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Best Old House Neighborhoods 2012: The West

If you're looking to answer the call of the frontier and head toward the mountains, desert, or Pacific Ocean, we know just where you should be

Riding Off Into the Sunset

If you're looking to answer the call of the frontier and head toward the mountains, desert, or Pacific Ocean, we know just where you should be. From an old cattle-rustling town in Montana to a hip urban enclave in Long Beach, California, these neighborhoods all beg you to do one thing, and one thing only: Go West! They're just a few of the 61 vibrant neighborhoods from coast to coast where you'll find one-of-a-kind period houses. Read on to see which ones are located west of the Rockies, or see all the neighborhoods and categories.

Cowls Street, Fairbanks, Alaska

Photo by Courtesy of the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau

Set deep in the Alaskan wilderness (Anchorage is more than a 6-hour drive away), Fairbanks is an urban oasis offering such metropolitan diversions as art museums, opera houses, heck, even Thai food. But don't be fooled. This is still Alaska. Winters last from late September through late April, and the city is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, raging rivers, and acres of caribou-filled forest. "This is wilderness beyond your comprehension," says Deb Hickok, president and CEO of Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau. While the greater Fairbanks area is home to almost 100,000 people, only about 35,000 live within the city limits (others dwell in surrounding areas). Many of those in town reside in the Cowls Street Neighborhood, which is filled with modest, well-crafted houses, some recently restored, others comfortably lived in.

The Houses

Most were built in the early 1900s, when Fairbanks went from a trading post for gold miners to an actual city, thanks to the railroad and, later, the oil and gas industries. The houses are a mix of Craftsman bungalows, foursquares, ranch-styles, and a few log cabins. Many are situated on small lots, but that doesn't stop residents from cultivating vegetable gardens during the brief growing season. Prices hover around the $100,000 to $200,000 mark.

Why Buy Here?

Residents enjoy the same pleasures as the thousands of tourists who flock here each summer for hiking, hunting, fly-fishing, whitewater rafting, dog mushing, and a great view of the northern lights. For those seeking indoor alternatives, the University of Alaska Fairbanks provides lectures, classes, and sporting events.

Among the best for: The West, Cottages and Bungalows, Parks and Recreation, City Living, Walkability, College Towns, Lots to Do, American Heritage

Pine Crest Historic District, Prescott, Arizona

Photo by Courtesy of Cat Moody

Thanks to its warm climate, clean air, and abundant sunshine, the former frontier town of Prescott, Arizona, became a popular destination for those suffering with tuberculosis and other maladies in the late 19th and early 20th century. Seeing this trend as a boon to the local economy, the Chamber of Commerce developed the west Prescott neighborhood of Pine Crest in 1911 to cater to these long-term temporary residents. The neighborhood was plotted to complement the area's lush, hilly terrain, resulting in a natural setting for its dwellings.

The Houses

Craftsman-style bungalows, built between 1911 and 1935, abound on narrow, shady streets. Many houses retain their original shingled exteriors. A noteworthy feature of homes here is their stone retaining walls. Constructed of native rock, they blend beautifully with Pine Crest's natural surroundings. House prices run between $90,000 and $200,000.

Why Buy Here?

In addition to a healthful environment, Prescott, which is about two hours from Phoenix and Flagstaff, today has a bustling downtown plaza that welcomes strolling among its art museums, boutiques, and galleries. Just outside of town is a sportsman's paradise, with golfing, hiking, and biking in the Bradshaw Mountains and Prescott National Forest, and plenty of fishing, swimming, and kayaking in lakes surrounded by Arizona's dramatic, bouldery terrain. While the year-round climate is mild, the town still gets crisp autumns and winter snow.

Among the best for: The West, Bargains, Walkability, Cottages and Bungalows, Parks and Recreation, Lots to Do, Retirees

Rose Park, Long Beach, California

Photo by Emily Stevens

Situated around a small but beloved pocket park, this Long Beach community of about 22,000 is catching the hearts of artists, musicians, and young couples, some of whom migrate about 25 miles south from Los Angeles for its character-filled Craftsman bungalows and Spanish Revivals, as well as its proximity to the coast. The neighborhood developed in the early 20th century, when second-generation British and Scandinavian immigrants, who worked in commerce, the shipyards, and the oil fields, purchased individual lots to build modest, largely two-bedroom houses. Nowadays, it's a hipper, expanded version of Mayberry, a place where locals gather in the park for picnics or yoga classes and where impromptu concerts might break out on porches on summer nights. Rose Park is also adjacent to Retro Row, a three-block commercial strip that's home to pubs, shops, and a restored 1920s Art Deco movie house.

