Luna Park Historic District
The Luna Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The Luna Park Historic District is a locally significant collection of domestic architecture popular during the early twentieth century. The great majority of the houses in the Luna Park Historic District were constructed in the late 1925s and 1930s to fulfill the needs of the rapidly growing community.
The period of significance dates from c.1910, corresponding to the construction of the oldest homes in the district, and ends c.1945, when nearly every lot in the neighborhood was occupied. Common houses in the Luna Park Historic District include the Bungalow, Craftsman, American Foursquare and others derived from the "small house" movement in early twentieth century. As with many early twentieth century neighborhoods, the area also includes a school, churches, and several apartment buildings.
In 1794, the Virginia Assembly formally established Charleston (named so in 1818) on 40 acres of Colonel George Clendenin's land. Though settlement was slow at first, the salt industry in the area began to flourish and thus, settlement increased. By 1815 there were 52 salt furnaces along the Kanawha River. The industry reached its peak in 1846, when production led the nation. By the 1860s the industry was in decline, hastened by a devastating flood and the Civil War.
The war had a major impact on the area with many locals divided between the two forces. The Battle of Charleston in 1862 highlighted the divide. Though the Confederates claimed victory, Union troops occupied the city a short time later and remained there through the end of the war. Meanwhile, West Virginia gained statehood in 1863. Wheeling served as the capital until 1870, when it moved to Charleston. After relocating back to Wheeling, the citizens of West Virginia voted Charleston the permanent capital city as of 1885. At that point the city established itself as the nucleus of state government, and the population began to grow.
Concurrently, the area just west of the Elk River began to develop. Prior to this time, the area was primarily agricultural land. By 1872 John Brisben Walker began promoting the area as the J.B. Walker Addition. Unofficially, it was known as the "West End Extension." In 1873, a new bridge carried Virginia Street over the Elk River, bolstering prospects for the area. The once sparsely-populated agricultural area quickly became an industrial center.
The west end's fortunes were bolstered further following completion of the first railroad bridge over the Elk River in 1883. West Washington Street (originally Charleston Street) evolved as the heart of the west end business section and, in 1891, the area was incorporated as the town of Elk City. The new city included a foundry, brick yard, saw and planning mills, furniture and veneer factories. The following year, the West Side Improvement Company formed and acquired additional property, opening up additional land for manufacturing and home sites.
During the same period, Charleston was experiencing its own growth and annexed Elk City as the city's sixth ward in 1895. By this time, much of the area within the Luna Park Historic District was already platted as part of the Glenwood Addition, named for the Glenwood Estate, a nineteenth century slave plantation that once covered the area.
The west side was burgeoning with new home construction and new industries. One of the most significant catalysts of growth west of the Elk River was the opening of the Kelly Axe and Tool Company in 1905 near present-day Patrick Street Plaza. The building complex included numerous buildings and covered over fifty acres. The company employed nearly 1,000 people. With its opening, housing construction on the west side soared. The 1912 Sanborn map recorded a portion of Main and Grant Streets, along with portions of Glenwood and Park Avenues. Within the Luna Park Historic District, 13 houses and one church existed by this time.
Though the 1912 map depicted Glenwood Park, a golf course situated on rolling, marshy ground — Luna Park, a popular amusement park, was constructed that year. Its boundaries are still discernible today as modern roads. On May 4th, 1923, a fire caused by an employee spread across Luna Park leaving it a hollow shell. The park had planned to reopen, but damage proved too expensive to revive the park.
The site was cleared and a new residential subdivision was platted by the Luna Park Land Company, with new thoroughfares including Simms and Hall Streets, as well as Park Avenue and Park Drive (a portion of which is now Lovell Drive). Marketed as "Charleston's new beauty spot," an advertising piece produced by the Luna Park Land Company, operated under the presidency of J.S. Hill, proclaimed that Luna Park was "no longer an amusement resort, but a beautifully plotted subdivision of 95 ideally located home sites." A sales office was set up at the entrance to the subdivision and a contractor's yard appeared on the Sanborn map at the corner of Elm and Grant Streets. The new subdivision carried with it building controls and restrictions, including a racial restriction. Such restrictions were common practice in many areas until passage of the equal housing provisions of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Typical among the sales of building lots was that of Alice Birthisel, who purchased a lot on Columbia Boulevard (now Kanawha Boulevard, West) for $3,600.00, with $600.00 down followed by eight semiannual payments. She and other buyers were also responsible for their share of street paving assessments. Another characteristic sale was that of lot 4-A of a Luna Park re-subdivision, purchased from the Luna Park Land Company in 1937 by D. Edmund and Wade Guthrie. The buyers agreed to erect a dwelling with a value of not less than $3,500.00 which would be built no nearer than fifteen feet from the curb line. Further, the deed recorded that the buyers "would not lease or sell any of said property to a negro [sic] or any person or persons of negro blood, all of which is a covenant that shall run with the land."
