All along, I had a hunch that this inconspicuous corridor in the belly of the Science Museum of Virginia was my "Elvis hallway." But, it wasn't always so obvious. In 1983, several years after the museum opened, the west side of the building was totally renovated to accomodate a new planetarium and theater: overhanging ironwork was removed, doorways and windows were closed off or totally modified.
Matching up the features in the photo, like the intricate ironwork curving to the left side of the original image, the large industrial window, and those broad stone floor tiles was impossible. Other than Tom's intuition about the location of the photo, how could I prove that Elvis was right here?
The key was the east corridor, the passage that led to the "colored" part of the building. Now closed to the public, this area remains virtually the same as it did so many years ago. The bright windows are still there, as are the floor tiles, the doors, the overhead ironwork, and the exterior wall wrapping around the building. The train station is a mirror-image design, and this is exactly what the renovated area would have looked like in 1956.
I went back to the "Elvis hallway" and started matching up details that were faintly visible: There was still a window on the right side of the hallway, albeit smaller, but the scale was dead on. The wooden doors on the left were still there and seemed to provide an anchor for visualizing the 1956 image. Above those side doors, now covered by a large awning, I could see the outline of an old window, also in the original photo. The exit doors--in the center of Wertheimer's image--had been removed, but there was an opening that matched the projected size. This had to be it.
I snapped some photos of my own and took them back to my office. The only way to be sure that this was the right spot was to layer the original image with one of the modern corridor. Once I started deconstructing the contemporary hallway on my computer, I could see that "x" marked the spot, even the base moldings near the floor matched up with Wertheimer's photo. This was the place.
Finally, what about that water tower? Remember in the original photo there was a ghostly outline of tall shape in the upper right corner. Was the water tower still there? Looking out just to the west, the tower is, indeed, a proud fixture in the modern landscape--an emblem of Interbake Foods, a regional baking company that packaged its cookies in decorative tins under the trademark of “FFV”, short for “Famous Foods of Virginia”.
So, if you find yourself at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, wandering down the hallway leading to the Imax theater, you're walking in Elvis' footsteps. Pause and look to the left as you walk beside the museum's gift shop. STOP. You're now standing in the exact spot that Alfred Wertheimer was in when he snapped that famous photo--the hips, the hair, the greatest rock-n-roll legend of our age.
See our Elvis at 21 Facebook page for an expanded photo tour of this series, and be SURE to visit Elvis at 21, Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, on view from December 24, 2011 through March 18, 2012.
Special thank you to Tom Driscoll, Viktoria Badger, and Diane Lillo for their research assistance!