The Houses

The oldest are Victorian-era cottages, but the most ubiquitous are Craftsman bungalows, all the rage between 1910 and 1922, when the neighborhood saw its boom. Later styles include Spanish Revival and Mission Revival. The average price is around $350,000 to $450,000.

Why Buy Here?

The 2008 restoration of the neighborhood's namesake park has given new life to this area, notably in an annual bluegrass festival that draws thousands. And if you're a DIY novice, The Rose Park Neighborhood Association hosts an annual Restoration Trade Fair each summer, when dozens of craftspeople and contractors advise visitors and attendees on the best practices for restoring their old houses.

Among the best for: The West, City Living, First-Time Buyers, Fixer-Uppers, Walkability, Lots to Do, Cottages and Bungalows, Editors' Picks

Arapahoe Acres, Englewood, Colorado

Photo by Courtesy of David Steers

David Steers was surprised when his wife, Yvonne, came home from a long walk one day in 1999 and proclaimed she wanted to sell their Craftsman bungalow in Denver and move to Arapahoe Acres. But when he saw the 1955 mid-century modern she was talking about, he could see where she was coming from. "I had to admit, it was pretty cool," says David, who is now the proud owner of that very house. Arapahoe Acres was the brainchild of mid-century builder and home designer Edward B. Hawkins. Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, Hawkins was determined to build a neighborhood of custom houses featuring modern design elements. In 1949, he purchased 30 acres of land in Englewood and embarked on his dream. The first houses were designed by architect Eugene Sternberg, an advocate of two- and three-bedroom plans that, while incorporating high design, remained affordable. But Hawkins sought a more affluent market, and he parted ways with Sternberg to begin designing the larger, more elaborate houses he preferred.

The Houses

The neighborhood consists of 124 dwellings constructed between 1949 and 1957. Most are one- or two-story houses, with some split-level ranches, too. Many of the designs were inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian style, with open floor plans, low-pitched roofs, and ample use of stone, wood, and brick, as well as wide banks of windows, and built-ins like desks and even sofas. Prices range from about $270,000 to $525,000.

Why Buy Here?

In 1998, the neighborhood became the first-ever post–World War II development to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The fact that it's a 20-minute drive to downtown Denver and has good public schools sweetens the pot.

Among the best for: The West, Easy Commute, Family Friendly, Walkability, American Heritage

Waimea, Hawaii

Photo by Alex Woodbury

Waimea has an 180-year history of cattle-roping "paniolo" (cowboys)—and the early-20th-century paniolo-style ranch houses to prove it. Those houses are characterized by their board-and-batten siding, gingerbread trim, decorative shutters, and small verandas. Waimea and its lush surroundings sit at the base of the Big Island's Kohala Mountains, a gateway between the sunny side and the rainy side of the island. "On the dry side of Waimea, they get about 15 inches of rain a year; on the wet side it's 60 or more," says Sherm Warner, president of the Waimea Community Association. Locals appreciate the distance from "big-city distractions" in Kona and Hilo, both over 40 miles away on opposite sides of the island, and the rustic charm that remains from the legacy of raising cattle here. "It's part of the community," Warner says. "You know, rodeo is a high-school sport here."

The Houses

Paniolo-style houses dot the green hills of Waimea along Highway 19. Expect to pay between $375,000 to a million for a 2,500- to 3,000-square-foot-house.

Why Buy Here?

Residents benefit from the Parker Ranch Foundation Trust, formed in 1992 by the late Richard Smart, who owned the area's flagship cattle ranch and used its fortunes to help develop Waimea responsibly. Among the community projects funded by the trust are two private schools and the North Hawaii Community Hospital. Eco-friendly development and sustainable living is part of the culture here, but Warner says the best part is that "It's Hawaii. It's the ideal."

Among the best for: The West, Small Towns, Cottages and Bungalows, Family Friendly, Parks and Recreation, Retirees

Sandpoint, Idaho

Photo by Annie Doyon of a.d. preservation

This little town of 8,500, nestled in the crook of Lake Pend Oreille, halfway between Coeur d'Alene and the Canadian border, gets more traffic than you'd think. "We're the hub of Bonner County, with two state highways," says Carrie Logan, who sits on the Sandpoint City Council. "And it's the only place in Idaho with passenger rail service." Good thing, since timbering gave way to tourism in the 1990s. The list of favorite activities among the town's locals and visitors alike is long: skiing, biking, hiking, sailing, volleyball, "and then there's 'Lost in the 50s,'" says Melissa Bethel, a planning assistant for the city. Picture 500 of the country's best-dressed 1950s-era street rods lined up, hoods popped, engines gleaming. The time warp, inaugurated in 1985, happens the third weekend in May every year.

