Posts Tagged ‘Northside’

Fourth Police Precinct Project in Northside

"Beacon" - Fourth Police Precinct Project in Northside in Richmond, Virginia.WHAT: Fourth Police Precinct Project in Northside in Richmond, Virginia.

WHERE: Fourth Police Precinct at 2219 Chamberlayne Avenue.

ARTIST: Jonathan Cox,


DESCRIPTION: The five stainless steel and cast glass adorn the Fourth Police Precinct on Chamberlayne Avenue in an area of Northside bereft of much artistic value. The beacon is 23’ X 4’ X 4’ and stands on the southern end of the building in a brick circle with flowers.  The four stainless steel pieces on the front wall of the building are named “Focus,” “Partnership,” “Cooperation” and “Diversity.” Each is approximately 6’-7’ in diameter.

* * *

I drive by this building about every other week and love to look at this oasis of art among all the rundown, dilapidated and unattractive storefronts and businesses on Chamberlayne Avenue. Combined with the presence of “Thin Blue Line” on the east wall of the Richmond Police Department headquarters at 200 West Grace Street in the Monroe Ward District, the police are helping contribute to the art community and complying with the goal of having public art displays with city buildings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Valentine shows off best of Northside’s Bellevue

Bill Martin, the director of the Valentine Richmond History CenterI’ve considered myself a Northsider for the past decade and have always been fascinated with the homes, architecture, retail, parks and especially the excellent urban forestry in the distinguished Richmond neighborhood. 

Seminary Avenue's tree-lined streetsBill Martin, the director of the Valentine Richmond History Center, conducted a two-hour tour of the quaint, mostly middle class Bellevue neighborhood in Richmond’s Northside. At any given time, there were at least 60 people along for the walk, as neighbors joined or left the procession that followed at path from MacArthur Avenue to Bellevue Avenue to Seminary Avenue and back on Claremont Avenue.

Martin said Richmond is still living with the legacy from the 1890s when the city’s suburbs began to develop along the privately owned trolley lines that stretched into the Northside with neighborhoods like Ginter Park, Barton Heights and Highland Park.  Development of the Fan District and Monument Avenue and areas south of the James with Woodland Heights and neighborhoods surrounding Forest Hill Park happened in this same period.

Many remnants of that period still exist, such as the concrete polls along Hermitage Road that were used 100 years ago to support the lighting and electric lines that powered the street cars.

Home on Seminary and Bellevue in NorthsideThere are more than 1,000 dwellings in Bellevue, most of them single-family homes. Many were built in the 1920s and 30s, Martin said.  He pointed out that these neighborhoods didn’t suffer economically with the rest of the nation during that time, saying “the Great Depression didn’t happen in Bellevue.”

“It was a period of massive growth for Richmond as an industrial giant,” he said, noting that many of the homes in Bellevue were “smaller Craftsman-style homes” that fit the needs of the workers in Richmond’s factories and downtown industry.

Tobacco magnate and famed Richmond philanthropist Lewis Ginter is usually the first person most people associate with the creation of the Northside, but he died October 1, 1897, and wasn’t alive for most of the actual development and construction of the neighborhoods.

“Ginter was just like everyone else, speculating on real estate,” Martin said of Ginter’s interests in helping develop the Northside off the trolley line that ran from Richmond to Ashland on Brook Turnpike (now Brook Road). He added that Ginter was late to the party and missed on the big wave of development in that period of Richmond’s history.

Home on Seminary Avenue in Bellevue“People wanted to get out of downtown,” Martin said, suggesting that white flight and the desire to escape the hustle and bustle of urban living was the trend.

There was a large movement to erect parks and monuments to Confederate and civic heroes in Richmond in the 1890s and early 1900s, and the impetus for this was for them to be a draw to the suburbs.

Some of the key monuments erected in this time were General Robert E. Lee  (1890) and Major General J.E.B. Stuart and Jefferson Davis  (both 1907) on Monument Avenue.  The Fan District saw monuments to General Williams Carter Wickham (1891) and the Richmond Howitzers monument (1892) and Church Hill gained the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument (1894).

