Lost In The Supermarket with Greg Wells #76
In the early months of 1999, six of us in our early to middle twenties began talking and planning for going in together on the formation of an anarchist inspired collective household. For those of you in the East Bay or West Philadelphia you may be saying yeah so what’s the big deal about that? We’ve got twenty such places, some decades old. Well, things don’t move fast for anything here and what we were aiming to do was to lay the seeds for the first such modern household of this variety in Richmond.
Two thirds of us had already been living together in the final days of a long-standing punk house for some time; the other two were partners with two of us at the punk house, as well as a third couple within the house. That’s right one, two, three couples, all in non-monogamous relationships coming together to form the nucleus of a new collective. Undeterred by our unlikely assembly and facing an eviction and one month to find a new home, we followed up on the lead of an acquaintance and found a place that met all of our lofty standards just four blocks away in the neighborhood we had grown to love.
The 325 House was born in June of ‘99 in Oregon Hill and instantly became an important hub of activity for the entirety of the Richmond underground community. We had ample room for our ever growing book, periodical, zine and archives library, a utility room that quickly became a junkyard of bike frames, inner tubes, old tires and crates full of miscellaneous parts and formed the foundation for Richmond’s bicycle library. The backyard was weeded, cleared and cleaned as Yvonne, Loren and Greg Will transformed it into beautiful and thriving garden.
There was a flood of activity in the household those early days. We were involved in Richmond Food Not Bombs, The Lesbian Avengers and General Strike Collective. We produced zines and pamphlets, made stencils and woodcarvings. Organized late night wheatpasting campaigns. We hosted skillshares and meetings and strategizing sessions. We had political movie nights. We got involved here in the neighborhood when RJ, Yvonne and myself volunteered to hangout with kids at the park down the street during summer days. Loren and Greg Will worked on a neighborhood garden project. We were bursting with energy and it benefited our entire community. I volunteered at the nearby William Byrd Community House and later Greg Will got hired on there in the community development board.
In November of that year Greg Will, Loren and myself all traveled to the historic Seattle WTO protests and came back to share our stories to a rejuvenated and fired up radical community. In April of 2000 countless Richmonders made the trek up to DC to continue the resistance at the annual World Bank/IMF meetings. Our house was used as a planning locale and we were even featured in the paper on the front porch rallying before the big day. In DC and later Philadelphia for the Republican National Convention Kim, RJ and Greg Will were arrested, threatened with rape, torture and being thrown off of a bridge. Yvonne narrowly escaped being trampled by a horse in LA during the police riots at the Democratic Convention.
During the rush and confusion of those nine months, we lost Kim to New York City. Those of us who stuck around began to feel the effects of the fallout of the whole mass protest hopping culture that we were all apart of. A real desire to start anew and try and plant some seeds for long-term, infrastructure-based work is the direction we headed in. The Richmond Coalition for a Living Wage, an attempt at an anarchist based community center and much talk of purchasing a home that we could really shape as our own, filled our plates.
By the time the summer of 2001 was over there were four separate households of friends and fellow rabble-rousers in collective households. The Frathouse on Cary Street, The Dawghaus in Carver and the fabulous Queer Paradise warehouse in Jackson Ward. The seeds of all of those households can directly or indirectly be tied to 325. Eric at the Dawghaus and Jim at the Frathouse both spent their first nights in Richmond at 325 on traveling excursions. RJ, who was a longtime member of the Lesbian Avengers and its offshoot Queer Liberation Front (QLF) was real close with most all of the inhabitants of the new warehouse.
As our community was growing up around us, we faced another blow when Loren decided to move back to Seattle. Having available space our house often accommodated friends in transition and out of towners for extended stays. In time our favorite houseguest, Mat from Boston, moved in and our spirits were relifted by a great new addition. As the quest for purchasing a house intensified we stayed busy with a new neighborhood civic association, work in the community garden on Marshall Street and in the formation of the Better Days Collective, Richmond’s first known explicitly anarchist organization.
By the time Loren left a rift of sorts had already been forming for quite some time. There’s no need in naming names, as all of us were complicit in our own ways. Those of us in relationships often banded against the others and lots of shittalking ensued. Some of us became distant and distrusting of one another and with time the only thing much that indicated we were a collective in anyway was our ability to continue with house meals and food, even this faltered on occasion. There was talk of Loren and Greg Will moving to Providence, Yvonne and myself contemplated Memphis, for no other reason than it sounded cool. RJ was already trying to figure out who he might get to move in to replace us and try and start over. Despite the posturing it never came to that. Perhaps it would have been better if we all just simultaneously jumped ship, instead of the slow, downward spiral that those last nine or so months became.
Finally in October of last year after the remaining four of us had lived together at 325 for three years and three months, Yvonne, RJ and myself finally got the bank loan we had been hoping for and purchased a house three blocks over, still firmly in Oregon Hill. The last month over there was sad and frustrating. We were scrambling to make the transition as Greg Will was trying to rebuild with new pieces. We were obviously disrupting one another’s lives and for quite awhile after the move I had no desire to speak to Greg. It’s long and complicated but basically our personalities just clashed all too often.
This past weekend at Food Not Bombs; Greg gave me a flier for his last night at 325 party. We have been over here at the Flying Brick for eight months now and I think I’ve ventured into 325 all of four or five times in that span. It felt familiar, but foreign and it usually just left me feeling upset. At the party, there were lots of familiar faces and plenty of new ones, who weren’t even around when last I lived there. Greg rounded up Jim and Sasha for a quick set of Magnetic Fields covers in his abandoned room. Drums, accordion and Sasha’s lovely voice. For an encore they did a wonderful version of the Dead Milkmen’s classic ‘Punk Rock Girl’ that had all singing and dancing as if we were fifteen again. It seemed like an appropriate ending.
Yvonne, RJ and I went on one last voyage through the house. I walked around out back and recollected all of the fires and late nights, remembering RJ going on a primitivist kick, only cooking over an open fire. I recalled numerous occasions where I walked in on friends and housemates alike engaging in extracurricular activities on the sofas and kitchen floor. We warned a new resident of the ghost at the top of the stairs, we never saw, but knew existed. Yvonne and RJ got sentimental over curtains they had made. The library was barren and depressing minus all the files and 1,500 books. I got out front and admired one last time the chipping paint of the front porch; one of the only reminders we ever existed we ever existed there. A blip on the screen of 325’s 133 years.
EPILOGUE: Kim’s in New York writing a book based on the stories and characters from Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’. Loren is in Seattle attending college and eating fish on occasion. Greg Will is settling in Philadelphia by now no doubt salivating over all the fixed gear bicycles. Yvonne, RJ and I along with our great friend Nichole are resolidifying a poor corner foundation, hanging sheetrock, building a ramp, painting windows and taking on projects as they come. Call 804-644-2544 if you wanna come see the library. Food Not Bombs will celebrate 10 years this November, The QLF have a great new space at 319 N. Adams, Better Days and the Community Space Project have dissolved. The Dawghaus is still going strong with a great group and the Frathouse morphed into the Palindome and is on the Northside and on we roll.
Closing Notes: The Zine Yearbook Volume 7 is out now and what do you know Complete Control has a selection included along with 37 others of the best of 2002 in ‘zinedom. To obtain a copy send $14 to: Soft Skull Press/ 71 Bond Street/ Brooklyn, NY. 11217. To see photos and learn of the history of the neighborhood that both 325 and the Flying Brick are in go to: www.oregonhill.org. I can be reached at: PO Box 5021/ Richmond, VA. 23220. Thanks, Greg.