The front of the home 1702 Grove Avenue in The Fan.
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY BOBBY + APRIL / EASTMAN CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY
Richmond’s historic neighborhoods are a destination. Visitors travel from across the region for seasonal festivals, historic strolls and opulent Christmas lights on Monument Avenue. Carytown buzzes daily with people experiencing its eclectic shops and restaurants for the first time. Tour buses carrying visitors to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts treat riders to a scenic look at the Museum District. Every year, new Richmonders move into dormitories and apartments surrounding Virginia Commonwealth University and begin experiencing life in The Fan. But for thousands of city dwellers, Richmond’s historic neighborhoods are just the place they call, “Home.”
The Fan, the Museum District, Carytown, Church Hill and Northside are also destinations for homeowners interested in historic renovation and the lifestyle that comes along with living in walkable, bikable and accessible communities. The neighborhoods feature homes built before 1950 in a variety or architectural styles, sidewalks that canvas the neighborhoods and front porches that are an extension of the living room.
In recent years, Richmond’s historic neighborhoods have returned “to the way those neighborhoods are organically designed to function,” says Bill Martin, director of The Valentine. The evolution of Richmond’s neighborhoods such as Barton Heights, Bellevue, Church Hill, the Museum District and more can be traced through changes in transportation. Streetcars once carried residents from downtown, and the automobile further expanded growing neighborhoods away from the city’s center. The construction of highways in the mid-20th Century left neighborhoods like Jackson Ward divided by new roads, and other neighborhoods with fewer residents as people followed the path of newly-constructed highways to suburban homes.
Historic preservation began in Richmond in the 20th Century and continues today as homeowners update homes that have stood for generations and as business owners revitalize historic neighborhoods with markets, restaurants, bakeries, breweries and more. Richmond’s historic neighborhoods are serviced by the Greater Richmond Transit Company, making transportation to new businesses, hospitals, restaurants and lively entertainment venues appealing for homeowners seeking alternatives to driving to each destination. “In many ways, the city is coming back into itself,” says Martin.
April Straus, co-owner of Bobby + April, a boutique real estate agency in Richmond that specializes in historic properties, has made her home in the Museum District for 24 years. For her, the opportunity to walk to a spontaneous dinner with neighbors, or enjoy a glass of wine on her front porch and watch the evening pass by, are some of the reasons why people seek out homes in Richmond’s historic neighborhoods.“It’s an opportunity to have a very fluid lifestyle,” says Straus of life in the Museum District and similar neighborhoods.
Straus and her colleague Kendal Thompson, a realtor at Bobby + April, work with clients who move to the city because they want to experience life in a diverse community and feel like they are a part of a neighborhood. Sometimes their clients are empty-nesters who want to reclaim interests that they enjoyed before devoting most of their time to raising children. In other cases, their clients are families or young professionals who enjoy living in a community that changes every day. “It’s a non-homogenized environment,” says Thompson. “You’ve got diversity. You’re going to encounter and experience and embrace a large group of people that you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.”
Bobby + April’s renovation projects in historic Richmond include rooms designed for concert pianos, entry ways that feature art collections, backyards designed for sustainable gardening and elevator shafts for homeowners with physical limitations. The diversity in lifestyle and life experience is reflected in every home.
Bordered by Belvidere Street to the east and Boulevard to the west, The Fan is home to Virginia Commonwealth University, locally-owned restaurants, funky shops, Retreat Doctors’ Hospital and Richmond’s scenic Monument Avenue. The neighborhood spreads north to Grace Street and south to Main Street, creating a fan shape that led to its name. On any given day, sidewalks are busy with students walking to class and residents walking to neighborhood markets and restaurants. Cyclers are commonplace on the two-lane roads.
The Fan’s unique vibe is on display during the holidays, especially on Halloween when Hanover Avenue becomes a citywide destination for young goblins and ghouls, and those who are just young at heart. Residents along the historic street decorate their homes with lavish Halloween displays, and children leave at the end of the night with bags of goodies after going block-to-block asking for treats.
“I think the interesting thing in Richmond is what you need to know for the holidays about your neighborhood,” explained Straus. “We had some clients move from Fairfax onto Hanover Avenue about a month before Halloween and I warned them that they needed to start building their crypt now. Because you’ve got to do it. It’s got to happen.”
According to Straus and Thompson, Grace Street on The Fan’s northern border is a good street for homebuyers looking for an investment. “Grace (Street) has just been designated as a historic district, so it’s changing hugely every month,” says Straus. “If you’re looking for something at a bargain price that’s going to be worth a lot in five to seven years, Grace Street is the place to look.” The Fan’s western border is Boulevard, but make note that homes facing Boulevard are in the Museum District and not in The Fan.
April and Kendal’s picks for restaurants and markets in The Fan:
- Kuba Kuba
- Bamboo Café
- 8 ½
Two substantial museums face Boulevard, the Museum District’s eastern border, greeting visitors with a combination of modern lines and classic architecture. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Historical Society carve out a large footprint for their growing collections and attract visitors from the Richmond area and far beyond.The Museum District shares the same northern and eastern borders as The Fan, although Main Street changes its name to Ellwood Avenue when it crosses Boulevard. Traffic on Interstate 195 travels past the Museum District on its western side.