Besides the monument to General A.P. Hill (1892) in the intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road, the Northside didn’t have many draws. Ginter’s created the Lakeside Wheel Club (near where Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden now sits), which brought in many people who could ride the trolley cars and spend the day biking and playing in Lakeside.  He also provided land for the move of Union Theological Seminary to Richmond from Hampden-Sydney.

Shops on Bellevue AvenueThe Northside escaped the destructive path of interstates 95 and 64 that cut off or bisected many other neighborhoods north of downtown — like Jackson Ward, Barton Heights and Highland Park. Jackson Ward, a historically influential and stable black neighborhood, lost 10 percent of its homes during that highway construction in the 1950s.

“Transportation planning has long-term effects on our neighborhoods…Northside escaped relatively unharmed,” Martin said, adding that at one point the Interstate 95 was planned further east, through the heart of the area, but residents were able to fend it off. 

Bellevue remains largely intact and has had little destruction or redevelopment in comparison to most Richmond neighborhoods.

Martin encouraged tour participants to chime in with their knowledge of the neighborhood and there were several funny comments along the trip. He got in a good jab, describing the treeless landscape of the Northside at the beginning of its huge period of growth around 1900.

“When you think of this neighborhood, there were no trees, no features…it was like being in Short Pump,” Martin said in his comparison, poking fun at current state of the unapologetic sprawl in that area of western Henrico County.

Zorba's Pizza and Samis Grotto on MacArthur Avenue in BellevueHe told another story about how MacArthur Avenue got its name. The city had to rename many streets to avoid duplication, and after going through many changes through the years, the avenue finally was renamed for World War II hero General Douglas MacArthur. That provided the opportunity for many people to “complain that Richmond wasted a good name” on such a small, relatively insignificant street.

Of course today, the street is still doing well, with a good variety of neighborhood shops and restaurants, including the well-know Dot’s Back Inn and Bellevue staples Stir Crazy Café, Once Upon a Vine and Zorba’s Pizza. There are several shops and restaurants around the corner on Bellevue Avenue as well.

“Part of the reason the neighborhood did well [as a developing suburb] was the access to modern retail,” Martin said, speaking about the former Azalea Mall and the dozens of neighborhood grocery stores (notably A&P) and small businesses that were dotted throughout the Northside.

Homes on Claremont Avenue in BellevueAnother good tidbit came from a Bellevue resident who said she loved her “house with personality that new homes just don’t have.” She described her neighborhood as tight-knit and that everybody has always been so kind, friendly, helpful and generous.

She told a story about a woman who moved on to her street and was quickly overwhelmed with the neighborly attitudes, bringing the woman to declare her feelings about Bellevue: “I thought I moved to Mayberry, but instead it is Nirvana.”

The Bellevue tour was the first I’ve taken with the Valentine Richmond History Center outside of the immediate downtown Richmond area and it was very worthwhile and informative. If you have interest in taking any of their wonderful tours, see

As for Bellevue, see this description from the City of Richmond website: 

The Bellevue neighborhood extends north from Ginter Park to the city limits along Westbrook Avenue. Originally part of Henrico County, the area was annexed into the city in 1940. The houses in the community vary in size from small dwellings to spacious homes. Cottages and bungalows abound with many featuring large windows, wide porches and verandas. The architecture ranges from Italianate to Spanish with tile roofs to American Four Square. Roads lined with shade trees curve and meander through the neighborhood.

What to do with Northside’s deserted Azalea Mall?

Empty parking lot at Azalea Mall in Richmond, VirginiaI consider the empty parking lot at Azalea Mall “suburban blight” and an environmental wasteland. I wish that it could be bulldozed and replaced by a park with nice trees and grass.