The Houses

Queen Annes and Craftsman-style bungalows make up most of the homes built here in the early 20th century, when logging and mining were the main industries. Other styles include Dutch Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival. An 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom abode goes for around $200,000, though some period houses can run up to $300,000.

Why Buy Here?

Clothing chain Coldwater Creek started here, as did Quest Aircraft. Perhaps it's the fresh air or the easy access to Schweitzer Mountain Resort, which had boasting rights to some of the most skiable conditions in the United States this winter, but entrepreneurs have found a happy home in Sandpoint. Retirees appreciate that major services—hospital, entertainment, shopping—are closely located; there's also a free bus system.

Among the best for: The West, Cottages and Bungalows, Victorians, Waterfront, Small Towns, Family Friendly, Easy Commute, Parks and Recreation, Retirees, Lots to Do

Livingston, Montana

Photo by Courtesy of Lou Ann Nelson, Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce

Located on the banks of the Yellowstone River and at the original entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Livingston, Montana, was a rough-and-tumble town founded in 1882, when the Northern Pacific Railroad came here and made it the site of a locomotive repair shop. Notable residents of this town of about 7,400 have included everyone from Calamity Jane to Jeff Bridges. But the real star is the town's historic commercial district. Comprising primarily brick Colonial Revival buildings, it has changed little since the late 1800s, when most of it was built. If Livingston looks familiar, it might be because its historic buildings and houses have played the backdrop for dozens of films, including 1992's A River Runs Through It.

The Houses

Expect to find brick foursquares and Queen Annes, as well as a few Prairie-style homes. Several houses here were built with hand-cut sandstone. A beautifully restored two-bedroom stone cottage, dating to 1900, was recently on the market for $143,000. A three-bedroom, 2,622-square-foot Craftsman built in 1920 was on the market for $199,000.

Why Buy Here?

These days, Livingston's is a popular spot for outdoorsy writers, artists, actors, and sportsmen. But there are still plenty of watering holes, including the original Bucket of Blood, which is now the Livingston Bar & Grill—a gentler name for gentler times. Yellowstone National Park, an hour's drive away, and the surrounding environs provide plenty of opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, and any other outdoor pursuits you might have in mind.

Among the best for: The West, Parks and Recreation, American Heritage, Small Towns, Lots to Do, Bargains, Victorians, Waterfront

Paradise Palms, Las Vegas, Nevada

Photo by Clay Heximer

This subdivision of "futuristic" luxury housing, designed by the architectural firm of Palmer & Krisel, was the first planned residential community in Las Vegas. "They were 'Jetsons' houses," says Jack LeVine, a Realtor and mid-century-modern specialist. Today, entertainers, teachers, and professionals enjoy Paradise Palms' central location between Las Vegas's Boulevard indoor mall and National Golf Course, 2 1/2 miles from the Strip. "It was built starting in 1962. By Vegas standards, that's ancient," says Clay Heximer, a resident for two years.

The Houses

For $50,000, fans of the Desert Modern look can snag a 2,000-square-foot fixer-upper or, for $400,000, find a pristine vintage house on the golf course, though prices range between $80,000 and $150,000. "The most original are the most sought-after and retain their resale value the best," LeVine says. William Krisel, who, at 87, now consults on true restorations of his firm's houses, agrees: "People contact me to remove bad additions and reduce square footage, and it pays off." Some of the houses' single-level plans make them nice for retirees, too.

Why Buy Here?

Prices have hit bottom. The neighborhood fell to renters after 1985, when owners moved out for newer construction, and since 2008, Las Vegas has waged a citywide struggle to keep squatters and parts-strippers out of homes vacated due to foreclosures. Now the tide is turning back to owner-occupied properties. Neighbors organize monthly cocktail parties that segue into education sessions on mid-century modern. Plans are afoot to add a park. "We're taking care of graffiti and working hard to keep out crime," Heximer says. In Paradise Palms, it's a citizen-led response that signals a revitalized community.

