Earlier this month, nearly half of the row houses and storefronts on the 800 block of West Cary Street were demolished to make way for the construction of 805W, a controversial $18 million 100-unit apartment complex that will sit at the border of the Oregon Hill neighborhood on the corner of Laurel and Cary streets. The distinctive, historic architecture of those buildings, several of which were built before the Civil War, will be replaced by a hulking residential complex that stands in harsh contrast to the neighborhood surrounding it.
The erasure of those buildings came as a shock to many, but the loss of historic Richmond architecture is not the only story. The house at 805 W. Cary St., now razed, was the central spot for punk and hardcore shows here from 1992 to 1999, and was part of the vibrant 90s music scene in Richmond. The loss of the building itself is of no consequence to Richmond punk history, but it is indicative of the cultural changes that have happened in Richmond over the last 20years as it has become a more attractive destination for young professionals.
The house was a hub for local and touring acts at the time, and like many long-running house show venues, it was a revolving door for musicians, artists, and activists. Taylor Steele, frontman for Richmond hardcore band Four Walls Falling, lived at the house early on and did much of the booking. He said that the band also practiced in the basement of the house for several years, right around the time they were writing the songs that would appear on their second album, Food For Worms.
“If there wasn’t a show going on, especially in the summer, then there wasn’t anything to do in Richmond,” said Steele. “There were no parties going on, no events going on.”
Steele, who still lives in Richmond, said that the city was not a great place for hardcore in the late 80s, but that all began to change in the 90s. First and second wave Richmond punk acts like White Cross, Beex, and Honor Role began to fade from view, and younger kids moved into the city to start bands that would hint at the modern hardcore style that Richmond is known for today. 805 W. Cary was on the periphery of this cultural shift, and hosted touring hardcore acts from all over the country.
“Our place was more for bands who were on tour but couldn’t get a show at a club,” said Steele. “Probably every punk and hardcore band from Canada that went on tour stopped in that basement.”
Occasionally, however, more prominent bands would request a show. Ontario straightedge band Chokehold played there after their concert in Virginia Beach was canceled, and California crust punk band Dystopia played a show there around the same time. Other notable shows that happened there were short-lived Richmond band, Ipecac, and Arkansas pop-punk band Red 40.
Steele said that they often let touring punk and hardcore bands crash at their house, even if they were playing a different venue that night. “When people needed something, we were there for them,” he added.
Elana Effrat was the first person to move into the house in 1992 as a sophomore at VCU. She said that it was an invigorating time to be involved in the punk and hardcore scene in Richmond and that she and her roommates moved into the house with the intention of doing shows in the basement. To organize shows, Effrat said that she communicated with bands primarily through letter writing since cellphones were still in their primitive stages.
“It was such a unique time,” she said. “It was a real community, and everything was done through word of mouth.”
Greg Wells and Chris L. Terry lived at 805 Cary towards the end of its tenure as a show house, in the late 90s. The residents of the house at that time were activist-oriented and held strong political views. Terry, former vocalist for Flesh Eating Creeps, now an author living in Los Angeles, said that the house did not have a reputation as a party house, rather the residents were more focused on playing in bands.
“805 was usually a pretty sober, music-focused environment. We had the reputation of being the fun police because we didn’t want it to turn into a party house,” Terry said. “There was a lot going on in the late 90s though. It was the sweet spot between the early 90s punk, gen X, alternative culture boom and the early 2000s gentrification and VCU expansion that made being an artist in the city harder and more expensive.”
Wells said that the residents of the house at that time were heavily involved in Food Not Bombs and with an anarchist collective called General Strike. They did anti-poverty organizing, produced a quarterly newsletter, and helped orchestrate a massive takeover of Monroe Park in 1998. The legacy of the house, Wells said, stretched out well beyond the 90s, as several of the residents of 805 went on to form an anarchist collective in Oregon Hill and eventually bought the Flying Brick Library in 2002, a radical lending library and community space on Pine Street which offered books, zines, and periodicals,on class, labor, feminism, sex, queer issues, immigration, anarchism, and more.
The cultural shift that has taken place in Richmond over the last two decades has been dramatic. At the time, said Terry, “it was cheap to rent a big house with your friends, work a couple days a week at a restaurant, and have a band.”
The gentrification and revitalization of the city in recent years has been a mixed bag for many residents, and it has been particularly hard on musicians and artists, as DIY show spaces like 805 West Cary have become untenable in the current economic climate. Richmond’s rent prices have increased substantially as developers have descended on the city, and the 805W apartment complex on Cary Street is just the tip of the iceberg, which could be anywhere in the neighborhood if $650 to over $1,000 for a one bedroom.
“It was so sudden and fast that people were caught off guard,” said Steele. “It seems like everyone’s punch drunk on it, like what do we do? How do we fight this thing?”
Terry said that he was not surprised that the buildings on the 800 block of West Cary were being replaced, but that he does not agree with it.
“I do not like it when an organization with a lot of money displaces people with less money by constructing something for people with more money. Capitalism doesn’t help people,” he said. “We thought they were selling and tearing down 805 W. Cary when they evicted us in 1999 so it’s funny that it actually took almost 20 years for it to happen. I’ve been mentally prepared for this for awhile.”
And while the physical house may be gone and already in the process of becoming something different entirely, the memories of 805 W. Cary St., and the legacy it left behind will live on.
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