The old mall opened in 1962 and closed in 1995 and the property was razed in November 1999. It’s been 10 years of a decaying parking lot, with weeds growing through its cracks and decaying pipe infrastructure underneath it. See more details & photos on 15 years and counting for Richmond’s abandoned Azalea Mall

Old sign with tenants of razed Azalea Mall in Richmond, VirginiaBesides the long-standing Azalea Mall Garden Center, all that remains on the 48-acre property at Brook Road and Azalea Avenue is a rusting sign, litter, weeds and a decaying parking lot.

The beautiful Northside could use more green space and less unwanted asphalt, right? Build a park? I’ve got the perfect person to honor. Historically, the property was part of the Westbrook plantation owned by none other than Major Lewis Ginter — the man responsible for developing the Northside.

Parks are fun right? Spend several million dollars to rip out the parking lot and infrastructure and plant trees, problem solved!

Not exactly. Parks cost money to build and maintain.  Plus, there are several parks nearby — namely Bryan Park and Pine Camp in Richmond, and tiny Spring Park just down the hill and across Interstate 95 in Henrico County.

The owner, Atlanta-based Dewberry Capital Corp., had the old Azalea Mall torn down in November 1999. It originally had planned to build a 420,000-plus square-foot strip shopping center in 2000. It didn’t happen.

Dewberry’s Steve Cesinger said the real estate development company is not in a rush to develop, in part due to the downturn in the global economy.

I asked Cesinger about the cracked and pothole-filled parking lot and the underground piping. Would it help them sell or develop the land if it were cleaned up and more presentable?

“You’ve got to do things in today’s economy that make sense dollarwise,” he said, adding that it would not make the property more attractive to potential investors if it were to be completely stripped down. “It’s not worth the dollars to invest more into tearing out the existing parking lot.”

There goes my dream of green space, but at least I got a free lesson in landholding.

Probably the best thing the Northside can hope for is that the neighboring upscale retirement community of Westminster Canterbury buys the land. Since it purchased the adjacent 24 acres for an expansion completed in 2005, it would only seem logical and suitable for it to obtain the remainder of the property bordered by Westbrook Avenue and Brook Road. It currently leases part of the parking lot for its employees.

Mike McLaughlin thinks Westminster Canterbury would be the best option, saying that “they could protect their flank” and that the retirement community has been good for the neighborhood.

Azalea Mall Garden CenterHe might know better than anyone else about the area. He and his family have run the Azalea Mall Garden Center on the southwest corner of the old mall property for 16 years. Before that, he had been a manager at the Woolworth’s until the mall closed.

He clearly has his finger on the pulse of the mall’s afterlife. He said he gets questions every day about the mall and the consensus from his customers is they’d rather have it left undeveloped.  Traffic is already a problem on Westbrook and there doesn’t seem to be a need for more retail space.

“People are content to have it empty, rather than a development they wouldn’t want to have,” said city council member Chris Hilbert, who represents the Northside 3rd District.

Hilbert agreed that traffic is a problem on Westbrook and said his constituents have been asking for traffic-calming measures and improvements on the avenue, which many drivers treat as a cut-through from Brook Road to Lakeside Avenue and I-95.

There is another stumbling block to acquiring or developing the land. Hilbert points out that only about 15 percent of the Azalea Mall real estate (fronting Westbrook Avenue and Brook Road) is in Richmond — the rest is in Henrico. That creates the need for regional cooperation, and extra complications.

Old Jiffy Lube at Azalea Mall in Richmond, VirginiaHilbert said that since the mall was torn down in 1999, the crime rate has improved in the area. There had been a reputation for prostitution and drugs at the site before its demolition. 

So maybe what I call “suburban blight” in this case is better than a crime-infested ghost town or another poorly attended strip mall?

Bottom line, we need fewer dead malls and less “dumb growth.” Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams wrote in 2007 after taking a city-sponsored bus tour with Partnership for Smarter Growth:

Few sights are sadder, or less attractive, than the decaying remains of a dead shopping center. Malls don’t leave a good-looking corpse….The inner suburbs are graying gracelessly as sprawl devours the connective tissue of our region.

I don’t have a pony in this race, but if everybody is happy to just keep 48 acres of asphalt nothingness sitting there, maybe it really is the best option — until Westminster Canterbury makes the next move.

