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Best Old House Neighborhoods 2011

For the fourth year in row, we've tracked down North America's most timeless neighborhoods—places where lovingly crafted old houses have extraordinary pasts and unarguably promising futures

Editors' Picks

Many of North America's best old-house neighborhoods are in long- or formerly forgotten cities, towns, and 'burbs that are worth a fresh look. They're also places where you'll discover some of the best, most architecturally eye-popping older houses on the continent. With help from our friends at Portland, Oregon-based PreservationDirectory.com—who distributed our nomination forms to more than 14,000 historical societies, neighborhood groups, and preservation nonprofits—we've tracked down off-the-beaten-path places that are home to block after block of stately brownstones, Cape Cods, Colonial Revivals, Victorian-era cottages, and more. Check out the following gallery to see six of the old-house neighborhoods that won over the editors of This Old House this year.

Or skip ahead and see all 64 Best Old House Neighborhoods for 2011.

Best for Bargains

Photo by Courtesy of Gregory Zavaglia

Compton Heights, St. Louis, Missouri

• The entire neighborhood is a historic district

• Incredible estates—yes, seriously, mansions!—for less than $200,000

• Walk to parks and art museums

The Neighborhood

In this storied southside St. Louis neighborhood, children cavort on shady front lawns bordering massive brick and stone houses, any of which could legitimately be referred to as "our manse." The streets, lined with towering trees, are named after men of letters, such as Hawthorne and Longfellow. The literary theme makes sense. Compton Heights has retained the look and feel of the 1880s, when it was developed, and to this day feels like it was torn from the pages of a Victorian novel. The neighborhood has other charms as well. "The homes here are unbelievable!" says Gregory Zavaglia, who along with his wife, Cayce, scored a 5,800-square-foot 1911 Beaux Arts house several years ago. Their home features massive roof overhangs, stained-glass windows, hand-painted murals, vaulted ceilings, and a red mahogany staircase. A similar, fixer-upper version of the Zavaglias' house a block over recently sold for less than $200,000.

Best for Bargains (cont'd)

Photo by Courtesy of Gregory Zavaglia

Compton Heights, St. Louis, Missouri

The Houses

They were built by the city's most affluent beer barons and businessmen—"John Francis Queeny, the guy who started Monsanto, once lived right next door," says Gregory. These wealthy families sought out the finest architects, who took opulent styles—such as Beaux Arts and Richardsonian Romanesque—to new, more flamboyant heights. Prices start at around $190,000 for a large house in need of a gut renovation. While many single-family homes have been restored, others, owned by longtime residents, hit the market as excellent shining-up opportunities, frequently retaining their original details. Rehabbers will also be happy to know that deed restrictions have long prohibited conversions into harder-to-renovate rental units.

Best for Bargains (cont'd)

Photo by Courtesy of Gregory Zavaglia

Compton Heights, St. Louis, Missouri

Why Buy Here?

Unlike many urban neighborhoods, Compton Heights has never experienced a significant period of decline. The entire section is listed as a local historic district. A 60-year-old homeowners association keeps things tightly knit, organizing an annual Easter parade, an Oktoberfest celebration, and a Halloween festival with horse-drawn hay rides through the streets. There's also a large community garden, and the nabe is a block from Reservoir Park, a 36-acre green space surrounding a 19th-century brick water tower.

Shown: Children search for eggs during Compton Heights' annual Easter egg hunt.

Among the best for: Midwest, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, City Living, Family Friendly, Easy Commute, Walkability

Best for Cottages

Photo by Courtesy of Chris Hannah

Whittier Mill Village, Atlanta, Georgia

• Houses surround a 22-acre park

• Quiet wooded lots

• 15 minutes from downtown Atlanta

The Neighborhood

Jan Stephens and her husband were struggling to find a desirable, and affordable, neighborhood near downtown Atlanta—until they discovered Whittier Mill Village. "We had no idea this place existed," Jan says. "A lot of people in Atlanta have never heard of it." Hidden on the city's largely industrial northwest side, along the Chattahoochee River, the residential area was established in the late 1800s for employees of the Whittier Cotton Mills. It started with 30 wood-frame cottages, and many more went up during a 1920s expansion. After the mill shut down, in 1971, the houses remained occupied but the settlement was more or less forgotten by Atlantans. Then, in 1994, the Trust for Public Land purchased the factory property and turned it into a 22-acre park, considerably raising the area's cachet.

