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Berkley North Historic District

Norfolk City, Independent Cities, VA


Berkley North Historic District

Northwest Corner of South Main Street and Indian River Road, Norfolk. From the Berkley North Historic District nomination document, 1999. Photographed Kimble A. David own work, 1999, accessed July, 2022.


Description

The Berkley North Historic District [†] honors one of southeast Virginia's oldest and most diverse communities, now part of the City of Norfolk. It covers approximately one-quarter of a larger mixed residential and industrial neighborhood located where the Eastern and Southern Branches of the Elizabeth River converge. The district is especially notable for its variety of turn-of-the-twentieth-century commercial and residential architecture, some of it designed by the area's most important firms. Four distinct, gridded plats contribute to the proposed district, and their overlay is characteristic of the urban subdivision of once-rural properties during this period.

The Berkley North Historic District is approximately one mile square and lies south of downtown Norfolk, east of the City of Portsmouth, north of the City of Chesapeake and west of the Campostella neighborhood of Norfolk. The proposed historic district is bounded by Berkley Avenue on the south, I-464 on the west, the area beyond the building lots on the north side of Bellamy Avenue, and the Colonna Shipyard and Pescara Creek on the east.

The Berkley North Historic District can be divided into four sections. The oldest section, an irregular plot lying west of South Main Street, north of Berkley Avenue, east of 1-464, and south of Patrick Street is the last remnant of the original town platted by Lycurgus Berkley in 1866. The next two sections were developed before 1889 on tracts owned by the Tunis and Nash families. The Tunis tract lies west of South Main Street, south of West Indian River Road, east of State Street and north of Patrick Street, while the Nash tract extends east of South Main Street, north of Berkley Avenue, west of Frederick Street, and south of Poplar Avenue.' The fourth section, which is also the newest and largest, is known as "Hardyfields," because it was developed through the subdivision of the Hardy Estate after 1889. Hardyfields is bounded by South Main Street on the west, Poplar Avenue on the south, Colonna Shipyard and Pescara Creek on the east, and a riverfront industrial area on the north. Although the district covers only a part of greater Berkley, it is an intact whole and provides a view into the area's history and urban development.

Berkley North's residential streets generally are narrow with free-standing houses on rectangular lots that vary from 25' to 50' wide by 100' deep. The houses are set back uniformly from the sidewalks, creating a pleasant, suburban atmosphere. More substantial houses occupy the comer lots. Frame construction predominates, and, despite cosmetic alterations to the exteriors, the basic form of most houses remains intact. Architectural styles range from nineteenth-century Italianate and Queen Anne to twentieth-century Colonial Revival and Craftsman. There is some modem residential infill that mars otherwise coherent streetscapes. Commercial and religious buildings are found chiefly on South Main Street and Berkley Avenue.

The oldest buildings in the historic district are located west of South Main Street and north of Berkley Avenue in the original Berkley and Tunis tracts. Since so few pre-1900 buildings remain, it is essential that this area be included in the district even though its urban character has been substantially altered. There are a variety of Queen-Aime and Colonial-Revival houses in varying condition and separated by vacant lots. A house once owned by Lycurgus Berkley (517 South Main Street; c. 1873) stands abandoned on the southwest comer of South Main and Patrick Streets. Its Queen-Anne exterior is unusually ornate with decorative vergeboards along the eave-lines of the steeply-pitched, pressed-metal roof An Italianate house at 429 South Main Street (c.l880) is constructed of brick with a bracketed, wooden comice that projects above the roofline. A nearly identical house stands on the west side of Clifton Street (423 Clifton Street; c. 1900), an indication that this dwelling type was once prevalent in the central part of Berkley. The Norfleet House (333 South Main Street; 1900; VDHR #122-0097) at the northwest comer of West Indian River Road and South Main Street is the most elaborate residence remaining in the neighborhood. This transitional Queen-Anne/Colonial-Revival dwelling is distinguished by its asymmetrical massing, complex roofline, comer tower, and wrap-around porch supported by Ionic columns.

The Nash tract, the smallest of the sections, contains modest, individual frame residences in the Colonial-Revival and Queen Aime styles. A notable exception is the imposing row of Second- Empire houses found at 516-520 Dinwiddie Street (c. 1905; VDHR #122-0147). Constructed of brick with slate, mansard roofs, they create a sophisticated urban streetscape not seen elsewhere in the district. The area also includes two of Berkley North's most impressive churches, the St. James Episcopal Church and adjacent chapel and Antioch Baptist church. There are also remaining longstanding fixtures of what was once Berkley North's thriving commercial corridor along E. Berkley Avenue.