Why Major Lewis Ginter deserves a statue in Richmond

Click for larger image
Lewis Ginter (Valentine Richmond History Center)

Major Lewis Ginter is one of the most important figures in the development of Richmond and left a large imprint on our city. I’ve written about his many accomplishments and lasting achievements, but I want to go a step further.   

We should erect a statue of Ginter in Richmond. With statues to honor so many great figures in Richmond’s history, why is there no statue to the man I consider the “Greatest Richmonder of All Time?”    

Joseph Bryan in Monroe Park

We have a statue of Joseph Stewart Bryan — a contemporary and good friend of Ginter’s — in Richmond’s Monroe Park, dedicated in 1911 [see more on the statue]. A list of Ginter’s accomplishments and philanthropy would be much longer than one for Bryan. But why nothing for Ginter? 

There are indications that he may not have wanted to be honored. The famed Jefferson Hotel opened in 1895 and has been a perennial five-star historic gem ever since [Read more]. In the book Richmond: The Story of a City by Virginius Dabney:     

Leading citizens sought to place a plaque in the hotel, celebrating the all-important contributions of Major Ginter in bringing the Jefferson into existence, but the modest man refused to allow it.   

Ginter was known to be very private. He never married and left his inheritance to his niece, Grace Arents, and many other charitable organizations. There are few photos of him available and he likely wanted it that way. I’ve read in various books that he may have instructed someone to destroy most of his financial and personal records.     

Despite his wishes for privacy, I think the city should celebrate him with a statue. That’s what we do in Richmond. Ignoring cost for a moment, I have three locations to nominate.    

Intersection of Laburnum Avenue, Brook Road and Fauquier Avenue (at center)

Intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Brook Road [map]  

This is perhaps the most appropriate spot, as Ginter in the mid-1880s bought controlling interest in much of then-named Brook Turnpike and bought 100s of acres on either side of the road in preparation for his visionary Northside development that evolved into today’s Ginter Park, Sherwood Park and Bellevue.     

He eventually ran streetcars along Brook Road as well, turning at this intersection on to Fauquier Avenue toward his progressive recreational development Lakeside Park in the 1890s — now known as Jefferson-Lakeside Country Club.     

General A.P. Hill statue at Laburnum & Hermitage

Another good reason to place his statue there is the parallel with the General A.P. Hill statue at Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road. Ginter served under Hill in the Civil War, according to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden: 25 Years and Growing by Frank L. Robinson and Lynn Kirk:    

Declining a promotion to brigadier, Ginter accepted the rank of major under General A.P. Hill, and for the remainder of his life he was addressed as Major Ginter … [Ginter] donated land and was instrumental in the construction of the monument.  

The problem a statue at this unique five-way intersection is that it is too busy and there are too many cars needing to take left turns. Getting traffic around even a small circle would be difficult. The intersection could be widened, but it is not logical to spend the amount of money for the potential of creating a dangerous intersection.    

Intersection of Brookland Parkway, Loxley Road and Rennie Avenue

Intersection of Brookland Parkway, Loxley Road and Rennie Avenue [map] 

This might be my favorite, just because it seems like the easiest and safest place to establish a lasting monument to Ginter without interrupting current traffic patterns.  

This intersection is part of Sherwood Park and is already in the shape of two triangles.  There is plenty of room to establish two small triangle-shaped landscaped gardens within the intersection, perhaps with a statue to Ginter in one of them.  No matter what, this intersection needs a more appropriate and distinguished layout.   

Intersection of Hermitage Road and Bellevue & Pope avenues

Intersection of Hermitage Road and Bellevue & Pope avenues [map]   

This seems like the least likely but is appropriate because of the train that Ginter ran through this area toward the quarries in the area that became Bryan Park and Lakeside.   

Also, it would be a shame to take attention away from the arch at Pope Avenue.  Hermitage Avenue itself is a historic district and would likely have some say in any adjustments to the roadway at this five-way intersection.   

* * * 

Cost? Let’s use Richmond’s statue honoring tennis champion and Richmond native Arthur Ashe as a comparison.   

