Charlottesville Breaking News
The first issue of the Hook hit the streets February 7, 2002, in an America still reeling in post-9/11 shock— not quite sure how our world would change, but with an uneasy feeling that it would not be for the better.
In Charlottesville, the Downtown Mall had not yet had its Pavilion or Transit Center built on the east end. The Meadow Creek Parkway was still under debate, and the U.S. 29 Western Bypass was believed dead and buried. The old Woolen Mills dam still stood, the Jefferson Theater was a second-run movie house, and the Paramount Theater was in the throes of a lengthy restoration.
And a handful of writers, graphic designers, ad reps, and photographers followed editor Hawes Spencer to start a new weekly in a small town that already had a weekly on what would become Mr. Hook's wild ride.
Charlottesville's Democratic rule was rocked with the election of Rob Schilling, the first Republican city councilor in 16 years, and the words "single-shot" voting entered the local lexicon. Environmentally, the region was parched by a drought. By September, restaurants were serving on plastic, car washes were ordered to close and reservoirs were half full, with predictions they'd be empty by December. Fortunately it rained, but this stark, water-less reality had a lot to do with the subsequent water wars of the aughts and the construction of the Ragged Mountain reservo...
One of the first stories I wrote as a full-time employee for the Hook in 2005 was about the planned renovation of a Downtown park. I spoke to advocates of the renovation, city parks and rec officials, the architects, local residents, and cranked out a piece you'd find in hundreds of small community papers. I was happy with what I wrote. It was good, solid reporting about a community project, and I'd spoken to everyone involved. But after my editor, Hawes Spencer, read the piece, he looked forlorn sitting at his desk— hurt even— as if someone had just given him some bad news he was trying to process.
"A million dollars?" he said, stating the price of the planned renovation of the park, made up of a combination of city funds and private donations. "That park doesn't even need to be renovated."
Indeed, I had lived near the park for years, had played with my kids there when they were young, and my oldest son and I had carved our names in a beautiful old tree, one that would come down with the renovation, along with many others. It was a classic old park with great tree cover, a wonderful steel merry-go-round, room to run around, and a basketball court. The new design would fell over a dozen trees, add designer play structures called "spicas," include a "weeping" water wall, and a round basketball court.
"Can you dig a little deeper here?" Spencer asked. "This reads like a press release."
I understood what he meant imme...