Best Old House Neighborhoods 2013: City Living
These neighborhoods offer the best of both worlds: houses that have period charm in places with plenty of shops, services, and nightlife nearby.
Not all dream houses are in quiet stretches of suburbia. These neighborhoods offer the best of both worlds: houses that have period charm in places with plenty of shops, services, and nightlife nearby so that you're never missing a beat. And they're just a fraction of the 61 neighborhoods from coast to coast where you'll find one-of-a-kind period houses. Read on to see the ones where city slickers will feel right at home, or see all the neighborhoods and categories.
Population: Approximately 2,100 in Garfield; nearly 1.5 million in the city of Phoenix
House styles: Revival styles from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Craftsman, and vernacular bungalows and ranches
Expect to pay: As little as $50,000 for a short-sale fixer-upper; around $150,000 for a fully rehabbed house
This one-square-mile neighborhood comprises Garfield and North Garfield, two of the largest historic districts in Phoenix; both have been on the National Register since 2010. They date back to the 1880s (the beginning of time around these parts) and were early additions to the old Phoenix townsite. Today it's an easy stroll down their streets to downtown attractions, such as Symphony Hall or the Roosevelt Row Arts District, top-notch restaurants and taco trucks, the new city-center campuses of Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, and Phoenix's Valley Metro Light Rail. The locals, a mix of Hispanic families and artistic types, recently created Garfield Community Garden, where neighbors meet on Sundays to sow seeds, pull weeds, and swap all sorts of green-thumb expertise as they raise veggies to distribute to needy communities. The homes here aren't manses—you won't find many original houses over 1,200 square feet—but a wee bungalow or cottage needing care can be had cheaply, and the City of Phoenix has funds available for those who are restoring historic properties.
Population: 2,572 in Southside Park; about 472,000 in the city of Sacramento
House styles: Classical and Colonial Revival, Craftsman
Expect to pay: In the vicinity of $250,000 for a house that hasn't been updated; about $350,000 if the seller has ripped out the carpet and updated the kitchen
Due south of downtown Sacramento sits the neighborhood of Southside Park, a city-designated historic district and diverse neighborhood of immigrants, young singles, families, and the design-obsessed. This isn't your usual old-house place. The elm-canopied enclave, named for the 15-acre city park at its south end, is a pedestrian-friendly one-square mile with about 1,000 houses, from Craftsman-era bungalows to eyesores built in the late 20th century. "It's eclectic. Houses would get demolished at random and be replaced with apartments," says William Burg, a historian and the author of Sacramento's Southside Park. One of its best-known attractions is the five-acre Sunday Farmers Market, a year-round affair that offers local produce and other fare and attracts neighborhood folks as well as foodies from all over the city. Architecturally, the best properties here include a sprinkling of Queen Annes and Italianates (some were moved here to avoid demolition), covetable bungalows, and a variety of other early-20th-century styles. Those on the market tend to need work but can be scooped up at surprisingly nice prices for California's capital city.
Population: 10,440 in Old Fourth Ward; 432,427 in the city of Atlanta
House styles: Queen Anne, Italianate, Colonial Revival, Craftsman bungalow, and shotgun cottages
Expect to pay: About $150,000 for a house that needs TLC; refurbished houses cost from $250,000 to $400,000
Located just a 15-minute walk east of downtown, O4W, as locals sometimes refer to it, was settled after the Civil War by African-American factory workers and working-class whites. It later became a hub of the Civil Rights movement, due in part to its most famous resident: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born and raised here, and his birthplace and gravesite are a part of the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. The neighborhood suffered when businesses and homes were demolished in the 1970s for a highway that was never built. But its fortunes are reversing quickly, thanks in large part to the Historic District Development Corporation, a grassroots community organization co-founded by Coretta Scott King, Dr. King's widow, that has spearheaded the preservation of important homes and buildings in the area.
One big recent boost was the 2011 opening of Historic Fourth Ward Park, a 17-acre oasis boasting fountains, picnic areas, and jogging paths that's a part of Atlanta's BeltLine project to connect its neighborhoods with parks and trails. Ponce City Market, another project in the works, will transform a former factory into a vibrant mix of retail, office, and residential spaces. Meanwhile, galleries, bars, and hot-spot restaurants—including local favorite P'cheen—have opened to serve the gentrified and multicultural mix of residents who are fixing up the area's mostly modest-size period homes. Get in on the action while you can.
