Thursday, June 21, 2012

Colonial Period and its affect on the Mid-century: Jamestown

Hampton Roads has many ties to the 17th and 18th century, arguably being the birth place of the United States. During the mid-twentieth century, Hampton Roads was in the grips of colonial revival. This is most evident today with the popularity of colonial-style buildings in the area that were built during the era, but can also be seen in the amount of colonial style furnishings that appear in local second-hand stores.  In order to understand why Hampton Roads was so crazy over the style vs. french provincial, mediterranean, mid-century modern, or other styles of the period, we have to understand the importance of the 17th and 18th century to the area. Today begins a 4-part series on the colonial era and its effect on mid-century Hampton Roads, particularly the Peninsula. This series will include articles on Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown (each of which had at least one major celebration during the mid-century) and the Colonial Parkway, which connects them all.

We begin with Jamestown. As we learned in school, in 1607 the first permanent English settlement was founded in North America here at Jamestown. In 1957, Jamestown celebrated its 350th anniversary and Virginia celebrated the event with an 8-month-long "Jamestown Festival." During this time over a million visitors came to Jamestown, including then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Queen Elizabeth II.

Although the events surrounding the 1957 celebrations did not fully take into account the perspectives of the Native Americans and African Americans, they still made many lasting historical contributions to the local history and infrastructure. Organizers worked on a variety of projects including "microfilming colonial documents from England, publishing a series of thirty-two historical booklets about the colony written by prominent scholars, (and) excavating part of the town on Jamestown Island." The state also built the "Jamestown Festival Park," now known as the Jamestown Settlement, a living-history museum that included recreations of the three ships that brought the colonists to the island, James Fort, and a Native American village. This park created a "detailed presentation of the past, demonstrating everyday aspects of colonial life such as what people ate, how they dressed, the types of homes they lived in, and crops they grew."

The facilities were recently updated for the 400th anniversary in 2007. The Jamestown Settlement and Historic Jamestowne Island National Park are both open to the public and show that the efforts put into the parks in the mid-century were not in vain. By building upon what was created in the 1950s, both museums now better reflect the views of all of Jamestown's residents and help visitors to understand what life was like in the 17th century. 


Saturday, March 24, 2012

5th Annual York High School Car Show

Today, I participated in my first car show ever, the YHS Falcon's Car Show, with my '63 Mercury Comet.  York High School puts the show on to help fund their After-Prom Event.  Festivities ended early due to rain, but a good time was had by all who came before then.  There were a lot of great stories to be heard at the show and it was filled with a lot of retro eye candy.  I've always loved going to car shows and hearing the stories of the owners and making connections.  I highly recommend going to one if you've never been. 

1962 Imperial Crown Convertible
1981 DeLorean DMC-12 signed by Claudia Wells (actress who played Jennifer in Back to the Future)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dairy Queen - fast food in retro style

This, the first Dairy Queen on the peninsula, opened it's doors in 1968.  For roughly the first 25 years of it's existence it was only open for three-quarters of the year, the owners closing it every winter to go down to Florida.  They lived in the mobile home on the property behind the restaurant.  Starting in the mid-90's ownership changed and DQ was opened year round.  By the beginning of the 2000s, the restaurant began to look run down and show signs of it's age.  A remodel was done that updated the restaurant, but stayed true to the original 60's style.

The restaurant serves all the traditional DQ menu.  On my recent visit I bought a Blizzard, one of my all time favorites.  The service was friendly and quick, though I felt the price was a little much for what I received.

Dairy Queen
2809 Hampton Hwy
Yorktown, VA 23693-4705
Phone: 757-865-7663
Monday-Thursday 10:30 AM - 10 PM
Friday-Saturday 10:30 AM - 11 PM
Sunday 11 AM - 10 PM

Rocky Mount BBQ- going strong since 1953


On a slightly overcast day in February (hence the outside picture), I went to the Rocky Mount BBQ to try this Newport News landmark. When I walked in the decor was clean, but a little dated (very 1990's arts and craft/country style, not awesome mid-century). I found my server very helpful, and she gave a free sample of their famous BBQ.  It was so delicious that I ate it before I had a chance to take a picture of the meal.  If you're looking for a good BBQ in Newport News, I'd recommend this place.

