Best Old House Neighborhoods 2009: Cottages and Bungalows
Unique, tight-knit neighborhoods are precisely what we looked for in selecting the winners of our second annual Best Old House Neighborhoods 2009: Cottages and Bungalows contest—places that might not be on your radar but deserve to be. Like last year, we relied on our good friends at PreservationDirectory.com to help us contact thousands of neighborhood groups, real estate agents, and preservation societies to get their takes on the best places to track down, fix up, and fall head of heels for older homes.
These 12 places each offer an ample stock of charming, affordable old cottages and bungalows for old house lovers to snatch up and fix up.
Yakima boasts many of the same qualities that have made some other Pacific Northwest cities—namely Portland and Seattle—so popular in the past 20 years: nearby mountains and water, top-notch cultural institutions, and a wealth of fine microbreweries and brewpubs. (Aside from its celebrated apple orchards, the Yakima Valley produces 75 percent of the hops grown in the U.S.). The thing that sets Yakima apart is the affordability of its homes. Some of the city's finest are found in the historic Barge-Chestnut neighborhood, an old streetcar suburb known for its bargain Craftsman-style bungalows, and neighbors who often become second families to those who live here.
While Barge-Chestnut has its fair share of Colonials and Victorian-era homes, it is best known for its exceptional collection of Craftsman-style bungalows, which, with their beautiful built-ins and welcoming front porches, are sought after among old-house lovers looking for places brimming with character. Homes here remain reasonable, ranging in price from $100,000 for a fixer-upper, to $300,000 for a pristine 2,000-square-foot home. The neighborhood recently became a local historic district, and residents are trying to get it on the National Register of Historic Places as well.
Why Buy Now?
Cheaper than Seattle and Portland, Yakima can be a great value for those looking for a true Pacific Northwest lifestyle on a budget. Yakima boasts a recently revived downtown, just minutes from the Barge-Chestnut neighborhood, with restaurants, galleries, and brewpubs. The area is also attracting wine enthusiasts to its dozens of award-winning vineyards.
St. Patrick's Ward, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
In the early 1900s, entrepreneur J.W. Lyon started giving away land to factories and selling small residential lots in St. Patrick's Ward, just outside downtown Guelph. Soon, thousands of European immigrants, mostly Italian, started coming here to work in those factories and live in the small stone and brick workers' cottages, often adding their own vegetable gardens. Nowadays some of those factories are being turned into condos. And this quiet urban neighborhood is drawing new residents, who fall hard for its stark, industrial beauty, stone churches, and even some remaining vegetable gardens. Most of the Italian families have moved on, but "The Ward," as it's called, remains a land of opportunity for those looking for a friendly, old-fashioned neighborhood to call home.
Foursquares and Victorians built between 1900 and 1920 are common, though the most notable homes here are stone or brick Italianate cottages and "Ontario cottages"; the latter are one-and-a-half-story stone and brick Gothic Revivals with a hipped roof and single spired gable above the door. Houses start at around $136,000 (U.S.).
Why Buy Now?
Buyers are rediscovering the charms of this walkable community just minutes from downtown Guelph and are moving here to renovate houses. There are plenty of jobs, but Guelph, which has a population of about 115,000, is just 60 miles from Toronto, so it's also an ideal place for commuters looking for lower housing prices and a slower pace.
Temescal Neighborhood, Oakland, California
Located in North Oakland, just a few miles from Berkeley, the Temescal neighborhood, named for the creek that runs through it, was once a thriving Italian-American village and the terminus of Oakland's streetcar line. In the past few years this long-overlooked nabe has been attracting buyers from pricier NoCal neighborhoods to its colorful, stucco-covered bungalows, many of which have small but sought-after backyards. Some people first discover Temescal while visiting its popular Sunday farmer's market or the growing number of restaurants, delis, and bakeries that are opening here, including the famed Bakesale Betty, which purportedly sells the best fried chicken sandwich on the planet. "It seems a lot of people are starting to look for places in Temescal now," says Deidre Joyner, a Realtor with Red Oak Realty. "That's probably because the two- and three-bedroom houses here are perfect starter homes." Temescal is also close to bus lines and freeways. And you can be in downtown San Francisco in less than 20 minutes, barring heavy traffic.
Many single-family homes here are 1920s bungalows that, while modest from the outside, are packed inside with architectural details, such as built-ins, moldings, wainscoting, and window seats. These houses start between $500,000 and $600,000. Pricey, yes, but that's a heck of a lot cheaper than a house, especially one with a yard, will run you in San Francisco or other nearby Oakland neighborhoods, such as Rockridge.
Why Buy Now?
If you found yourself priced out of the Bay Area during the housing boom, now's the time to give it another shot. Temescal borders pricier areas and is experiencing a domino effect as people scramble for more-affordable real estate. And did we mention that chicken sandwich?
