road … which Katz answered properly.

Roanoke busybody Freeda Cathcart, who keeps running for City Council and keeps losing, is at the front edge of a small group of people trying hard to keep City Council from doing the right thing: selling the 1820 caretaker’s house at Fishburn Park to Lora Katz, a respected architect. Lora has a long history of restoration and respect for historic property and selling the house to her, so she can live there, would be the perfect solution.

The foundation needs work.

The house is shabby from being left unoccupied for years, but is salvageable and Lora would pay the city $10 for it and then be required to invest $135,000 in restoration, in addition to having to live there for at least a year.

Cathcart a neighbor is accusing Lora of underhanded dealing, not asking Cathcart’s permission and not saying “May I?” Her assault amounts to character assassination and tonight we will see if Council buys that argument.

Some paint would help a good bit.

Cathcart wrote on my Facebook page: “The revised proposal does not require the buyer to restore the house to historical standards recommended by the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation to make sure its properly restored.” Does anybody who knows Lora doubt she would be an ethical caretaker of the property?

Lora Katz: smeared by “neighbors.”

Lora wrote this in response to Cathcart’s drivel: ” Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it. Having two neighbors right next to me that are so nasty.” Council can show courage and genuine concern for Roanoke preservation by selling to Lora. My guess is it won’t, though, because these neighborhood associations–even when they’re wildly wrong–have a great deal of power. My guess is that Lora will have two supporters who are not scared into immobility by the associations and their irresponsible decision here.

Lora Katz Deserves To Own Caretaker’s Cottage at Fishburn Park

1820s caretaker’s cottage at Fishburn Park.

Lora Katz is a Roanoke native, a well-regarded architect and a woman of immense integrity. I’ve known her for years. She wants buy an 1820s-era structure at Fishburn Park in Roanoke in order to restore it and live in it. She has made an offer to the city for the cottage (buy it for $10, invest $135,000) that is fair and probably more than the city could ever expect because of that very integrity.

But neighbors–as neighbors will do–are raising hell at Roanoke officials for even considering the offer, primarily because Lora and the City didn’t consult them. They have even taken to personally attacking a woman who has done a great deal of preservation good in Roanoke. And, frankly, the treatment of her pisses me off.

I consider myself a preservationist and once served on the board of directors of the Preservation Foundation of the Roanoke Valley, which works hard to preserve buildings and land worth preserving–such as this little cottage. Sometimes old things are not worth the preservation effort, but this is not one of them.

The cottage is a solid little building that can actually be used as it was intended and I have no idea why the neighbors object to that … except that neighbors often object to everything that has anything to do with their neighborhoods and even the slightest change. This change would, indeed, be slight.

Lora has been personally hurt by this. A story in this morning’s local daily (here) quoted her thusly: “I don’t want to be the bad guy. I went into this to be the good guy.” She is the good guy. The neighbors are being boorish, selfish and short-sighted. And they’re being the bad guy.

(Photo: WDBJ7)

Greek Festival: It’s About Your Waist Line

This is the old lady’s plate, referenced below.

Found a great-looking redhead.

The Annual Greek Festival and Stuff Your Face Celebration at Roanoke’s Greek Orthodox Church is in full swing and I stopped by about an hour ago to see what was up. I didn’t need to ask. Food was up and nobody was fooled by anything else. It was about smells, tastes, full bellies and lots of calories.

I avoided eating anything, but gained seven pounds just looking and photographing. One old lady’s plate (pictured here) led me to ask, “Is that for your neighborhood?” to which she responded indignantly, “It’s for me!” I suspect that was the way most felt about their food.

If you wanted to eat, you had to wait. The line went two ways around the food and was loooong.

Here’s what the wait is all about …

… and this …

… and the baklava …

… and the stuffed grape leaves, among other goodies.

At the end of the line, mouths were watering.

No real reason I shot this, except the guy has a great look.

This is the only guy I saw in a Greek costume, so I posed with him.

Sideline Is Worst Place To Watch (or Cover) Football Games

This view of a game (Patrick Henry) gives you perspective that the sideline doesn’t provide.

A number of years ago, when I was a young sports writer, I discovered first-hand that the worst place in any stadium to cover a football game is on the sideline. There’s confusion, blocked site-lines, noise, the constant threat of being run over (which I was upon occasion) and a distinct disadvantage in perspective.

Even offensive and defensive coordinators most often prefer the press box because they can see plays develop better. Some sports writers–notably Brian Hoffman, the longtime sports icon at the Salem Times-Register–prefer the sideline, but Hoop (as he is known) is also a still photographer, which explains his presence on the sideline.

Covering on the sideline was a good lesson for me in how not to work, but a lesson local television reporters seem never to have accepted. Look at the footage of high school games and you see games only from the sideline, where you can tell absolutely nothing about a play, including who has the ball, where the ball is, what the trend is.