Ashe is honored with a 12 foot tall bronze statue at Monument Avenue and Roseneath Road that stands on a 87,000 pound granite block and rises 28 feet above the street. It was created by artist Paul Di Pasquale and was dedicated in July 1996 with a cost of nearly $450,000 (according to figures from the Richmond Times-Dispatch).   

Let’s assume that a more modest statue to Ginter would cost  $500,000, considering inflation, but not including the cost to adjust traffic patterns at the selected intersection. Fund-raising would not be easy — a group or a philanthropist would have to back the long-overdue statue.   

There was a period in the late 1800s to early 1900s when there were many statues and monuments erected: General Robert E. Lee, 1890; General Williams Carter Wickham in 1891; Howitzers monument and General A.P. Hill in 1892; Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument in 1894; at Capitol Square, Dr. Hunter Holms McGuire in 1904 and Gov. William “Extra Billy” Smith in 1906; and on Monument Avenue, Major General J.E.B. Stuart and Jefferson Davis in 1907. 

Ginter died October 1, 1897. With all of his success and philanthropy — and considering the propensity to honor great Richmonders with statues — there must have been movement at that time to honor Ginter that fell short. His friend Bryan was honored in 1911 after his death in 1908, and maybe by then people had begun to forget his accomplishments?  Major Lewis Ginter’s name should have been the 10th on the list.

Lewis Ginter is ‘Greatest Richmonder of All Time’

Major Lewis Ginter

Major Lewis Ginter, 1824-1897

 There is little that you will see in post-Civil War Richmond that hasn’t been in some way influenced by Major Lewis Ginter or someone connected to him. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that he is the “Greatest Richmonder of All Time” and certainly my favorite historic figure in our city’s 400+ years of existence. 

Many in Richmond are familiar with Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and the Ginter Park neighborhood in Northside — locations graced with his name. 

Fewer likely are aware of Ginter being the visionary and financier behind the creation of Richmond’s Northside, which in turn brought parks, railways and streetcars and the innovations born from those civic advancements. 

He was a fearless businessman — earning and losing several fortunes. Along the way he also gave away much of his life’s worth of financial gains to the southern city he loved. 

In the book Richmond: The Story of a City by Virginius Dabney: 

Few men in Richmond’s long history have done so much for the city’s advancement. 

And in the book Lewis Ginter’s Richmond by David D. Ryan: 

Perhaps the best tribute to Ginter was that of John Stewart Bryan: “Major Ginter was one of those generous men who regarded wealth as a means of public service and not for private indulgence.” 

Major Lewis Ginter has a long list of accomplishments and philanthropic gestures, according to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden: 25 Years and Growing by Frank L. Robinson and Lynn Kirk:     

  • In 1884-88, acquired land for his visionary Northside suburbs, creating the neighborhoods of Bellevue Park, Sherwood Park and Ginter Park, the “Queen of the Suburbs.”
  • In 1890 when he was in the tobacco business, Ginter and partner John F. Allen merged with four other manufacturers: W. Duke, Sons and Company; William S. Kimball and Company; Kinney Tobacco; and Goodwin and company to form the American Tobacco Company — a forerunner of today’s Philip Morris USA.
  • In 1892, financed construction of narrow-gauge railroads in Richmond’s Northside for hauling stone from his quarries at Young’s Pond (now Bryan Park) — spurring developement of the Richmond Locomotive Works.
  • Personally financed and supervised construction of the majestic and perennial five-star Jefferson Hotel, which opened in 1895.
  • In 1896, created Lakeside Park, which quickly became a streetcar destination for bicyclists and outdoor excursions. The area is now Jefferson-Lakeside Country Club.
  • In 1897, Ginter’s Richmond Railway and Electric Company distinguished Richmond as the nation’s first city with an electric street car system. The company’s power plant was a precursor to today’s Dominion Virginia Power.
  • Gifted land that eventually became for Richmond’s Joseph Bryan Park and also Northside’s Union Theological Seminary, when it moved from Hampden-Sydney College.
  • Purchased the Richmond Daily Times newspaper — which he later gave to his attorney and friend Joseph Stewart Bryan. The paper eventually became the Richmond Times-Dispatch and was the beginnings of Media General Inc.