Shown: A former multifamily worker's cottage got the wraparound treatment in 2001.

Best for Cottages (cont'd)

Photo by Courtesy of Chris Hannah

Whittier Mill Village, Atlanta, Georgia

The Houses

There are 107 original wood-frame cottages still standing, and newer houses built to resemble the old ones have increased the stock. Built in the Queen Anne and Georgian styles, the houses feature pitched roofs, pine millwork, and wide front porches. Prices range from the mid-$100,000s to more than $400,000.

Why Buy Here?

A new generation is discovering Whittier Mill Village, drawn by the close community and a 15-minute back-road commute to downtown. This side of Atlanta is seeing a market upswing as industrial buildings are redeveloped into lofts, attracting young professionals and new businesses.

Shown: The neighborhood encircles a 22-acre park.

Among the best for: , Bargains, Cottages & Bungalows, Victorians, City Living, Family Friendly, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Easy Commute, Outdoor Activities, Gardening

Best for Urbanites

Photo by Courtesy of Rosemary McHugh

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York

• Great views of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

• A small town in the middle of a big borough

• Hit a Norwegian bakery, an Italian butcher, and a Middle Eastern grocery, all on one block

The Neighborhood

Once home to thousands of Norwegian shipbuilders and Italian and Irish immigrants, this old-school Brooklyn neighborhood on New York Harbor's shores is a down-home kind of place. Families walk together after church on Sundays or gather at the locally owned restaurants, pizza parlors, and bakeries that line Third Avenue. "We like things subdued here," says Victoria Hofmo, who grew up in the community of 70,000. "We also like all the green space, the waterfront access, and the village atmosphere. We've got it all."

The Houses

Two- and three-story single- and multi-family brick and brownstone rowhouses are common, as are wood-and-stucco Tudor-style and limestone-front Renaissance Revival rowhouses. This is New York City, of course, where affordable means anything under seven figures. A two-story brick rowhouse with original millwork and pocket doors might go for $500,000. A restored 1930s Tudor rowhouse recently listed at $558,000. Renaissance Revivals start at $700,000.

Why Buy Here?

It's just over an hour by subway to midtown Manhattan. Young families and professionals are coming for what is now unattainable in most New York City nabes: a single-family house.

Shown: Would-be Bay Ridge folks covet the Renaissance Revival rowhouses with limestone facades, most of which are located on shady streets like this one.

Among the best for: The Northeast, Waterfront, City Living, Family Friendly, Walkability, Rowhouses

Best for Rowhouses

Photo by Courtesy of TorontoNeighbourhoodGuide.com

Leslieville, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

• Walk to markets, bakeries, and cafés

• Commute to Toronto by streetcar

• Walk or bike to Lake Ontario beaches

The Neighborhood

Once gritty and industrial, the east-end Toronto neighborhood of Leslieville (population 27,000) has gained traction as families, artists, and business owners arrive in droves, lured by the fashionable scene, safe streets, proximity to local beaches, and—at least by pricey Toronto standards—the affordable housing offered here. "Leslieville has completely changed in the past three years," says Jasmin George, who works at the children's boutique Baby on the Hip. It's one of many new businesses, including pubs, restaurants, and a cheese shop, that have opened in Leslieville in recent years.

Shown: Torontonians with kids are gobbling up Leslieville's old rowhouses on quiet avenues.

Best for Rowhouses (cont'd)

Photo by Courtesy of TorontoNeighbourhoodGuide.com

Leslieville, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The Houses

"There's definitely something enchanting about this place," says David Dunkelman, a Realtor who runs TorontoNeighbourhoodGuide.com. Three-story Victorian-era rowhouses with steeply pitched gables line narrow, tree-bordered streets. Prices for two-story rowhouses and vernacular-style cottages start at $300,000 (USD).

Why Buy Here?

It's one of a few desirable nabes near Toronto's center where a reasonably priced home can be scored. Downtown is a swift 15 minutes by car or trolley.

Shown: Thriving Queen Street East.