The West University Neighborhood, Tucson, Arizona
Bordering the University of Arizona, the West University neighborhood feeds off the culture and quirks of college life but maintains itself as a separate, decidedly mellow community for those who live here. The West University Neighborhood Association makes sure it stays that way by organizing neighborhood fund-raisers, cleanup days, summer potlucks, and softball games. This is a great area for young people and families, since it's close to the arts, sports, and cultural events at the U of A. It also has great bars, restaurants, and clubs.
You'll find mostly Spanish Revival, Craftsman Bungalow, and Prairie-style homes here. Many of the brick bungalows are covered with stucco, though there are several wood-frame and stone homes too. Some houses have already been restored, but quite a few fixer-uppers are still available. Houses are available for between $175,000 and $400,000.
Why Buy Now?
An electric streetcar line linking the neighborhood to downtown Tucson is set to open in 2011 and could increase property values along the line. Buy a home in the West University National Historic District and you may qualify for significant property tax breaks.
Seminole Heights, Tampa, Florida
In a state known for blinding sunlight and shoddy high-rise condo construction, Seminole Heights offers shady streets, with solid homes fronted by gardens both wild and manicured. The neighborhood's many parks offer ample opportunity to commune with nature, and families looking for strong public schools will be thrilled by Hillsborough High, recently named one of the best schools in the country by Newsweek magazine. One thing's for sure: The community fabric here is strong. "We're all about porch parties and potlucks," says resident Suzanne Prieur. "We want to make sure our old-fashioned way of life here is preserved."
This is Florida, so you'll find plenty of Spanish Mission and Art Moderne–style homes here. But Seminole Heights is best known for its single-story Craftsman-style bungalows, built in the 1920s to accommodate the thousands of families who relocated to Tampa after railroad lines were established. These houses feature full-length porches with stone or brick supports, and plenty of built-ins. Most homes sell for between $150,000 and $300,000.
Why Buy Now?
Florida home prices have plummeted in recent months, and Seminole Heights is no exception. Several neighborhood associations do an amazing job of protecting the area from the overdevelopment of condos and out-of-scale commercial buildings.
Located in Southeast Alaska, Ketchikan is more than just a town that was supposed to be the starting point of the "Bridge to Nowhere," the now defunct project meant to link this island fishing village to an airport on the next island over. In fact, Ketchikan is turning into one of the country's most popular tourist destinations and the first stop for many Alaska-bound cruise ships. Ketchikan (pop. 7,400) has many sturdy homes built by men who prospered in the area's fishing, canning, and logging industries. Once teeming with bordellos and saloons, Ketchikan's historic downtown isn't as rough and tumble as it used to be, with restaurants, boutiques, and galleries catering to visitors and locals alike. Many residents work for the U.S. Coast Guard, which has a base here, or local shipyards.
The best homes are either on Water Street or in Nob Hill, a historic neighborhood perched on a hillside above downtown. Some old mountain and hillside houses—accessible via elaborate multitiered staircases—offer views of the Pacific Ocean. Craftsman and Queen Anne styles prevail. A fixer-upper Craftsman with ocean views recently sold for just $150,000, but some of the town's larger homes sell for $500,000 or more.
Why Buy Now?
If you're an outdoorsy person looking for a place to escape or retire, Ketchikan could be exactly what you're looking for. It's a safe bet that a few of the 900,000 tourists who visited last summer were so smitten that they moved here, so get in while you can.
Capitol Heights, Montgomery, Alabama
In 1916 the Montgomery Advertiser called this new neighborhood, built on an old cotton plantation, "an ideal residential suburban section." And Capitol Heights has retained pretty much the same feel since. East of downtown Montgomery, it's a beautiful old streetcar suburb that's gaining favor among lawyers, teachers, architects, and maintenance workers who like the diverse, tight-knit community—and that it's five blocks from their jobs in downtown Montgomery.
The houses are extraordinary Deep South versions of the California-style Craftsman, with long, low-pitched eaves and roomy front porches. Some have upstairs sleeping porches that capture the cool night breezes. Many were built in the early to mid-1900s using concrete blocks made on-site. Home values range from $75,000 to $200,000.
Why Buy Now?
Capitol Heights was recently designated a historic district. Many residents believe the designation will help protect the neighborhood's architectural integrity and boost property values. A neighborhood group is drawing potential buyers by sponsoring yearly home tours, during which the work of local artists is displayed and for sale.
The Boise Neighborhood, Portland, Oregon
Established by shipyard workers in the 1800s, Portland's Boise neighborhood—named after an Oregon Supreme Court justice who once lived here—suddenly became home to many African-Americans in 1948, after a dike failure along the Columbia River destroyed Vanport City, a public housing facility for World War II shipbuilders. As Portland continues to draw new residents, Boise is becoming increasingly popular for its diversity, affordable housing, bike lanes, and access to public transportation. Interest in the neighborhood is also being fueled by a slew of new pubs, restaurants, microbreweries, and boutique-style shops along Mississippi Avenue, Boise's main thoroughfare.