Population: 4,566 in Bronzeville; 2,707,120 in Chicago
House styles: Most period houses date from 1881 to 1910 and include Queen Annes and Richardsonian Romanesques; they're built largely from stone, a legacy of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871
Expect to pay: About $50,000 for a fixer-upper; $275,000 and up for a refurbished home
When Southern blacks migrated north in search of work in the early 20th century, thousands settled in this community on Chicago's South Side. In time, Bronzeville became a hotbed of activists, musicians, artists, and writers whose work has shaped the African-American urban experience, including such luminaries as Richard Wright, Louis Armstrong, Lorraine Hansberry, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy. But throughout the 1960s and 1970s, many residents of its high-rise public housing left to find less-crowded quarters in the suburbs. Thankfully, the neighborhood's landscape began shifting from the mid-1990s through 2007, when these neglected projects were torn down, paving the way for smarter development and the refurbishment of its rich stock of period houses, most of which predate the Great Migration.
Today, middle-class black families are moving back Bronzeville to reclaim it as a historic, urban neighborhood, and bus tours make the rounds to its many points of interest, including trails for the Underground Railroad. From here, you can get to the center of the downtown Loop by car in less than 15 minutes or by riding the elevated train's Green Line; since 2011, there's been a stop here for a commuter train that connects the city to its southern suburbs. And it's just a short bike ride or walk to many of the Windy City's A-list attractions, including the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Lake Michigan. Sweet home Chicago, indeed.
Population: 2,138 in Locust Point; 621,342 in the city of Baltimore
House styles: Rowhouses dating from the mid- to late 1800s; many are covered in formstone, a stucco-based cladding once popular in the area
Expect to pay: $175,000 and higher for a fixer-upper; $275,000 or more for a house in move-in condition
Populated by a mix of young singles and multigenerational blue-collar locals, Locust Point has a gritty feel that celebrates its industrial past. It's anchored by the Domino's sugar refinery, the last major manufacturer still operating in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. "When the wind blows just right, it smells like toasted marshmallows here," says resident Laura Rodini. The neighborhood suffered a big blow when many nearby manufacturers closed down in the middle of the 20th century, but it began a long, slow turnaround in the late 1960s and the 1970s, when the mayor's office sold crumbling 19th-century rowhouses for $1 on the promise that owners would fix them up.
Though some of the brick facades have been restored, many of the houses are still clad with formstone, a type of stucco that was popular here in the 1950s and is colored and shaped to resemble masonry; some consider it an affront to the area's original architecture, but there's no question that it gives Locust Point's houses a distinctive look and a low-key charm of their own. Fort Avenue, the neighborhood's main drag, has a mix of local bars and crab houses, terminating at historic Fort McHenry, the inspiration for Francis Scott Key's "The Star-Spangled Banner." Up Key Highway, you'll find the American Visionary Art Museum, which is devoted to the work of self-taught and outsider artists—just the kind of place that would make Baltimore native and avant-garde filmmaker John Waters proud.
Population: About 8,000 in Belhaven; 173,514 in the city of Jackson
House styles: A wide variety from the 19th and early 20th centuries, including Queen Anne, Italianate, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Craftsman, and others
Expect to pay: Houses that need work run about $150,000; a renovated beauty can cost up to $500,000
The origins of Belhaven, one of Jackson's oldest neighborhoods, lie in the founding of Belhaven College (now Belhaven University) in 1883. The campus was originally nestled in the countryside, but residences grew up around it when a trolley system connecting the area to other parts of Jackson was added in the early 20th century. The university is still the heart of this neighborhood, so it's no surprise that students, as well as academics and other professionals and their families, call it home. The walkable, tree-lined streets, chock-full of houses and buildings in many different styles that date from the late 1800s, are a testament to the area's steady popularity over the decades; local historic standards will keep it what locals call "a happy hodgepodge" for years to come. Serious old-house buffs can take a self-guided architectural tour, while literary enthusiasts can check out author Eudora Welty's Tudor Revival home and garden on Pinehurst Street. Or, if nightlife is your thing, take a two-mile car ride to downtown Jackson and enjoy some live music at one of its renowned blues clubs. That's what you get in Belhaven: all the charms of a small Southern town within a vibrant city.
Population: 3,668 in Pendleton Heights; 463,202 in the city of Kansas City
House styles: Queen Anne, Richardsonian Romanesque, Shingle style, and Folk Victorian; there's also a sprinkling of Italianate, Craftsman, and other styles.
