Something in the way she moves: Abbey Road preservationist has C'ville ties
We say zee-bra, she says zeb-ra. Actually, we say crosswalk, and the one iconically depicted on the cover the Beatles' Abbey Road album is now a protected English landmark, thanks in part to a former Charlottesville resident.
Even a crosswalk?
"We list anything that has special architectural significance," says Emily Gee of English Heritage, Britain's department of historic structures, which on December 22 landmarked the Abbey Road zebra. Earlier last year, the governmental body put the Abbey Road Studio, where the Beatles recorded the album, on its list.
Gee says the photograph for the 1969 album was Paul McCartney's idea, and the London street was closed down for 15 minutes so the four former Liverpudlians could take their now-immortal stroll.
More recently, a debate erupted about whether a crosswalk was an architectural structure, says Gee. Ultimately, preservationists determined that the lamp poles on either side counted as structures.
"And the paint on the street is a chemical structure," informs Gee. "We checked." And of course the crossing met the criterion of having "special historic interest," she adds.
Gee's parents moved from England to Charlottesville when she was eight, and that helped spark her interest in architecture. "I have a vivid memory of the Venable [Elementary School] brochure that my parents showed me just before we moved here in the early 1980s and was in awe of its steps and colonnaded portico; I thought I was going to learn in the grandest building in the new world," she says.
While here, she was a frequent visitor to Monticello, another well-known local design. Gee–- who notes that the porch is the "most distinctive feature" of American architecture–- returned to Charlottesville to get her graduate degree in architecture from UVA.
"So I guess that the similarities and differences in the English and Virginia landscapes had a pretty profound effect in making me aware of the buildings around me."
"I think that Emily brings a real awareness of modern relevance to the listing process, no doubt in part to her training at UVA, which taught her about the social context of buildings, as well as their architectural interest," says Matthew Shaw, curator of the U.S. Collection at the British Library–- and Gee's beau.
England claims the invention of the zebra crosswalk (in 1934 by Lord Hore-Belisha), and for more than 40 years, Beatles' fans have been striding across Abbey Road's zebra in imitation of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Gee reports that there have been no fatalities from irate drivers.
"They have to stop by law," she says.
Sir Paul was pleased enough about the landmarking to release a statement. "It's been a great year for me and a great year for The Beatles,” declared McCartney, who was honored for lifetime achievement by the Kennedy Center in December. “Hearing that the Abbey Road crossing is to be preserved is the icing on the cake."