The streets of Boise are lined with beautiful Victorian-era cottages, Cape Cods, and Craftsman-style homes. The median price for homes in 2008 was about $300,000, but there are some rare fixer-upper bungalows that go for as low as $175,000.
Why Buy Now?
Despite the weak housing market, home values continue to rise. Buyers priced out of downtown Portland are moving to Boise to take advantage of lower prices and the newly invigorated Mississippi Avenue.
Houston Heights, Houston, Texas
Love living in small-town suburbia but occasionally long for the hustle and bustle of the city? Houston Heights might be the neighborhood you're looking for. Just a couple of miles from downtown Houston, this serene enclave features massively turreted Queen Annes along stately boulevards and comfy bungalows tucked away on quiet streets lined with expansive live oaks. Houston Heights was developed in 1886 as a "utopian" community by self-made millionaire Oscar Martin Carter and his Omaha and South Texas Land Company. The Houston Heights Association, a nonprofit devoted to preserving the nabe, is trying to hold on to Carter's vision by protecting against overdevelopment and bringing the community together with holiday home tours, craft markets, and fun runs.
The large sampling of architectural styles is what makes Houston Heights unique. Heights Boulevard is lined with Queen Anne and Colonial Revival mansions, and streets to the east and west feature a number of Craftsman bungalows and Tudor Revival cottages. At press time, there were more than 60 properties available, ranging from $200,000 to $700,000.
Why Buy Now?
Most of the older homes have already been restored, so maintaining their historic integrity is the only work required. Property-tax exemptions are available for restoration work on homes in the neighborhood's city-designated historic districts.
Sugar House, Salt Lake City, Utah
Founded in 1853, this quiet and cheerfully quirky suburb is 10 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. Named for a local sugar mill that never actually processed any of the sweet stuff (the machines shipped from France didn't make the journey), the area is a first-time homebuyers' delight, filled with quaint 1920s fixer-uppers and post–World War II cottages. Sugar House's tree-lined streets and 110-acre park, just east of the town's center (and formerly the site of the Utah State Prison), also make it a great place for folks who don't mind lacing up their walking shoes. While home to big, established employers such as the nearby University of Utah and a large medical research park, Sugar House boasts a thriving district of small businesses, arts venues, and restaurants at the intersection of 900 East and 900 South (known as "9th and 9th").
Known for early-20th-century bungalows, cottages, and Tudors, Sugar House is also home to a sprinkling of charming Victorians. House sizes average 2,100 square feet and prices start about $365,000, but savvy and patient house hunters can find cozy, 1,500-square-foot bungalows in the southern part of town for about $250,000.
Why Buy Now?
Sugar House seems to be one of those rare recession-proof markets, as home prices have remained relatively stable. And finding a place shouldn't be too difficult. Since the area attracts younger single homeowners, the market stays pretty lively as people relocate for work or families outgrow their starter homes.
Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
While dramatic views of the Manhattan skyline are a selling point in Atlantic Highlands, and many compare its hilly terrain to that of Northern California, this Victorian village on the Jersey shore has a character all its own. Many Atlantic Highlanders have been here for generations, while others are recent transplants from New York who come here for the laid-back lifestyle and the convenient ferry or train access to Lower Manhattan. Atlantic Highlands is home a marina, as well as great restaurants, shops, parks, and theaters.
The town is known for its well-maintained or restored early-20th-century Victorians and smaller bungalows, originally used by vacationers from New York City. At press time, a 1,888-square-foot Queen Anne with a double-tiered porch was available for $220,000. A 4,500-square-foot Victorian—this one with a widow's peak—was going for $600,000.
Why Buy Now?
Seeing as Atlantic Highlands is just a 60-minute ferry ride from Manhattan, and about an hour away by train, that you can buy a freestanding house here for under $300,000—in a thriving seaside community—is reason enough to give this Jersey shore village a look.
In a state known for its teeming-with-tourists resort towns, the tiny island of Lana'i remains refreshingly and authentically local. Sure, there are a few luxury hotels, but Lana'i still largely resembles the plantation-style town it was designed to be by the Dole Pineapple Company in the 1920s. Its 2,500 residents enjoy a quiet and relaxed lifestyle, working in the tourism industry and spending their free time lounging on the beach.
Lana'i is known for its plantation-style homes, which are basically bungalows with decks or covered porches. They feature hipped, corrugated-metal roofs and original double-hung windows. They sell for between $300,000 and $600,000.
Why Buy Now?
Lana'i presents one of the last opportunities to live in an authentic Hawaiian community at a relatively affordable price. Lana'i was recently added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2009 list of Most Endangered Historic Sites in America. That's because Castle & Cooke, the company that now owns Dole—and most of Lana'i—wants to demolish several historic buildings in Lana'i City to make way for commercial developments.