Expect to pay: As little as $30,000 for a small fixer-upper; larger, move-in ready houses can cost $250,000 or more
Ask just about anyone in Pendleton Heights, and they'll tell you that they moved here for the beautiful Victorian-era architecture, affordability, or the five-minute drive to downtown but stayed for the sense of community. Residents sit on their front porches, stop one another on the street to chat, and share house keys. Maple and Kessler Parks constitute about one-third of the neighborhood's footprint—one of the largest green-space percentages in the city—and the local community garden is a popular, informal gathering spot where neighbors sow veggies side by side. But for those who aren't ready to leave the city's nightlife behind, it's a five-minute drive to the new Power & Light District, an eight-block downtown area with more than 50 restaurants, bars, shops, and entertainment venues. Originally developed as Kansas City's first suburb, the neighborhood is filling up with artists, singles, and young families leaving their converted-warehouse lofts downtown for more breathing room. Kansas City, here we come.
Population: 9,210 in Ohio City; 393,806 in the city of Cleveland
House styles: Various styles from the Victorian era, ranging from simple, vernacular workers' cottages to high-style, architect-designed Queen Anne, Second Empire, and Italianate houses
Expect to pay: $30,000 and up for homes needing work; refurbished homes start around $130,000
Lying just west of downtown Cleveland across the Cuyahoga River and accessible via light rail, Ohio City was incorporated in 1836 but was annexed to Cleveland proper in 1854. Previously a shipbuilding community and later an area where workers and managers for the area's docks, distilleries, and mills settled, today its residents are a vibrant urban mix of young professionals and artisan-entrepreneurs who take full advantage of their ability to lead a car-free life. Anchoring the neighborhood is the West Side Market, Cleveland's 100-year-old public-food market, where more than 100 vendors hawk produce, meats, seafood, and other foodstuffs, as well as fresh flowers. The Market District, the main commercial hub, is alive with the foot traffic of locals running errands, grabbing a meal, or meeting friends for beer at one of the three nearby breweries. Bike racks scattered throughout the neighborhood were designed by local artists, and the Hope Memorial Bridge that spans the river was rehabbed in 2012 to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. The local housing stock, most of which was built during the Victorian era, is as varied as the residents. The neighborhood also abuts Lake Erie and Edgewater State Park, which features a swimming beach, fishing, and one of the best views of downtown Cleveland you'll find. Looks as though this neighborhood's day as an independent, thriving community has come again.
Population: About 12,207 in St. Johns; nearly 583,000 in the city of Portland
House styles: Craftsman bungalow, Cape Cod, mid-century ranch, and various vernacular styles
Expect to pay: About $185,000 for a wreck with potential; well-restored houses cost around $300,000
St. Johns feels more like a rough-and-tumble small town than a neighborhood of shiny, happy Portland. Perhaps that's because in a former life, that's exactly what it was. First settled in 1850 and located at the tip of the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, St. Johns was an incorporated city before citizens voted to be annexed by Portland in 1915. This working-class enclave is seeing a wave of newcomers, as thirtysomething couples with or without kids flock here for affordable homes. Though many of the houses are truly handyman specials, the best finds are in Cathedral Park, a neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood that flanks a waterfront green space of the same name; its streets are lined with Craftsman bungalows and vernacular styles, punctuated by the occasional Queen Anne or Dutch Colonial. Recent transplants have been happily supporting local stalwart businesses, like Wayne's Barber Shop and Tulip Bakery, even as they open shops and eateries of their own. An active neighborhood association; an easy commute to downtown via bike, bus, or (gasp!) car; and views of the waterfront and the spectacular St. Johns Bridge make this area feel downright promising.
Population: About 6,000 in Tacony; approximately 1.54 million in the city of Philadelphia
House styles: Brick and wood-sided rowhouses, two-families, and large single-family houses in the Queen Anne and Georgian styles
Expect to pay: $40,000 and up for a rowhouse or $65,000-plus for a twin needing work. Single-family homes will set you back $125,000 to $200,000
This area has recently been touting its Hoagie Trail, a strand of sandwich shops packaged by the Historic Tacony Revitalization Project to highlight the spiffed-up main drag, Torresdale Avenue. And why not? The neighborhood was built on business. Sitting on the Delaware River seven miles northeast of Philadelphia's city center, Tacony got busy in the mid-19th century with the arrival of the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad and the 1854 Consolidation Act, which turned Tacony over to the City of Philadelphia.