Be sure to check out their website for their menu and pricing information below.

Rocky Mount BBQ
10113 Jefferson Ave.
Newport News, VA 23605
(757) 596-0243

Monday-Saturday 11am-8:30pm
Sunday- Closed


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Coffey's Lock Shop -- old school store with knowledgable staff

Mendel Coffey didn't realize in 1958 when he opened his shop on 25th street in downtown Newport News that he was creating a local institution.  In 1959, he opened a second location in the Center Avenue Shopping Center, now its only location, on the corner of Warwick Blvd and Center Avenue.  Recently, I purchased a 1963 Mercury Comet which was missing a door key, and asked around for the best locksmith in the area to have one made.... Seven people recommended Coffey's.  The first thing I noticed when I can into the door was the amount of vintage keys they have in stock.  I even found original keys for the Comet.  I was so excited!  The service was a little slow, however the price was reasonable... $18 to have a key made for my door and $6 a the vintage Mercury blank.  I must agree that Coffey's is probably the best locksmith shop around!

Coffey's Lock Shop
9519 Warwick Blvd
Newport News, VA 23601
(757) 595-2411

Monday-Friday 8:30 AM - 5PM
Saturday 9 AM - 1 PM

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ames Cleaners -- retro archetecture and great service

The Ames family started their cleaning business in Hampton in 1961.  From the beginning, it was known by locals for it's quality of service.  Ames was so successful that within 20 years they had expanded to two locations and a tuxedo rental.  I have been unable to find more information about the shop's history, and my message to the owners was not immediately returned.

Recently, I took my winter coat to the Mercury location be cleaned.  I found the service to still be exceptional and the employees to be very helpful.  The cost was reasonable and turnaround was very quick.  I was impressed and would recommend them to an employer.  Great place with cool retro look.

Ames Cleaners
554 E. Mercury Blvd
Hampton, VA 23663
(757) 722-4301
Monday-Friday 7 AM - 6 PM
Saturday 8 AM - 5 PM

Ames Cleaners*
900 LaSalle Ave
Hampton, VA 23669
(757) 723-3331
Monday-Friday 7 AM - 6 PM
Saturday 8 AM - 5 PM

Ames Tuxedos**
10 Town Centre Way
Hampton, VA
(757) 825-3335
Monday-Friday 8 AM - 8 PM
Saturday 9 AM - 5 PM

*I would avoid this location.  I didn't feel comfortable in this area alone.

**I rented a tux from them about 10 years ago.  They had great service and products then, but I don't know anyone who has used them lately.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Arlo Guthrie -- Folk Legend -- Performing in town on 2/8-2/9

File:Arlo Guthrie 2007.jpg

Arlo Guthrie was born July 10, 1947 in Brooklyn, New York.  He has no connection to the area by birth, but is playing a concert at the American Theatre in Phoebus (Hampton) next Wednesday and Thursday night.  Son of famous folk singer Woody Guthrie, Arlo had several hits of his own during the 60s-70s anti-Vietnam war era.  Sadly, this great musician's work isn't played much in Hampton Roads, with the exception of Guthrie's most famous song, the 18+ minute "Alice's Restaurant," being played at yearly at noon on Thanksgiving day on 106.9 The Fox.  His other hits include, "Coming into Los Angeles," "The Motorcycle Song," and my personal favorite, "City of New Orleans,"   He is a great artist, and one of the few of his era still performing on a regular basis.  If you are interested, ticket prices range from $14 to $33 and can be purchased here.