I just looked at some WDBJ7 footage of last night’s games–including winners Patrick Henry and Lord Botetourt–and had difficulty telling much at all, including who won. I realize the staff at the station is not big and that it must cover several games each Saturday, but what we wind up with is a too-close look at games and rarely is anything pictured relevant. WDBJ prides itself on its high school football coverage and has for many years, but that pride has generally been based upon being the only station that really cared, and so there was no incentive to shoot good video tape.

Let me suggest that the videographers (who are often the game reporters) simply take a few steps up the grandstand, above the action and shoot from there. That way, with sophisticated cameras, we can see what’s going on without feeling like we’re wearing a helmet. I’m more than confident the high school authorities will accommodate them.

Rumor: Heironimus Building Under Contract

Here’s the hottest, freshest rumor running on the Roanoke real estate mill at the moment: The long-vacant, overpriced, crucially-located Heironimus building in downtown Roanoke–the big building at the hub of downtown–is under contract. I have two extremely solid sources and another that is good.

I’m not sure how good “under contract” is in the long haul, but it seems to be pretty positive.

This building is and has been so important to the success of downtown Roanoke–for more than 100 years–that its long-time vacancy has been seen as a substantial detriment to development there. One Roanoke businessman suggested a couple of years that the building is so important that the city should declare eminent domain and sell it.

Heironimus is 75,000 square feet of retail space, sitting on Jefferson Street near Roanoke City Market and it was bought for $412,500 in 1997 by current owner Calvin Powers. It has pretty much been left to deteriorate in recent years, since The Emporium closed there.

Powers has had it up for sale at $5.5 million (according to various reports) for years with no takers and almost no interest. A Richmond-based developer with projects in downtown Roanoke once estimated that the asking price was 2/3 more than it should be. Renovation costs have been estimated at $10 million.

The Little Lion Growls at MMT

Both performances sold out.

Mill Mountain Theatre’s production of Irene Zeigler’s “The Little Lion” broke from its normal fare considerably during its Friday-Saturday run and produced a challenging work on the small Waldron Stage. Both performances of the limited run were sold out.

This is a script-in-hand production, directed by MMT’s Travis Kendrick. It features Christopher Castanho in the title role. Castanho was last seen in this summer’s productions of “The Jungle Book” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”  He is Resident Creative and Teaching Artist at MMT. His character works to save his family against multiple forces. He gets solid support from a large cast of MMT conservatory education staff and local veterans of note, 17 actors in all. Those locals include strong performances from Mary Jean Levin, Ed Sala, Chris Shepherd and Patrick Kennerly (in three challenging roles).

The Little Lion was a boy who became a hero in the Kovno, Lithuania, ghetto where Jews were herded by Nazis during World War II. In this telling, from a book by Nancy Wright Beasley (who, like Zeigler, is a Virginian), the Nazis are not the only villains, joining the Russian occupiers at the outset and non-Jewish Lithuanians throughout. It is a cruel and hateful rendering, crackling with tension and based upon actual events and people. The production was highlighted with large, lighted backdrops from the events, which were often frightening.

The Jews in this story made certain to document the daily events in their camp for the future and, like the Nazis, they were efficient in gathering material, painful and dangerous as it was.

There is often a sameness in the telling of Nazi atrocities, but “The Little Lion” gives us a valuable piece of history about collusion with evil that is certainly topical now. The Lithuanians’ own bigotry helped in their downfall.

This staged reading is one of a series of new events planned at Mill Mountain Theatre and is a welcome addition to the more popular main-stage fare. This is the kind of challenging, limited attraction play that has been the stock in trade for Roanoke’s highly-regarded Off the Rails Theatre, but for a regional professional theater, it would hardly pay the bills. Good theater, however, is what it’s all about and MMT continues to carry the message.



Southwest Virginia’s No. 1 Problem? Morgan Griffith

Saving coal? The clueless Mr. Griffith.

“The number one key issue here is a general lack of regional and community leadership . . . there is no move toward growth or change. We are stagnant. Every other issue we have is due to the leadership of this region.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s from a Roanoke Times editorial this morning (probably written by my pal Dwayne Yancey) that talks about a report outlining the economic future of Southwest Virginia (Wytheville, south). It’s bleak, but we knew that. We knew coal is dying, population is fleeing, new business has no interest, retraining is vastly–criminally–underfunded. We also knew–and have known for years–that leadership was either crooked or too caught up in doctrinaire politics to do anything at all. Simple fact: Southwest Virginia is heavily Republican.

Morgan Griffith of Salem (which is not in the district) is the congressional representative and has been since he upset the best rep the 9th District has ever had, Rick Boucher. Griffith did it by promising to bring back coal. That is like promising to bring back the typewriter and the telephone, but that’s where Griffith’s head is: the past. He is a far right-winger who’ll promise you anything and spend nothing.

Southwest Virginia needs–desperately needs–an infusion of government cash, but the “drown the government in a bathtub” politicians that Griffith represents have done nothing in recent years and plan nothing further for the future. They are still promising to “save” coal. And if they “save” it, who buys the coal? Not Americans.

Griffith is the leader of the region in the political sphere, but he is as much symptomatic of the complete and utter lack of political leadership and will the 9th represents as anything or anybody.