Then along came Henry Disston, a manufacturer of saws. Over the next century, he and his descendants amassed 400 acres to create the Henry Disston & Sons company town, offering livelihoods and housing to employees at all levels. The company was sold in 1955, but the houses remain: some 1,400 "singles" (single family), "twins" (two-families), and rowhouses, built beginning in 1876. Many have pressed-metal accents, inlaid hardwood floors, open porches, and big yards. Though some properties in the area need work, you can still score a single-family fixer-upper for under $200,000 inside the city limits. We'll bite.
Population: 2,620 in St. Elmo; 170,136 in the city of Chattanooga
House styles: Large Folk Victorians and smaller Carpenter Gothic houses prevail, though there are also Queen Anne, Italianate, and other Victorian-era styles
Expect to pay: Houses that need work start at around $40,000; move-in ready houses top out at about $250,000
Founded during the urban exodus caused by the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, St. Elmo sits at the base of Lookout Mountain, just three and a half miles south of downtown Chattanooga. Its first residents built grand houses in various Victorian styles on large parcels of land up until about 1915; in the two decades that followed, smaller houses on smaller lots prevailed. Though its homes and buildings suffered from neglect when many residents left for the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s, the neighborhood has been on an upswing. Today, owners of all ages and walks of life are restoring historic houses to their original splendor, and small businesses have been emerging in the commercial district built around the intersection of St. Elmo and Tennessee Avenues. Residents are eagerly anticipating the extension of the Tennessee Riverwalk to the area for the first time; this popular walking and biking trail runs through the city's center, following the same path as the Tennessee River. And for serious outdoor enthusiasts, the network of trails on Lookout Mountain lets you get a healthy dose of exercise while taking in the panoramic views. Period houses here vary in size and price quite a bit—meaning it offers something for everybody.
Population: About 3,140 in Glenbrook Valley; about 2.15 million in the city of Houston
House styles: American ranch, mid-century modern
Expect to pay: Less than $100,000 for a smaller ranch needing work; up to $300,000 for a mid-century-modern sparkler
The word swanky comes to mind when you survey the daring roof lines and sweeping lawns of Glenbrook Valley, a neighborhood that would have tempted Mad Men's Don Draper had he landed a Big Oil account. This planned community, which was rolled out after Houston's Gulf Freeway began funneling downtowners to greener subdivisions, contains more than 1,200 houses built between 1953 and 1962. Noted landscape architects Hare and Hare, who lent their genius to many of the city's public spaces, designed the development, which boasted big lots on which buyers custom-built their dream homes—no two are exactly alike. "Our homes are our hangouts. They were designed for entertaining," says resident, Realtor, and de facto area historian Robert Searcy, who adds that common features include party rooms and built-in martini bars. Many old-guarders live on here happily, serving the Civic Club. But since 2011, when Glenbrook Valley was anointed as the first post-war historic district by both the City of Houston and the State of Texas, the neighborhood has been discovered by design-savvy young Houstonians with a surprising appreciation for 1950s-era powder-pink bathroom tile. You'll have to fight them to get a piece of the action here.
Population: 18,243 in Petworth; 617,996 in the District
House styles: The iconic type here is the Wardman-style rowhouse, named for architect Harry Wardman. Following World War I, his firm designed 2,000 rowhouses, with elevated porches, for government workers
Expect to pay: $300,000 and up for a house needing work; as much as $600,000 for a restored house
There's no question that our nation's capital pulled off an epic turnaround in the past two decades. Once considered highly unsafe, its historic neighborhoods are now among the priciest and most desirable in the country. But relative bargains still exist in Petworth, a middle-class enclave built in the early 20th century in the District's Northwest quadrant. "Part of the reason that homes are affordable here is that they're simple, reflecting the lifestyle of their earliest owners," says resident Adam Mazmanian.
Though the area is still emerging from decades of crime and neglect, buyers from all walks of life have begun snapping up properties and giving them much-needed improvements. Petworth is served by Metro's Green Line, and Georgia Avenue, the main road, reflects the shifting fortunes of its residents; Qualia Coffee, the neighborhood hub, is a small-batch coffee-roasting company that many say pours the best java in the District. Other recent new businesses include an organic supermarket and a trendy French bistro named Chez Billy. The time to score a fixer-upper here is now, while prices are still reasonable.