He was also a very private man and there are few photos or accounts of his business transactions. Many more of his accomplishments and generous gestures likely went unnoticed or unrecorded. He shunned acknowledgements of his contributions to Richmond. 

He had no children of his own and left most of his money to his niece, Grace Arents, who turned her inheritance into many philanthropic endeavors herself (from Lewis Ginter’s Richmond and other sources). 

  • In 1901-1903, she funded and supervised construction of the St. Andrew’s Church Complex in Oregon Hill.
  • Created the Instructional Visiting Nurse Association.
  • In 1913, she bought the property of the abandoned Lakeside Wheel Club (created by Ginter), remodeled the structure to create Bloemendaal and made it a convalescent home for sick children from the city. 
  • Opened Grace Arents Free Library on Cherry Street in Oregon Hill and was said to read every book before it went into the library.
  • Established the first playground in the city at Clark Springs.
  • Upon her death in 1926, she willed life-rights of the Bloemendaal House in Lakeside to friend Mary Garland Smith and stipulated after Smith’s death the city of Richmond was to develop the property as a botanical garden honoring Lewis Ginter. In 1984, it opened as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

Ryan included a quote about Arents from a Richmond newspaper in Lewis Ginter’s Richmond

“So many and varied were the philantropies of Miss Arents that it is impossible to enumerate all of them … Always willing to contribute generously to charitable enterprises … the number who knew of her good works far outnumbered those who were privileged to know her personally. She was averse to publicity, and many of her donations to charity were made anonymously.” 

We will never again see an era in Richmond’s history where one man could make so many contributions and aid in the developement and advancement of the city. We should have long ago erected a statue in his honor.

General A.P. Hill’s statue on Laburnum Avenue

Confederate General A.P. Hill statue in Richmond, Virginia

Confederate General Ambrose Powell Hill in Richmond, VirginiaWHAT: Confederate General Ambrose Powell Hill in Richmond, Virginia.

LOCATION: Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road in the center of the intersection.

ARTIST: William Ludwell Sheppard.

DEDICATION: May 30, 1892.

DESCRIPTION: A 9 1/2 foot high standing likeness of General Hill which is mounted on a 24 1/2 foot high pedestal which contains the remains of the General. The monument is on land donated by Major Lewis Ginter and was erected by the efforts of Pegram’s Battalion. Caspar Burberl of New York enlarged in bronze Sheppard’s model.

* * *

The tale of how Hill came to rest in the middle of Laburnum Avenue is a good one, best told by Gary Robertson in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in April, 2005, 140 years after the general’s death:

Confederate Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill was buried standing up. It took three tries before he reached his final resting place.

And if all that wasn’t odd enough, the search to find his first grave — and perhaps correct the historical record — has been led by a group of Civil War devotees whose primary focus is illuminating not the life of Hill, but of another Confederate general, George E. Pickett.

A member of the Pickett Society noted that the nonprofit society was formed in 1999 to honor Pickett but also to correct “many subjective and historically incorrect items and pretensions.”

Hill was shot to death near Petersburg on April 2, 1865, as his battle lines were collapsing during the last days of the war. Then the race was on to bury him appropriately — and before nature took its course and ravaged his body even further.

Research by the Pickett Society indicates that the first burial came not where some Civil War researchers believe it was, at Bellgrade Plantation, near Huguenot and Robious roads in Chesterfield County.

Pickett Society records at the Virginia Historical Society and other research from local historians and authors, instead indicate that Hill was buried in an area south of the James River near Bosher Dam, in what is now the city of Richmond.

Hill lay in that grave for two years before he was unearthed and his remains transferred in the autumn of 1867 to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, which was where some of his former soldiers wanted him.

In 1891, the remains were moved again and buried under a statue erected in Hill’s honor at the current intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road.