*****Now, please join me on my own Walk-Off, which took place in downtown Norfolk this past Sunday morning. It was a quiet day, and there were only a few people out. Despite seeing the recently scarce sun and clear blue skies, I hope you brought a coat with you, as the temperatures barely made it above freezing. This year I tested the flexibility of my own rules and drove to my starting point at the Pagoda Garden.
This blog has been here many times before, it is one of my favorite downtown spots. I really appreciate its Asian makeover, as I am old enough to remember when this was a giant molasses tank.
Although the city has made strides to diversify its economy, at its core Norfolk is still very much a navy town.
Soon after I graduated from college, I got a job at the Omni Hotel (now a Sheraton). It was one of the first new structures built on the waterfront in many decades. Never a dull moment, it was a fun place to work, but at the same time it was very stressful. My stint lasted not quite two years, I quit and moved away, swearing never to come back to the hotel or to Norfolk again. Those were words I ended up eating, because years later I did come back to Norfolk, and got a job at the same hotel. That stint didn't end well either, and it was the last hotel job I ever had. 20 years later I still have bad dreams about the place.
A few blocks from the river is one of Norfolk's oldest buildings, St. Paul's Episcopal Church. It survived (more or less) the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and urban renewal. One of Norfolk's most cherished relics is embedded in its wall, a gift from the British.
Here is another relic, the Monument to Our Confederate Dead. Every southern town has at least one. In 1951 Norfolk hosted the last Confederate soldier's reunion, when only four very old men were all that remained.
One last relic for you, the tomb of General Douglas MacArthur, housed in Norfolk's first City Hall. I'm not going to show you the current City Hall, as I have no love for the place.
Are you still with me? Good, one more bit of history, a few pics and then you are on your own.
Before World War II, Norfolk had one of the country's largest collections of antebellum structures, and if circumstances had been different the city might have been able to draw in tourists the way Charleston and Savannah do. But Norfolk was a casualty of the war. The city was inundated with shipyard workers, sailors and many,many others. It's old homes were carved into apartments and boarding houses, then divided again. Shift workers shared the same bed, one sleeping at night and another during the day. Downtown Norfolk brimmed with rough bars, tattoo parlors and burlesque theaters. The city was ridden hard and put away wet. In response, after the war, the city father's graciously accepted federal dollars for urban renewal and promptly bulldozed half of the city. So much was lost, and with few exceptions the land remained vacant for decades. Finally, downtown has come back to life, and is now one of the most desirable places in the area to live. A new condo or apartment development seems to arise every week, and the downtown music and restaurant scene is lively. It's a vibrant mix of the new and what remains of the old, and a place I am glad to call home. Now if we can only figure out how to hold the rising sea at bay.