Straus says that the Museum District has fewer rental properties and a lot of generational diversity with young families living alongside retirees. The common bond residents share is lifestyle – they have a common interest in walking to local restaurants and entertainment, riding bicycles for local transportation and participating in an active social neighborhood. With Carytown adjacent to the Museum District on its southern side, residents enjoy shopping, restaurants and nightlife just a short distance from their homes.
April and Kendal’s picks for restaurants in the Museum District:
- The Stables
- The Franklin Inn
- Belmont Food Shop
Home to dozens of locally owned shops and restaurants, The Byrd movie theater, Garden Grove Brewing Company and a variety of nightlife options, Carytown is one of Richmond’s notable destinations for tourists and locals alike. The diverse shopping options attract people looking for the perfect gift, and others who want a non big-box shopping experience. Like the Museum District, the neighborhood is bordered on the east by Boulevard and on the west by Thompson Street.
The Carytown Watermelon Festival, held annually in August, packs the streets, which are closed off during the festival so that local businesses can showcase their wares while festivalgoers enjoy live music and cold watermelon throughout the day.
Cary Street traffic is one way heading east beginning at Thompson Street. To the south of Cary Street is a residential neighborhood that is bordered on the by Interstate 195, and is often overlooked by homebuyers who are looking for a Fan or Museum-District lifestyle, but at a more affordable price.
“I don’t want to say it’s up and coming, because it’s up,” says Thompson. “It’s a great opportunity for a first-time homebuyer.”Straus says that homes in Carytown are not only affordable, but they’re great investments.“When we have clients who are looking under $300,000, we almost always say, ‘How do you feel about south of Cary Street?’” she says.
April and Kendal’s picks for restaurants Carytown:
- Can Can Brasserie
- New York Deli
- The Jasper
One of Richmond’s oldest neighborhoods, Church Hill is perched above the city with Libby Hill Park offering residents and visitors expansive views of Richmond’s skyline and the James River. It’s a well-known place to catch a colorful sunset and enjoy a picnic.
Take Broad Street east from downtown and just past VCU Medical Center you’ll arrive in Church Hill at 22nd Street. The neighborhood spans six blocks east to 28th Street, and it is bounded by 9 Mile Road and Fairmount Avenue to the north, and Jefferson Avenue and M Street to the south. Historic St. John’s Episcopal Church welcomes guests to re-enactments of Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty, or give me death,” speech. Just a block away, pastry lovers can be seen lining the sidewalk on Broad Street just outside of popular bakery Proper Pie Co.
Each March, Church Hill’s streets overflow with visitors enjoying activities and music inspired by Ireland, cold beer and local bands at the Church Hill Irish Festival. During the fall, Richmonders pack Libby Hill Park for a sampling of the area’s best barbecue and craft brews at the Hogtober Festival.
Restaurants and bakeries have been front and center in the ongoing revitalization of Church Hill, and Straus says that if she’s showing a house in the neighborhood around lunch time, she picks up lunch at Alamo BBQ.
Church Hill maintains a historic feel, especially during the holidays. “At Christmas time, everyone’s decorated with pineapples, apples and pears,” says Straus. “(Church Hill) has a very Colonial look to it.”
April and Kendal’s picks for restaurants and other establishments in Church Hill:
- Captain Buzzy’s (April says that they have the best deviled eggs)
- Dutch & Co
- Sub Rosa Bakery
- Alamo BBQ
Just a short drive north from The Fan and the Museum District, through the commercial development along Boulevard and past The Diamond, Richmond’s historic Northside neighborhoods are tree-lined reminders of Richmond’s past.
A mixed-generation neighborhood, homes in areas such as Bellevue, Ginter Park and Lakeside are an opportunity for home buyers who are interested in large yards and more space for a historic renovation.
Like other historic neighborhoods in Richmond, Northside is home to a growing number of locally owned shops and restaurants that draw residents out for an afternoon stroll, as well as destination diners and shoppers. The shops along Lakeside Avenue are known for antiques, bargains and collectibles. The Lakeside Farmer’s Market is a must-stop on Saturday mornings, but not until you’ve picked up breakfast at Early Bird Biscuit Co. & Bakery known for hot buttermilk biscuits and locally-roasted Blanchard’s coffee.
Northsiders start the holiday season early (before Thanksgiving) with the Holly Jolly trolley event that picks shoppers up along Lakeside Avenue and drops them off at the area’s eclectic shopping destinations. Gardens and outdoor space are at a premium in Richmond’s Northside, home to nationally-acclaimed Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and the mountain-bike friendly trails at Bryan Park.
April and Kendal’s picks for restaurants and markets in Northside:
- Dot’s Back Inn
- Enoteca Sogna
- Morsels on MacArthur
Bobby + April
Concierge Real Estate and Renovation
3311 W Cary Street
Richmond, VA 23221