Among the best for: , Victorians, Waterfront, City Living, Family Friendly, Singles, First-Time Buyers, Easy Commute, Walkability, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Rowhouses

Best for Waterfront Views

Photo by Courtesy of Pacita Dimacali

The West End, Alameda, California

• Beautiful views of San Francisco Bay

• Commute to Oakland in minutes

• Good schools and a low crime rate make it great for families

The Neighborhood

Just off the shores of Oakland, Alameda is a 23-square-mile island located smack-dab in San Francisco Bay. While the area has long been heralded for the stunning Queen Annes and California bungalows on its eastern edge, lately it's the West End that's getting the attention. Once known for the massive Naval Air Station that called Alameda home, the west side's fortunes changed dramatically in 1997, when the U.S. Navy packed its bags, leaving behind enormous hangars. Before long, a new generation of enterprising Californians started to arrive, converting the cavernous spaces into film studios, fitness centers, wineries—even an absinthe distillery. Over the past decade, as retired military families have gradually sold their Arts and Crafts bungalows and Victorian-era cottages, the West End has adopted a young and trendy identity. "It's funky, it's edgy, and it's family friendly," says Kathy Ledner Moehring, a transplanted New Yorker who bought a 1912 Craftsman bungalow here eight years ago. Kathy, who serves as executive director of the West Alameda Business Association, says Alameda's growing popularity can also be attributed to the dozens of restaurants and businesses, new and old, along Webster Street, the neighborhood's main commercial drag. "You have Dick's Barber Shop, which has been here about 50 years, next to Lanvie, a ritzy new women's boutique that sells clothing made by local designers," says Kathy. "It's very diverse."

Best for Waterfront Views

Photo by Courtesy of Pacita Dimacali

The West End, Alameda, California

The Houses

Modest Arts and Crafts bungalows and Victorian cottages that once housed military personnel and generally need some work are coming on the market at reasonable prices. A 1,377-square-foot bungalow built in 1915 was recently listed at $299,000.

Shown: Many of the West End's old Victorian-era cottages are being restored.

Best for Waterfront Views (cont'd)

Photo by Courtesy of Pacita Dimacali

The West End, Alameda, California

Why Buy Here?

Housing values are expected to rise as redevelopment continues in the area surrounding the former base, making a case for anyone interested in buying to act now. The West End affords gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay and hosts a regular farmer's market, wine tastings, and summer concerts. An underwater tunnel gets you to Oakland in two minutes, and it's a 20-minute ferry ride to San Francisco.

Shown: Alameda's numerous yacht clubs and marinas make it a boat-lover's paradise.

Among the best for: The West & Northwest, Cottages & Bungalows, Family Friendly, Easy Commute, Small Towns, Walkability

Best for Bungalows

Photo by Sean Gallagher

Berwyn, Illinois

• Just seven miles west of the Chicago Loop

• Big, beautiful bungalows with original oak millwork

• Thai restaurants, Irish pubs, and one of the best music venues in the Chicago area

The Neighborhood

"People used to snicker whenever you mentioned Berwyn," says photographer Matt Schademann, who purchased a brick bungalow here three years ago. Indeed, many Chicagoland residents only knew of the area through a sci-fi-movie TV showcase on which host Svengoolie relentlessly chastised working-class Berwyn. But this city of 53,000 a stone's throw from Chicago proper is shaking off its butt-of-joke status

thanks to an affordable housing stock, a slew of recently opened restaurants, shops, and watering holes, and an enviable proximity to the Loop. The Chicago Tribune even called Berwyn "the center of the middle-income buyer's market." Long ago a stronghold for Czech and Italian transplants, Berwyn is becoming a choice for families and young suits, as well as artists and writers, looking for a laid-back, livable, more economical alternative to the big city on the lake. Many residents even prefer to spend evenings and weekends right here, taking in dinner at one of Berwyn's many eateries, a 16th Street Theater show, or a jazz gig at the famous FitzGerald's.

Best for Bungalows (cont'd)

Photo by Sean Gallagher

Berwyn, Illinois

The Houses

Brick bungalows and English Tudors with high-pitched roofs along with wood-sided Queen Annes are the primary home styles here. Thanks to a long history of single-family ownership, most houses retain their original layouts, many with oak millwork, subway-tiled kitchens, and stained-glass windows. The average bungalow price is around $225,000. Anyone interested in learning more should consider attending the city's annual Bungalow Tour, which takes place in September. (Find out more at berwynbungalow.org.)

Why Buy Here?

The Berwyn-to-downtown commute is 15 minutes by car, though Chicago's closest elevated- train stop is a bus ride away. The tony Oak Park suburb is nearby, helping to keep housing values stable.

Shown: Brick bungalows prevail in Berwyn—a fact that's celebrated each year during the city's Bungalow Tour.

Among the best for: The Midwest, Cottages & Bungalows, Singles, Easy Commute, Victorians