Best Old House Neighborhoods 2010: Singles
For our third annual Best Places to Buy an Old House contest, what we looked for was simple: oft-overlooked neighborhoods populated by people who share an appreciation of finely crafted homes that have plenty of past and lots of future. And what we found—with the aid of our friends at PreservationDirectory.com, who helped us contact thousands of neighborhood groups, real estate agents, residents, and preservationists for nominations—was mighty impressive.
These dozen hip spots have affordable homes, supportive communities and lots of ways to get out and meet people.
Unlike other Alaskan cities, Anchorage didn’t start out as a fishing town or mining camp. Established as a port for the Alaska Railroad in 1914, transportation—both commercial (two airports) and military (two bases)—has long since dominated the economy. But it’s the unique blend of urban sophistication and rustic charm that entices over 40 percent of the Alaskan population to live here. Downtown is a mix of modern skyscrapers and old wood-framed architecture. With Denali National Park just a day trip away, six mountain ranges surrounding the city, and dozens of meandering creeks stocked with salmon, Anchorage is a true outdoorsman’s paradise.
A 1964 earthquake and landslide damaged many of the city’s older homes. But you can find mid-century Ranches starting around $200,000. Expect higher prices downtown, where rows of charming World War II–era saltbox-style houses line the streets and a few early-20th-century log homes still stand.
Why Buy Now?
Sure, home prices are a little high here, but there’s no income or sales tax.
Kiplinger.com named Anchorage the number 1 pick for its “Top 10 Tax-Friendly Cities” last April.
Coronado Historic District, Phoenix
Once Phoenix had ensured its long-term survival by damming up the Salt River in the early 1900s, developers got down to the business of plotting the future of the growing Southwestern city. And that future was all about suburbs. By 1920 one of the largest was the Coronado neighborhood, home to a middle-class population of merchants, policemen, and railroad engineers living in modest bungalows and Tudor Revival cottages, many fronted by small lots with towering palm trees. These days the nabe is drawing a young, artsy crowd, who like to hang out on their front porches and wave to neighbors who pass by. The neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Each spring, residents show off their homes—and often their DIY handiwork—during an annual house tour and community festival.
Small to medium-size Tudor, Craftsman, and ranch houses, built from about 1920 to 1940, are predominant. Prices start at $150,000. Houses often include a freestanding garage out back with matching architectural details. During the Great Depression, many residents converted their garage into an apartment, moved in, and rented their home.
Why Buy Now?
The neighborhood’s affordability is outstanding. And while there are still a few dilapidated houses, most are in pretty good shape. Buy a house here and all you’ll need to do is pick out the furniture and add a fresh coat of paint.
Capitol View, Little Rock, Arkansas
Located just outside downtown Little Rock, Capitol View is a classic first-tier suburb, with small houses surrounded by mature oaks and overgrown gardens. The neighborhood started out as a blue-collar hub for machinists, furniture craftsmen, and workers on the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway. These days it’s a haven for singles and families looking for fixer-uppers in a laid-back community. Many residents walk or bike on the trail that runs along the Arkansas River to get to their jobs downtown.
Most are Craftsman bungalows, but there are a few shotguns, foursquares, and Queen Anne cottages, too. Many homes are built on hillsides overlooking the Arkansas State Capitol building, but homes in the northeast section of the neighborhood offer views of the Arkansas River. Prices are from $80,000 to $200,000.
Why Buy Now?
After two decades of neglect, abandonment, and rental units run by slumlord owners, Capitol View, and downtown Little Rock, made a comeback in the 1990s, drawing first-time homebuyers and disillusioned surburbanites. Their efforts to celebrate the neighborhood’s history and architecture earned Capitol View a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
West Adams, Los Angeles, California
Once home to Los Angeles’s wealthiest 19th-century bankers and mining execs, West Adams seems like a studio backdrop for the set of a perfect small town. It’s become a shared secret among those of more modest means, who love its authentic feel in a city often chided for its artificiality. In recent years, residents have been restoring homes, showing how collectively invested they are in its future. “When you have everyone working together to preserve and maintain a neighborhood, it’s a very powerful approach,” says longtime resident David Raposa.
This is L.A., so even traditional styles, such as Craftsman and Mission, are glitzed to the max with detail.
Why Buy Now?
Fixer-upper bungalows that were selling for $350,000-plus a few years ago can now be had for $250,000. Most of West Adams is in a “historic overlay zone,” which protects home facades and keeps property values rising.