Here he is singing my personal favorite of his: "The City of New Orleans"

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia and video courtesy of Youtube

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Blue Star Diner -- mid-century style awaiting resurrection

Picture courtesy of David Spriggs

According to the research compiled by the alumni of Newport News High School, The Blue Star Diner was built as a prefabricated diner in New Jersey in 1958 by Manno Dining Car Company.  It opened in 1961 in Woodstock, VA by Angelo and Fannie Blentson, then it moved to Newport News in 1963.  It was used as a set in the 1987 movie "Zelly and Me" and featured in 1996's "Blue Plate Special: The American Diner Cookbook."  The Blentson's owned the Blue Star for 46 years and the building was closed in December of 2005 after a small fire.  In 2007, the restaurant reopened under new management, but closed in January 2010.  The next month, the Daily Press reported that the restaurant was under contract to be purchased by Belleville Diners from Dulles, VA.  Reportedly, this group was interested in restoring the diner to it's '1950s' glory and planned to reopen the Blue Star within 6 months. 

Fast forward to 2012...  The Blue Star building is slowly decaying, with no signs of work being done.  When I attempted to contact Belleville Diners for the sake of this article, I could find no way to reach them.  Their website contains no information about their organization, nor does it mention any plans for the crumbling diner.  I also tried calling the number listed for them online three times and there was no answer.  It is my concern that the diner will continue to deteriorate as no plan of action for its preservation appears to be taking place.  It would be a great loss to the area if this building were allowed to fade into oblivion.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Monty's Penguin -- Waddle up for an amazing milkshake!

Monty's Restaurant opened it's doors on the corner of 44th and Virginia Avenue (now Warwick Boulevard) in Downtown Newport News in 1946, according to my waitress on a recent visit.  It was among the first "Curb Service" car hops in the area.  It has moved twice.  In 1963, it moved to an uptown location, where it was renamed Monty's Penguin.  The penguin comes from an ice cream parlor of the same name that merged with Monty's around that time.  In 1974, it moved to it's current location of 9607 Warwick Boulevard. While they no longer do curb service, Monty's is open for the general public to come on in for a good meal.

I had the honor of visiting Monty's recently and the old restaurant shows it's age, but the traditional style food is as good as ever.   I had a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, tea, and pineapple milkshake for dessert for about $13.  The sandwich was good, but the milkshake was out of this world!  My only complaint is that I felt the cost was a little high for what I received.  I would definitely go back though!

Monty's Penguin
9607 Warwick Blvd.
Newport News, VA 23601
(757) 595-2151

Sunday- Saturday 6:30 AM - 8:00 PM

Special thanks to:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Ragans' Western Auto and the history of the brand... Controversial?

According to Wikipedia, Western Auto Supply Company was started by George Pepperdine in 1909 in Kansas City, Missouri as a supplier of automotive parts and accessories.  It started as a mail order business and opened its first retail store in 1921.  Western Auto was the first store to franchise it's name to new stores.  In 1987, Western Auto was purchased by Sears, Roebuck, & Co. and in 1998 by Advance Auto Parts.  In 2004, Advance Auto Parts stopped supplying parts and services to Western Auto stores, essentially killing the brand.  Dealers were allowed to use the Western Auto name free of charge until 2006, then the name had to be removed.  Our store is currently violating trademark-infringement laws, and while Advance has not brought any legal actions yet, there is a possibility that this may soon change. 

It is unknown to this blogger exactly when our franchise of Western Auto opened, but I do know that it was purchased by Dewey Ragans Sr. in 1970 from Clyde Collins, the original owner.  Personally, my family has taken their cars there to be worked on for years. I've never had any issues with them and they've always done a great job on the vehicles.  According to their website, they are one of the largest state inspection stations in Virginia by volume, and that says something about the quality of service locals receive at Ragans. I've always loved going though the isles and looking at the merchandise, some of which has been on the shelves for decades.  While I do understand the love of the old name, I fear the Ragans may be playing with fire still using the Western Auto brand.  I would hate this beloved local institution to face a lawsuit over it.