Among the best for: The West, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, City Living, Retirees, Lots to Do, First-Time Buyers, Easy Commute

Downtown Historic District, Roswell, New Mexico

Yes, everyone knows about the famous "incident" that supposedly occurred here in 1947. But UFO crashes aside, this southwestern New Mexico city of about 50,000 attracts more than just conspiracy theorists, including young professionals and retirees who come here for the clean air, great weather, and a chance to acquire one of the 280 period houses in the city's 40-block Downtown Historic District. The origins of Roswell go back to the 1870s, when a post office and a general store were built by Omaha business partners Van C. Smith and Aaron Wilbur. The town boomed in the 1890s with the arrival of the railroad and the founding, in 1891, of what's now the prestigious New Mexico Military Institute. Growth continued when Roswell became home to what would become Walker Air Force Base, which was located here from the 1940s through the late 1960s.

The Houses

The Historic District, which was named to the National Register in 1985, contains houses built in more than 22 architectural styles, including California Mission, Prairie, Spanish Pueblo Revival, and Southwestern Vernacular. The oldest date back to the city's building boom, which began in 1885; most houses were constructed between 1900 and 1935. Prices range from $85,000 to $375,000. A 1915 fixer-upper was recently on the market for $180,000.

Why Buy Here?

The International UFO Museum & Research Center is located here. For those whose interests are more terrestrial, the city is just a few miles from Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1937 as a habitat for migratory birds, and Bottomless Lakes State Park, which offers plenty of hiking and biking, as well as kayaking on the Pecos River.

Among the best for: The West, Walkability, Lots to Do, Parks and Recreation, First-Time Buyers, Retirees, American Heritage

Baker City, Oregon

Photo by Courtesy of Historic Baker City Inc.

After gold was discovered here in the 1860s, this town nestled between the Wallowa and Blue mountains quickly grew into a cultural oasis with hotels, opera houses, and saloons. By the turn of the century, Baker City was known as the "Queen City of the Inland Empire," its population of 6,700 rivaling that of Spokane and Boise. After the closing of a local sawmill led to an economic downturn in the 1980s, it managed to lure a new generation of artists and lone wolves with its surplus of affordable houses and large commercial spaces. Today, the town of 10,000 has a downtown that's home to more than 140 independently owned businesses, including art galleries, a food co-op, and restaurants.

The Houses

Most were built between the 1890s and 1920s by miners and business owners who made their fortunes here during the gold rush. These are well-crafted houses, with plank wall construction and, in many cases, tuff stone cladding and foundations. Styles include vernacular cottages, Queen Annes, Italianates, American Foursquares, and Gothic Revivals. Modest houses can be had for less than $100,000, with a median price under $200,000.

Why Buy Here?

With its gorgeous surroundings and growing artistic community, locals believe Baker City is poised to become the Santa Fe of the northwest. Surrounded by mountain ranges, parks, and hiking trails, it also appeals to skiers and snowshoers. Anyone who's dreamed of opening a business can nab a two-story commercial building downtown for around $200,000. But at the rate things are going, those bargains won't last long.

Among the best for: The West, Parks and Recreation, Walkability, Lots to Do, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Victorians, Cottages and Bungalows

Lead, South Dakota

Photo by Courtesy of Mike Stahl

"I moved to Lead from the East Coast 28 years ago and haven't looked back," says Realtor Bill Laskowski of his adopted hometown. It's easy to see where all the love comes from. This western South Dakota town, founded in 1876 and home to just over 3,000 residents, is engulfed by the Black Hills National Forest, so to say it's picturesque is an understatement. It also offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts (hiking, skiing, or snowmobiling, anyone?). Until recently, the city's raison d'etre was the Homestake gold mine, once the biggest, deepest mine in the western hemisphere until it shut down, in 2002.

The Houses

Most were built for mine workers and operators between the late 1800s and the 1940s, and range in style from Queen Anne to Tudor Revival. Many have been restored or are undergoing restoration. A large Stick-style home on Main Street was recently listed for $136,000, but a fixer-upper Queen Anne cottage can be found for as low as $14,000.

Why Buy Here?

While Lead was devastated after the closing of its gold mine, which destroyed both jobs and community spirit, things are looking up due to the Sanford Underground Laboratory, a massive science lab under construction in the old Homestead Mine that's expected to produce jobs and a new sense of purpose. Downtown, meanwhile, is being refurbished into a regional center for arts and entertainment, the centerpiece of which is the restoration of the 1914 opera house.