Population: 3,473 in Inglewood; 1,090,936 in the city of Calgary
House styles: Queen Anne, Shingle, and Craftsman, among others
Expect to pay: About $500,000 for a fixer-upper; houses in good shape can cost much more
Nestled between the Elbow and Bow Rivers, the area now called Inglewood (formerly known as East Calgary or Brewery Flats) was established in 1875 after the completion of Fort Calgary, nearly 20 years before Calgary itself was incorporated as a city. When the Canadian Pacific Railway reached this area, in 1883, settlers who arrived by train built houses there through the early 1910s. Those homes are still intact, with some in pristine shape and others that, frankly, have seen better days. You can check out the nicer ones during Century Homes Calgary, a citywide summertime tour featuring the area's most elegant and well-preserved houses. Though downtown Calgary is just over two miles away, Inglewood itself boasts an abundance of shops, art galleries, and dining locales, as well as Festival Hall, a popular live-music venue. And some 30,000 people participate annually in the recently revived Inglewood Sunfest, a free neighborhood event that takes place each summer and features street performers, a pie-eating contest, and a kids' zone with face painting and balloon artists. If you've got the means, this community of families and artists is a lovely spot to settle down in.
Population: 70,063 in the city of Saint John
House styles: Italianate, Queen Anne, and Second Empire are the most popular
Expect to pay: From $100,000 to $500,000, depending on size and condition
Located on the Bay of Fundy on New Brunswick's southern coast, Uptown Saint John sits in the downtown core of Canada's oldest incorporated city. Though Saint John itself was established in 1785, much of this neighborhood was rebuilt in the five years following the Great Fire of 1877; the large Italianate, Queen Anne, and Second Empire houses here once belonged to wealthy merchants and ship owners, who called in architects from other cities and imported building materials from as far away as Italy and Honduras. Today, some of these houses still need work, while others have been fully rehabbed. But resident and real-estate agent Bob McVicar says that many homeowners have been improving their properties in the past five years, often with help from a grant program coordinated by the local Heritage Conservation Service. Tight-knit neighbors frequently post local news and announcements on Uptown's active Twitter and Facebook accounts—just one example of the sense of community here, says McVicar. And the several blocks of great restaurants and art galleries within walking distance make it an even more enviable place to live.
Population: About 3,600 in the New Edinburgh; 883,000 in the city of Ottawa
House styles: Georgian, Second Empire, Gothic Revival, and various Victorian-era styles
Expect to pay: Less than $500,000 for a house that needs TLC; refurbished mansions can go for more than $800,000
Founded in 1834 along the Rideau River, New Edinburgh was built as one of Canada's first planned communities, and later in the 19th century it blossomed as a lumber and mill town. Just a mile and a half from Parliament Hill, this tony residential community is home to Canada's prime minister and several handsome foreign embassies. Yet despite its A-plus location, locals must fiercely protect the area's architectural assets because Canada does not have rigorous preservation laws. "We have to fight to stop demolition and inappropriate development," says resident Joan Mason, "so we're developing experts in the community who can speak intelligently about why the properties here deserve safeguarding." With the blessing of the New Edinburgh Community Alliance, the Vietnamese government recently acquired a 19th-century mansion to use as its embassy; the property had been up for sale for two years and could have been subject to the wrecking ball if a less sympathetic buyer had snapped it up. Beechwood Avenue, the main shopping district, was crippled by fire in 2011, but residents still frequent the area's eateries, independent bookstores, and organic grocers.
Population: 7,585 in Saint-Roch; 516,622 in Quebec City
House styles: French Colonial and various Victorian-era styles
Expect to pay: A house that needs a lot of TLC could go for $350,000; one of the 200-year-old houses on St. Vallier Street could go for as much as $1 million
You could call Saint-Roch the Silicon Valley of Quebec City. Local Internet and video-game companies employ some 3,000 people in the area. But this progressive enclave within predominantly French-speaking Quebec City has plenty of history, too. Located two blocks northwest of the walled-off Old Quebec, Saint-Roch is home to the oldest merchant street in Quebec: St. Joseph, which dates back 400 years as a fur-trading post along the St. Charles River. During the past decade-plus, this formerly rundown working-class area has undergone a massive renovation to draw residents back in—and the results are hard to argue with. The Jardin de Saint-Roch, a public park with Japanese fountains and French botanical design, now anchors the neighborhood, and St. Joseph is again a bustling main artery lined with dozens of restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and bakeries that rival any you'd find in Paris. "It's like traveling to France but staying in the same time zone," says resident Stephane Sabourin. Though bargain-hunting buyers may be put off by the house prices, Saint-Roch's housing market has remained strong, so an investment here is likely to maintain its value down the road.