Ragans' Western Auto
5813 George Washington Mem. Hwy.
Yorktown, VA 23692

Store Hours:
Monday - Friday 7:00am - 5:30pm
Saturday 7:00am - 4:30pm
Sunday Closed

Shop Hours:
Monday - Friday 7:00am - 5:00pm
Saturday 7:00am - 4:30pm
Sunday Closed

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ella Fitzgerald- "The First Lady of Song"

File:Elia Fitzgerald in September 1947.jpg

Ella Fitzgerald was born on April 25, 1917 in Newport News to William Fitzgerald and Tempe Williams.  According to a 9/11/94 Daily Press Article, they lived at 2050 Madison Ave.  While Ella and her parents appear in the 1920 Census in Newport News, states that within the year her parents separated and she moved with her mother to Yonkers, New York.  Ella's mother died in 1932 and she ran away to New York City and began singing in Harlem to pay to support herself.  It was there that she was discovered and began recording albums in 1935.  Fitzgerald's popularity grew quickly.  From 1936-1969, she had 63 hits on the U.S. charts and during her lifetime, earned 13 Grammy awards and sold 40 million albums.  Ella made many songs jazz standards; retiring from performing in 1993 and died on June 15, 1996. 

Ella's smooth voice is unmatched by any of her peers.  I feel honored to know that she spent some of her formative years here in Hampton Roads. Here she is singing one of my personal favorite jazz songs, "Cry Me a River."

If you'd like to read more about Ella Fitzgerald, I recommend looking at her website:

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Beach Hardware... Old fashoned service with a smile.

Ever go into one of those big box home improvement stores and not be able to find what you need?  Or ask a question of an 18-year-old clerk who has no idea what your talking about?  If you are like me, you have.  Thankfully, I my prayers answered with the independents.  Beach Hardware first opened it's doors on Pembroke Ave. in 1958.  It is the kind of store where the clerk helps you troubleshoot your problems and helps you find what you need in the store.  If they don't have it, they'll order it, or direct you to where you can get it.  Beach Hardware is also the kind of store where you can find things no one else carries. For example, a friend of mine broke the beaters for her older model mixer, Beach was the only store in the area to still carry them.  For great service, good parts, and a good look at what a hardware store should be, go here.

Beach Hardware
1951 E. Pembroke Ave.
Hampton, VA 23663
(757) 723-8664

Monday-Saturday 8am-6pm
Closed Sundays

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cody's Lamp Shop... A museum of illumination where everything is for sale!

Since the mid-1980s, Cody's lamps has been a staple of local illumination.  Started by Richard and Glenda Henson in a local flee market, Cody's moved in 2006 to what was a 6,000+ square foot garage in the Phoebus section of Hampton.  They specialize in lighting from prior to 1960, but I saw lamps as new as the 1980s mixed in.  Cody's consists of two floors of vintage goodness with whole lamps and tons of extra parts.  I went and spoke to Mr. and Mrs. Henson recently about their lighting buisness.  They expressed that getting into a buisness like this all starts with a love of history and resourcefullness... finding parts for some of these lamps is near impossible.  Richard makes sure to save every part of lamps he feels he can use.  "I have a 2 story garage at home filled with extra parts and pieces to help complete my projects."  I am very impressed with Cody's selection and would recommend the store for anyone looking to buy or repair a vintage lamp.

Check out some of their selection!

Cody's Lamps
201 E. Mellen St.
Hampton, VA 23663
(757) 727-0333

Tuesday-Friday 9am-5pm
Saturday 10am-5pm
Closed Sundays and Mondays

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mr. C's Pizza - That 70's place.

Mr. C's Pizza has been a Poquoson landmark since 1976 and is the oldest restaurant currently in the city.  It has changed very little inside and out since the 70's.  Mr. C's only serves 3 items: Pizza, Subs, and Salads.  I don't feel the pizza's are anything to write about, but the salads and subs are AMAZING.  So far, they are the best sub/salads in Hampton Roads, hands down.  My personal favorites are the Canadian Bacon sub or the large salad with onions with their special house dressing (pictured below).  If your in the area swing by for a local blast from the past.

Mr. C's Pizza
493 Wythe Creek Rd.
Poquoson, VA 23662
(757) 868-7082 (Call ahead for carry out orders!)
Monday-Saturday 11AM-11PM
Closed Sundays

See the menu here.