North Mayfair, Chicago, Illinois
Like Polish sausage and deep-dish pizza, the Craftsman bungalow is both ubiquitous and beloved in Chicago. And one of the few places you can still score one for a reasonable price is North Mayfair. Here you’ll find block after uniform block of sturdy, tree-shaded brick bungalows occupied by an affable mix of old-timers, many of German and Swedish descent, and new residents. But what we like is the neighborhood’s stubborn determination to maintain its historic character through the North Mayfair Improvement Association, founded in 1929. The group just succeeded in its effort to get part of the neighborhood listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is adamant about keeping out-of-scale building developments at bay.
Brick bungalows with Craftsman-style built-ins and stained glass.
Why Buy Now?
Property-tax freezes are available for those looking to restore older homes. Prices are (temporarily) down. Though rare, we found a fixer-upper bungalow for $218,000.
The Villages, Detroit, Michigan
Yeah, times are tough in Detroit. Still, we can’t overlook its bargain-hunter’s bounty of architectural riches—just one reason we’re betting on the city’s survival. Although the Motor City’s economy is in tatters, the people who live in The Villages, a collection of six historic neighborhoods three miles east of downtown, remain upbeat. “There’s a richness in this neighborhood,” says resident Kathy Beltaire. “The houses are beautiful and the streets are walkable, but the people here are the best part—they really care.” These days, nice-as-can-be multigenerational families who have lived here for decades continue to welcome first-time buyers who appreciate intricate woodwork, front porches, and spacious urban yards. If you can nail down a job in this city’s tough economy, your money goes a long way here.
The Villages offers more than 17 architectural styles, from Craftsman to Richardsonian Romanesque. The largest, most elaborate homes are in Indian Village, where prominent Detroit architects Albert Kahn and William Stratton designed grand Georgian Revival and Federal Revival homes for the city’s first auto barons in the early 1900s. Smaller cottages and rowhouses can be found in nearby West Village. Whatever your tastes, there are houses to be had in The Villages for less than $100,000.
Why Buy Now?
Not only will you get more house for your buck, you may just help fuel a Motor City comeback. That comeback already has a strong human foundation, thanks in part to the commitment of The Villages residents, who continue to mow the lawns and maintain the shrubs of the neighborhood’s empty and foreclosed homes, anticipating they’ll one day attract future neighbors.
North End, Nashua, New Hampshire
Nashua was originally planned as a manufacturing township by famed American architect Asher Benjamin back in 1823. Today the city, 36 miles north of Boston, has outgrown its original grid footprint and traded its textiles for the tech industry. But the North End’s beautiful old homes and large, overgrown maples are the real draw for those tiring of the bustle of Boston’s bedroom communities. Still, Nashua is no sleepy New England town, especially for those at home in the great outdoors. The North End borders Greely Park, a place for summer picnicking and evening concerts, and is close to the Nashua River Rail Trail, a newly expanded, 17-mile-long waterfront bike route that takes riders across the Massachusetts border.
Prices for the North End’s elegant estates have followed suit with the rest of the real estate market. Classic Colonial Revivals and ornate Queen Annes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, once listed in the millions, now start around $300,000.
Why Buy Now?
After years of passing their property down through the family, longtime residents looking to downsize are finally putting their big, beautiful North End homes on the market. If Boston is your work center, you’ll get more bang for your buck by buying in southern New Hampshire than in Massachusetts. And with the money you save, you’ll have a nice nest egg for renovations.
The Greenwood-Hamilton Historic District, Trenton, New Jersey
Trenton’s Greenwood-Hamilton neighborhood once served as sanctuary for the city’s 19th-century businessmen, who moved to the parklike suburb to escape the crowds—and the rubber, ceramics, and cigar factories—downtown. Many settled with their families on Greenwood Avenue, building extravagant mansions fronted by lovingly landscaped gardens. By the 1880s, commuting became easier for Trenton’s less affluent as well, thanks to a new streetcar line. At this point, smaller, more modest brick rowhouses were built as additional streets were laid. After a long period of decline, the neighborhood is attracting a new generation of homebuyers, who are looking to restore its affordable historic houses, whether those houses are modest or majestic.
The neighborhood is known mostly for its larger Victorian-era mansions, including Queen Annes and Italianates. But there are plenty of modest brick rowhouses available too. Prices run from $75,000 to $250,000, with the average cost being $146,000.
