Hello dear reader,
Today I write to you, not from the City of Richmond, but from the equally urban City of Detroit. Well…more specifically, the suburban-ish outskirts of Detroit, fondly referred to as Redford Township. My apologies for not updating you sooner, but the last few days left little opportunity for blogging. The last two days were spent on the road, as we quite literally went over the hill and through the woods to grandmother’s house. Before we left, however, I managed to collect several great resources on the history of both the Fan and architecture, successfully acquire a library card, and learn from experience that 10 books is too many to fit in a bike basket – especially when biking against traffic on a one way street.
So I will research remotely for the next week. I have more than enough books to tide me over, and there is always the omniscient internet to fall back on if I run out. Today, however, I thought it might be good to introduce you all formally to Richmond’s Fan District.
So strap in, ’cause here we go.
The Fan is, simply put, a neighborhood. Having been around, growing and changing, for nearly two centuries, however, it has accumulated quite a bit of history. Which is not surprising, given it resides in one of the most historical cities in America.
Geographically it lies on the western side of the city, bordered by Broad St. to the North, Main St. to the south, Monroe Park in the east, and the Boulevard in the west.
The District acquired its name from the way the streets diverge, fanning out from one another. This name was not coined, however, until 1958, when real estate listings began to refer to the area as “The Fan” in local newspapers. But the roots of the Fan extend much further back than the 1950’s. It began as Scuffle Towne. Legend has it that there was a short conflict – a scuffle if you will – between the British and Americans during colonial times, thus granting the area its name. Other sources report that it was so named after the local tavern.
The area grew over the years, connected to the city at large by Scuffle Towne road (presently, Park Ave). When Monument Avenue was built after the Civil War, population in the area spiked. Much of the District’s development occurred around the turn of the century, leading up to the depression.
The first emergence of a real community feeling came in 1941 with neighborhood improvement groups the West Avenue Association, which remains dedicated to the three block street, even electing their own mayor. The slow but sure revitalization of the area post-war, coupled with their new identity as “The Fan,” lead to in creased interest in a group to represent the residents of the area.The Fan District Association was created in 1961 and it continues to “preserve and enhance the character of the neighborhood.” The Fan has maintained this community feeling to this day and cookouts and block parties in the alleyways abound.
Yet this community feeling does not mean that the residents cannot act as individuals. In fact, individuality is highly prized in the Fan, the proof of which is evident in the architecture. Far removed form the soul-absorbing, cookie-cutter, sameness of my old suburban residence, houses in the Fan differ vastly in style. One glance down any street can reveal Victorian, colonial revival, Italianate and Edwardian style houses nestled together on the same block. These anachronistic neighbors visually compliment each other. The differences are what make it interesting. They give the streets their personality.
And one can hope that perhaps that personality has rubbed off on the residents.
Until next time,