Developer Grant Hall — presumably for whom Grant and Hall Streets are named—laid out the Glenwood Addition, also in 1923. It included a portion of Columbia Boulevard, later Kanawha Boulevard, as well as parts of Grant, Vine, and Sycamore Street, the latter of which would become Delaware Avenue. Some areas of earlier subdivisions were later re-platted, including a 1927 re-subdivision of portions of the 1923 Luna Park subdivision. Charleston City Directories indicate that workers and managers alike called the neighborhood home. A 1930s sampling indicates that William Hanshaw, a salesman for Snyder Oldsmobile, lived in a brick Bungalow at 619 Main Street. Leander Goff, a foreman for E.C. Klipstein & Sons, chemical manufacturers, lived in a gable-front house at 621 Grant Street. Arden Rader, a grocer, had his corner grocery at 813 Grant Street and lived above the store. A central-passage Colonial Revival style house at 700 Hall Street was the home of machinist Willitts Stiles. Axexis Garretson, a clerk at the Hotel Kanawha, lived in a Tudor Revival style house at 103 Glenwood Avenue, and letter carrier William Jones made his home in a brick American Foursquare at 109 Park Drive.
Managers included J. LaMont Guthrie, the treasurer of the family-operated Guthrie Motors, who lived in a substantial Georgian Revival house at 506 Kanawha Blvd., West. Rev. Frank C. Brown, pastor of the Bream Memorial Presbyterian Church, lived in an American Foursquare at 502 Kanawha Blvd. Frank Fletcher, listed in directories as a superintendent, lived in an American Foursquare at 511 Grant Street and Ralph Lowe, the Assistant General Manager of the Elk Refining Company, lived in a home at 304 Park Avenue.
As the neighborhood matured, its streets became lined with Bungalows, American Foursquares, and other styles popular at the time, built in a dense concentration with little side-lot setback. Glenwood School was built in 1922 and still occupies a generous lot at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Grant Street. Apartment buildings such as Delaware Place at 500-504 Hall Street and the Cassidy Apartments at 7 Vine Street added to the visual mix of the neighborhood as did several churches which would ultimately join the package. The neighborhood was essentially built-out by the early 1930s. With the exception of a few empty lots created for church parking, the neighborhood has remained essentially intact from that time to the present.
While the majority of the buildings in the Luna Park Historic District are single-family residences, there are a number of apartments and duplexes, one school, one corner commercial building, and a couple churches — all typical of an early twentieth century residential neighborhood. The vast majority of the resources were built by the early 1930s as evidenced by the 1933 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. Fourteen buildings were built c.1910 and approximately 50 resources within the district were constructed after the early 1930s; about half of those were constructed by c.1945. There are only a handful of empty lots or buildings of modern construction in the Luna Park Historic District.
The Luna Park Historic District is locally significant as a dense collection of period architecture, primarily residential, popular in the years between the two World Wars. The district reflects the "small house" movement of the post-World War I era. Prior to this time, architects were designing larger period-style houses for the wealthy. Following World War I, however, as technology changed, so did the architecture. Inexpensive techniques were perfected and period-style architecture was mass produced, repeating styles over and over in smaller-scale houses throughout neighborhoods. Styles and types reflected in the Luna Park neighborhood include Craftsman and Bungalow, Tudor Revival, American Foursquare, Colonial Revival and a variety of vernacular types popular at the time, such as the simple one- or two-story, gable-front house.