Why Buy Now?
The neighborhood has been experiencing a modest, albeit shaky, recovery in the past decade. Several homes have been restored, but the recession sure didn’t help. Still, city leaders are hoping Greenwood-Hamilton’s proximity to Trenton’s transit center, which offers train service spanning the East Coast, will entice commuters, or city and state workers.
Mesilla, New Mexico
The heart of Mesilla is its historic 19th-century plaza, where locals and tourists go to dine at its top-notch Mexican restaurants and imbibe at its cantinas. Many think of their town as a hidden gem, a place where one can find all the Southwestern charms of tony Santa Fe at a fraction of the cost. Originally part of Mexico, Mesilla retains its authentic south-of-the-border culture and is home to a diverse group of residents who share the frontier credo of “live and let live.”
Most are adobe, built between the 1850s and 1950s. The houses vary in condition, from precarious to pristine. That’s good news, since a fixer-upper here can be had for as little as $100,000, topping off at around $350,000.
Why Buy Now?
Adobe architecture is hot, hot, hot, partly because it’s such an energy-efficient building style. Many DIYers have descended on Mesilla in the past decade looking to restore an adobe house of their very own. Those fixer-uppers probably won’t be available for long.
Cranston, Rhode Island
Sure, Cranston is considered a satellite city of Providence because of its size and proximity. But the former textile and shipping center, which lies just south of the capital, has a solid housing stock and its own burgeoning foodie scene fueled by locally grown produce and ethnic restaurants. On weekends, residents flock to the area’s shops and markets. Aside from cooking and commerce, leisure lovers take advantage of their proximity to water; it’s Cranston where the Pawtuxet River opens into Narragansett Bay, making the marina a fishing and boating paradise during the summer months.
While western Cranston is rife with new housing development, the eastern part of the city is a charming mix of older Capes and Colonial Revivals, some of which feature Shingle Style facades. It’s not uncommon to stumble upon an entire block of Craftsman bungalows or earlier Victorian-era homes either. The variety of the houses, their reasonable price tags—many less than $200,000—and the 15-minute commute to Providence appeal to young professionals and new families alike.
Why Buy Now?
Retirees are moving into smaller homes, leaving behind their well-maintained properties.
The McKinley Hill Neighborhood, Tacoma, Washington
McKinley Hill, located on the highest point of Tacoma, started out as home to clerks and managers from the Northern Pacific Railroad, which terminated just down the hill at what’s now one of the Pacific Northwest’s largest transportation hubs. In 1905, the construction of a streetcar line here spurred the building of some of the city’s finest homes, built with fine details by master craftsmen working in the city’s bustling furniture and shipbuilding industries. The neighborhood went into urban decline in the 1960s and ’70s. But it’s now gaining favor among young families and singles looking for an older city neighborhood—its modest Main Street has pubs, restaurants, and boutique shops—that still has a little grit and character.
Most homes here were built between 1885 and 1929. Styles include well-appointed Craftsmans, Cape Cods, American Foursquares, Folk Victorians, and Tudor Revivals. Prices range from $150,000 to $290,000.
Why Buy Now?
McKinley offers some of the lowest home prices in the Puget Sound region. And its proximity to trains and a light rail system that will soon reach nearby Seattle and the airport is making it an attractive option for commuters. A new preservation nonprofit called Historic Tacoma, formed three years ago, is currently focused on McKinley Hill. Their recent efforts have included restoring the neighborhood’s historic 34th Street Bridge, which connects McKinley to downtown Tacoma.
The Junction, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Junction wasn’t always as welcoming as it is now. In July 2009, The New York Times called the neighborhood’s ongoing transition “skid row to hip,” and the Junction is gaining favor among young professionals while maintaining a character that’s both edgy and artsy. There’s also increased interest from young families, who like the Junction’s proximity to several of Toronto’s best parks. The dozens of locally owned cafes, pubs, boutiques, and restaurants that have opened in recent years are attracting buyers who like the older housing stock tucked away behind the neighborhood’s commercial strip.
Mostly wood-frame Victorian-era homes with brick facades, with some Edwardian-era brick duplexes and Victorian-era mansions thrown in. Many were divided into apartments over the years but can easily be turned back into single-family residences. Keep in mind that Toronto is a pricey city. Houses start around $300,000 and run to about $500,000.
Why Buy Now?
Businesses and homeowners are flocking here. Best to get in on the action now because home prices will no doubt rise quickly.