Fireside / July 2013

A Wealth of History, Right Outside Our Front Door

Richmond neighborhoods Shockoe Bottom and Shockoe Slip are home to a number of creative agencies and businesses, including Wireside Communications.  From our offices in the Old Dominion we support endless possibilities in the new world of communications.

Being a recent transplant from the City by the Bay, I knew very little about Richmond beyond its role in the Civil War as the former capital of the Confederacy.  I certainly didn’t know the part our neighborhood, Shockoe Bottom, played in the history of this nation. So, being a fan of history, I took a walking tour of the square blocks around the Superior Exchange Building where Wireside calls home to educate myself about the neighborhood.

Craig houseShockoe Bottom is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Richmond and grew due to its close proximity to the docks on the James River that were used to transport goods and people to the city. Within two blocks of Wireside’s offices sits one of the oldest structures in Richmond, the Adam Craig House, built in 1784 by Adam Craig, a prominent court clerk in Richmond.  Legend holds that his daughter, Jane Stith Craig Stanard, is the inspiration behind Edgar Allen Poe’s tribute, “To Helen.” In 1935, faced with the possibility of destruction, it was bought by Preservation Virginia and used as an arts center. Recently it was for sale.  For a million dollars you could own a piece of American history complete with an awesome outdoor shower to cool off in the hot Richmond summers!

MasonLess than one block from Wireside’s offices sits the oldest Masonic Lodge in continuous operation in the United States.  It was completed in 1787 and has been witness to many momentous occasions in U.S. history.  It was here that the residents of Virginia met to instruct their delegates before going to the Constitutional Convention and the building served as a hospital during the War of 1812.  During the Civil War, as much of Richmond was burning, a Union general (himself a mason) posted a guard at the door to protect the building from destruction.  Through it all it has stood, but currently is in need of repairs.  A recent article in Richmond Magazine noted that the building looks so derelict that a guide giving an historic tour noted that it was abandoned, even though members meet there up to four times per month.  Let’s hope that the current occupants can restore the building so it can continue to bear witness to Richmond’s, and this nation’s, history.

Pace HouseRichmond, like many cities, has had its share of triumphs and defeats.  Two blocks from Wireside’s headquarters stands a building that is both testament to its glory and its darker days.  It is referred to as the Pace-King house and sits at 19th Street and Grace Streets.  It was here that Charles B. Hill built his Italianate mansion.  According to official records, Charles Hill was an “auctioneer and local politician.” However, a person identified as an auctioneer in the 1800s in Richmond meant something different than it does today and generally meant that the person traded in slaves in addition to the items we commonly associate with the profession today.  In 1860, when the mansion was built, Richmond’s trade in slaves was second only to New Orleans’ and in 1856 just one auction house – that of Dickinson, Hill & Co. – raked in an astronomical sum of sales of $2.5 million, which translates to more than $50 million today!  Charles Hill, however, was able to enjoy the house financed by his dubious trade for only two years before he passed away.  The house was then sold to the namesakes of the house: James B. Pace in the 1860s and 1870s, owner of a tobacco factory, and Jane King in the 1880s and 1890s who is notable as one of the few women to run her own business – a large ice business in the age before refrigeration.  The house then changed hands a number of times until the 1970′s when, like much of the neighborhood, it was in disrepair and employed as a tenement for Richmond’s poor.

Luckily for us at Wireside, and our neighbors that call Shockoe Bottom home, the neighborhood has seen a resurgence.  Today, there are new owners of the Pace-King house who are renovating the property.  The neighborhood is alive with new restaurants, coffee shops, creative agencies and more.  In subsequent posts we’ll introduce you to some of the folks who work here and are leading the Shockoe renaissance.

Worker, Writer, Watcher: Where the Professional and the Creative Collide




First, a disclaimer: I understand that television is entertainment and by no means should be utilized for choosing an occupation.

I work in PR, I am a writer, and I love watching television.  It is inevitable that I inhabit one of these identities while engaging with the other.  This Sunday evening, along with about 2.2 million others, I tuned in to the HBO premiere of the second season of Aaron Sorkin’s latest stress occupation gabfest “The Newsroom.”  Of course, you can’t separate PR from the news or television these days, nor can we apparently separate either from having some connection to reality.

Having worked in a corporate newsroom as well as in crisis communications and PR, I feel I have a fairly good handle on what life is like in a newsroom. While watching the premiere, a battle ensued between my internal Writer, Worker and Watcher. While the Writer and Watcher were both thrilled to the core with the buzzy, fun and witty dialogue and the careful narrative balance between the personal and the professional  (oh my!), the Worker was very stressed out wondering how any of these crises could possibly be effectively dealt with while everyone was busy buzzing?

In my experience as a Worker, when things go down in the communications field, you are lucky to be able to string a cohesive sentence together, let alone have the time to engage for more than 30 seconds with your colleagues. Yes, we may come together to frantically order pizza or step outside for a breather, but the highest level of communication is left to email or phone conversations. Witty remarks may be met with an appreciative smile, but most likely will be forgotten until the next day when reliving the crisis. While the dramatized version of life is much more exciting, events are collapsed for optimum drama, and we are always prepared with a great comeback line—the truth is often a lot less glamorous.

What strikes a chord with all three of my internal W’s is that the more I know about the real life occupation or situation on shows like “The Newsroom” and the closer such a show strives to bring in “reality,” the more I critique its creative license.  Television is a powerful tool, combine it with the trend toward reality-driven drama and ease of finding information, and it is not difficult to see how viewers might make the assumption that what appears on the screen is real life. As a Worker, Watcher and Writer, I do think the distance between reality and fiction needs to shrink just a bit, especially for the next generation of professionals trying to choose a career.

Hail to the Redskins – New Richmond Residents!

Training_centerThe reigning NFC East champion Washington Redskins unveiled their new $10 million dollar state-of-the-art training facility in Richmond on Monday, July 8.  The team will call the Richmond-based Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center home during their three-week training camp, which kicks-off Thursday, July 25.

No stranger to pomp and circumstance, the Redskins welcomed community leaders and members from across the Commonwealth to a lively grand opening celebration.  The ceremony began with a performance from the Richmond All-City Marching Band, parachute jumpers gilding through the air and onto the new field and the singing of the National Anthem by former American Idol finalist and Richmond native, Elliot Yamin.  Guest speakers included former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, Bon Secours Virginia Health System CEO Peter Bernard, and Washington Redskins Senior Vice President and Executive Producer – Media Larry Michael.

The new training facility will offer both entertainment and an economic boost for the Richmond region.  Fans from across the country can see their favorite Redskins in action before the season begins at no cost.  During Richmond’s inaugural season as training camp host, it means getting a unique first look at how RGIII has bounced back from his knee injury, or how well 2012 stand-out rookie Alfred Morris will perform his second year on the field.  The value of the training center has a far greater reach than simply entertaining fans and preparing players for their next run at a Super Bowl championship.  The facility will bring an estimated $40 million investment to the city of Richmond and hundreds of new jobs.  The economic impact of the training camp alone is estimated to be around $8.5 million a year.

For those of you that don’t know, I am a die-hard football fan so having an NFL franchise training camp right around the corner is like music to my ears.  I had the privilege of being a part of the on-site media relations team for the grand opening celebration.  It was an incredible experience to witness the immaculate facility, which was constructed in only a mere five months, weeks before the doors open to the public.  Let the countdown to training camp begin!