One of the most prominent house-styles in the Luna Park Historic District is the Bungalow — often characterized as a house type, rather than a style. Bungalows were popular in early twentieth century suburbs as they responded to the need for affordable housing. They are often identified by their exposed rafters, sweeping rooflines, and large porches with tapered or squared posts. Of the different types of Bungalows, the Luna Park Historic District includes a number of Dormer Front Bungalows. They feature a side gable roof with a full-recessed porch and a dominant dormer facing the street. Examples of the Bungalow include 106 Glenwood Avenue and 108 Glenwood Avenue, as well as 522, 524 and 526 Grant Street. Many of the Bungalows in the Luna Park Historic District display elements of the Craftsman style. The style emphasized simple design, natural materials, wide overhangs with large knee braces, and large stone or brick chimneys. Examples of Bungalows displaying Craftsman style characteristics include 514 and 516 Main Street. Other examples of houses displaying Craftsman elements include 623 Hall Street and 111 and 113 Vine Street.
Another common house found in the Luna Park Historic District is the American Foursquare. Like the Bungalow, the Foursquare can also be characterized as a house type. A Foursquare is two-and-one-half stories and essentially square in form. Other characteristics include a raised basement, a hipped roof and dormers, and, usually a full-length hipped-roof front porch. Examples of Foursquares in the Luna Park Historic District include 803 Grant Street, 603, 607 and 609 Hall Street, and 614, 616 and 620 Main Street. Several of the Foursquare houses display elements of the Colonial Revival style. This style, which became popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, reflects early English and Dutch houses of the eighteenth century and feature symmetrical facades, gable roofs with dormers, large double-hung windows, dentils, balustrades and elaborate porticoes. Houses in the Luna Park Historic District reflecting elements of the Colonial Revival style include 710 Main Street and 700 Hall Street. Examples of the Dutch Colonial Revival style include 99 Glenwood Avenue and 6 and 10 Park Avenue.
The Tudor Revival style is reflected in a number of houses including 105 Glenwood Avenue, 107 Glenwood Avenue, and 109 Glenwood Avenue. The style, based on sixteenth-century English architecture, was popularized in the United States in the early twentieth century by architect and builder manuals. The earliest examples of the style date to the late nineteenth century and were generally large architect-designed houses. By the 1925s, however, the style was mass-produced and became a staple in suburban neighborhoods. Main characteristics of the style include tall chimneys, steeply pitched roofs, decorative half-timbered wall surfaces, and an asymmetrical facade. Other examples include a series of houses along the 300 block of Park Avenue. These houses were designed by black architect, John C. Norman, the seventh licensed architect in the state.
The Luna Park Historic District includes one identified catalog house and there are likely others. The house at 702 Kanawha Boulevard, West has been identified as the Glen Falls, a house offered through the Sears catalog in 1926, 1928, and 1929. Catalog houses were sold in the first decades of the twentieth century as ready-to-assemble kits purchased through mail order. They were an important part of similar residential neighborhoods as they offered a less expensive alternative than other traditional building options.
In addition to single-family residences, the Luna Park Historic District includes several additional property types common in early twentieth century residential neighborhoods. The Luna Park Historic District includes a number of small apartment buildings, churches, and a corner store. Many of the houses also include original garages. After mass production of the automobile was perfected, the garage became an important part of neighborhood planning. In the Luna Park Historic District some garages are located at the end of a long drive along the side of the house while others are located off an alley to the rear of the house.
In comparison to the Luna Park Historic District, Charleston's East End Historic District, which was listed in the National Register in 1978, includes many of the same styles of architecture. The East End Historic District, however, began to develop several decades earlier. Thus, overall, it displays larger houses on larger lots and more high-style architecture.
The Luna Park Historic District is significant as a solid collection of period-style architecture from the first half of the twentieth century. Though there have been alterations to some individual houses, those changes have been minor. Overall, the Luna Park Historic District retains excellent integrity and is a superb example of a primarily post-World War I neighborhood displaying various styles of architecture popular at the time.
Callahan, James Morton. History of West Virginia. 3 vols. Chicago and New York, American Historical Society, 1923.
Chambers, S. Allen, Jr. Buildings of West Virginia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Charleston City Directories, various years.
Hardesty, H. H. Hardesty's West Virginia Counties. 1883; rpt., Richwood, West Virginia: Jim Comstock, 1973.
The History of West Virginia, Old and New. Chicago and New York: American Historical Society, Inc., 1923.
Public records, Kanawha County Court House, Charleston, West Virginia.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Charleston, West Virginia. New York: Sanborn Map Company, various years.
West Virginia Room Collections, West Virginia University Library, Morgantown.
Wilson, Dreck Spurlock, ed. African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945. New York: Routledge, 2004.
† Erin Riebe and Bethany Canfield, West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office, Luna Park Historic District, Kanawha County, WV, nomination document, 2011, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.