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HOLMBERG: Long-running riverfront card game may have to fold

Posted at 12:15 AM, Aug 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-15 00:24:00-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Looks like the city's longest-running card game could get chased off the river.

Perhaps you've seen them?

For 50-some years, the crew in "the hole" has sat down off Wharf Street (formerly Water Street) on the James River by the old Intermediate Terminal, playing poker, rummy and bid-whist, some having libations, fishing, feeding the feral cats and raccoons and chewing the fat.

It's been a social club of sorts with mostly older African-American men, some of them retired city employees, many of them having grown up in the East End area.

It's a year-'round affair, with a busy fire barrel in the winter fed by stacks of pallets.

Now the UCI World bike race path has transfixed the spot and gobbled up most of the parking. After the race, the old, falling down dock will be replaced with a fishing pier and the area will become a park, like the trestle-covered area upriver, by Shiplock Park.

riverfront 3It's hard to believe the waterfront is finally going to get developed. And it's all been nudged along by the bike race.

Earlier this week we saw the beginning of the demolition of the Lehigh cement plant right next-door. Already, the bramble-covered land beside the hole has been landscaped. Fancy street lights are up in a spot that. Historically it was dimly lit by a streetlight, firelight and the glow of cigarettes.

The somewhat scruffy old hole is smack dab in the middle of the city's riverfront plan.

I've been going down there from time to time for about 30 years. Yes, I was always welcome, but they were definitely shy of cameras. The old-timers felt like it was their place and they were distrustful of publicity. Yes, there were folks having a drink or two sometimes, and there might even have  been a few quarters on the table a time or two.

But mainly they were worried about being chased off the spot, as some of them had at the old dominoes hang-out spot in Fulton that was shifted to Gillie's Creek because the city developed the old spot.

riverfrontYes, the crew has been dreading this for more than a decade. Now, it could really happen.

Joe and Jenny Griffin walk by the spot nearly every day from their home in the upscale Rocketts Landing development within sight downriver.

They see the card players "just about every day we come by, rain or shine," Joe said.

"I think it's great," added Jenny. "They seem to have a wonderful time. It's a great place to hang out. And they're always very respectful and pleasant."

Will the card game resume once Wharf Street opens back up as the rush to finish the race course eases?

My guess is it will, at least for a while. But as this stretch of the riverfront gets developed, my guess is the old and not-so-old-timers gathered around their card tables may have to fold, or at least change their game fairly significantly.

The raccoons and feral cats may also feel the pressure of family-oriented riverfront development.