Among the best for: The West, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Parks and Recreation, Cottages and Bungalows, Victorians

Center Street Historic District, Logan, Utah

Photo by Courtesy of Kristen Clifford

Surrounded by the cascading Bear River and the Wasatch mountains, the Center Street Historic District is a locally prized collection of houses dating back to the 1860s. It's situated in the heart of Logan, Utah, a picturesque town near the Utah-Idaho border that was founded by Mormon settlers and is now home to Utah State University. The neighborhood is close to restaurants, shops, entertainment, and a farmer's market, all within walking distance. Residents keep busy biking or hiking the local trails, swimming at the Aquatic Center, or hitting the links at the Logan River Golf Course, with its recently completed clubhouse.

The Houses

The majority of the houses were constructed in the late 1800s, when craftsmen who worked on the town's tabernacle (begun in 1865) started building large brick and stone dwellings in the Queen Anne and Tudor Revival style for the city's wealthy merchants. Later Arts and Crafts-influenced houses are also available. Prices range from $75,000 for a small fixer-upper to about $350,000 for a spacious, fully restored home.

Why Buy Here?

In addition to easy access to an active, healthy lifestyle, the Utah State Historic Preservation Office offers a 20 percent tax credit for rehabilitation of all properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places (including every structure in the Center Street District), an added incentive to fix up a house here. The city is also trying to expand the boundaries of the district so that more houses qualify for the credit.

Among the best for: The West, Bargains, Family Friendly, Walkability, Lots to Do, Parks and Recreation, American Heritage, Fixer-Uppers, College Towns, Victorians

Logan, Spokane, Washington

Photo by Courtesy of Spokane Preservation Advocates

Historic preservation is serious business in Spokane, the largest city in eastern Washington, and even the experts are charmed by this neighborhood. "If I lived in Spokane, I'd have a house in Logan," says Kathryn Burk-Hise, who commutes to the city for her job as executive coordinator of Spokane Preservation Advocates. Flanked by Gonzaga University to the southwest and the Spokane River to the southeast, this little pocket first emerged in 1894 with 30 houses. It was imagined, then, to be the start of a Jesuit community. Today, it's not only a "Catholic hub" but also a community with nearby schools and hundreds of quaint single-family homes at affordable prices. "Streets are wide, tree canopies are big, and there are elementary schools," says Burk-Hise. "It's a great family neighborhood."

The Houses

Queen Annes, Tudor Revivals, and Craftsman bungalows built between 1900 and the 1930s pepper Logan's verdant streets. A well-kept 2,700-square-foot house near Mission Park recently sold for $189,900, though the average price in the area today is $87,000 for houses with original features, including leaded-glass windows and oak millwork. Dwellings that need some rehab go for as low as $50,000.

Why Buy Here?

Students and educators at the four colleges in the area have plenty of worthy distractions from academic pursuits. Locals can be found kayaking, fishing, and swimming in the summer, and it's hard not to be dazzled by the spectacular set of waterfalls that run right through town a few blocks from the southwest edge of Logan.

Among the best for: The West, Bargains, Fixer-Uppers, Cottages and Bungalows, Victorians, College Towns, Retirees, Family Friendly, First-Time Buyers, Easy Commute, Parks and Recreation, American Heritage

Buffalo, Wyoming

Photo by Courtesy of Nancy Lee Jennings

Buffalo was established in the 1870s to provide saloons, hotels, and dining for gold miners and for soldiers stationed at nearby Fort McKinney, where their assignment was to keep the peace among sparring Native American tribes. Today, the city of 4,500 is home to many outdoor enthusiasts who know a thing or two about self reliance. "It's made up of a hearty, easy-going group," says Johnnie Pond, manager of Buffalo's Historic Mansion House Inn. "And the outdoors is important to every one of them." In addition to being a destination for hiking, biking, fishing, and hunting, Buffalo is also considered the artistic hub of Johnson County, with century-old commercial buildings that house galleries and museums, as well as studios where potters, ironworkers, and wood carvers hone their respective skills.

The Houses

There are a variety of houses that date to the 1880s, when the town was founded. Most were built by doctors, lawyers, judges, and those who worked on the railroad, which arrived in the late 1800s. Prices range from $150,000 to $500,000, but you can also find a fixer-upper cottage for $110,000.

Why Buy Here?

With scenic views of the Big Horn Mountains from every point in Buffalo, this place is about as beautiful as it gets. The nearby Bighorn National Forest encompasses 387 miles of snowmobile trails, two downhill ski areas, and four cross-country ski trails. The economy here is stable, thanks to a growing methane gas industry.

Among the best for: The West, Parks and Recreation, American Heritage, Small Towns, Walkability, Fixer-Uppers, Cottages and Bungalows