Hardyfields retains the greatest historic integrity and architectural diversity of the four sections. Styles and types mn the gamut from the most elaborate two-and-a-half-story Queen-Anne residences to the simplest one-story Craftsman Bungalows. Virtually all have front porches with some wrapping around one or both sides of the house. Property deeds indicate that most houses were built individually although this was not always the case. For example, on the south side of Hardy Avenue between South Main and Stafford Streets, there are three, nearly identical Queen- Anne dwellings (115, 117, and 121 Hardy Avenue; 1905) with projecting polygonal bays, irregular rooflines, and corbeled chimney caps. Slight variations in the front porches reveal the changes made by successive owners over time. The largest houses in Hardyfields occupy comer lots and are designed to be seen at maximum advantage from two sides. The Queen-Anne residence at the comer of Poplar Avenue and Stafford Street (134 Poplar Avenue; 1912) is particularly noteworthy for its comer turret with bell-shaped, pressed-metal roof The Maples Apartments, 104 South Main Street, at the northeast comer of South Main Street and East Indian River Road is an anomalous, multiple-family dwelling constructed of brick in a simplified Craftsman mode.

Although Berkley North is mostly residential, a variety of religious and commercial buildings can also be found. The neighborhood's signature building ensemble is the Victorian-Gothic Berkley Avenue Baptist Church (234 West Berkley Avenue; VDHR #122-0096) and the Neoclassical Merchants' and Planters' Bank (228 West Berkley Avenue; VDHR #122-0095), located adjacent to one another on the north side of Berkley Avenue just east of 1-464. The Berkley Avenue Baptist Church, with its distinctive open belfry, was designed in 1885-1888 by L. B. Volk of New York and served its original congregation until 1959. The headquarters of the Merchants' and Planters' Bank, designed by the Norfolk firm of Lee and Diehl, was erected in 1909. It has a three-bay facade of limestone, articulated by two-story Ionic engaged columns. The Seaboard Bank Building at the northeast comer of Berkley Avenue and South Main Street was designed in a more modest Renaissance-Revival style (530 South Main Street; 1921; VDHR #). Further east along the north side of Berkley Avenue stands the former Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church (525 Dinwiddie Street). This Gothic-revival building is distinguished by its granite construction and crusciform plan. It was designed in 1899-1900 by noted architect James E. R. Carpenter with the assistance of Charles J. Calrow. One of the district's most unusual components is a small park enclosed by brick walls at the northern end of South Main Street near the northeast comer of Bellamy Street. Officially known as the Mary Hardy MacArthur Memorial (226 South Main Street; 1952; VDHR #122-0098), the Colonial-revival design by Norfolk architect Finlay F. Ferguson, Jr. marks the former location of "Riveredge," the Hardy family estate and the birthplace of Mary Pinckney Hardy, who was the mother of General Douglas MacArthur.

Significance

The Berkley North Historic District covers approximately one-quarter of a larger residential and industrial neighborhood in Norfolk where the Eastern and Southern Branches of the Elizabeth River diverge. Settled in the early eighteenth century and known variously as "Powder Point," "Ferry Point," and "Washington Point," the neighborhood was incorporated as the Town of Berkley in 1890 and annexed by the City of Norfolk in 1906. Shipping and shipping-related industries have dominated the neighborhood's waterfront and economy since the colonial period. Although Berkley thrived from 1880-1920, the Depression of the 1930s sapped much of the neighborhood's economic vitality. Moreover, in the decades following World War II, urban renewal and transportation projects drastically altered its physical character.

The proposed District conforms to the typical urban residential and commercial development patterns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in southeastern Virginia, and is accompanied by a rich mix of architectural styles. The period of significance from 1873 to 1945 reflects the oldest extant building (417 South Main Street) to the earliest years of its decline.

Prior to being annexed by the City of Norfolk in 1906, Berkley was an independent settlement at the fork of the Eastern and Southern Branches of the Elizabeth River. The site was inhabited by the mid-seventeenth century, and the village that arose there after 1700 was known variously as "Powder Point," "Ferry Point," "Herbertsville," "Washington Point," "Washington Town," and "Washington." Shipping and shipbuilding were its dominant industries. The village was transformed into a town following the Civil War and named after Lycurgus Berkley, an enterprising local landowner. The town's economic base quickly expanded to include manufacturing and lumber production, and its resulting prosperity led to the (development of new residential neighborhoods to the south and east. This expansion continued after the 1906 annexation by the City of Norfolk. A spectacular fire in 1922 destroyed several blocks of central Berkley, a serious economic blow from which the neighborhood never really recovered, and the neighborhood's decline continued during the Depression of the 1930s. Racial unrest and "white flight" in the 1950s destabilized the neighborhood further. Beginning in the 1960s, the neighborhood has undergone several redevelopment initiatives. The northern section of the neighborhood, where the historic district is located, is the oldest and most distinguished architecturally.

The history of Berkley dates to 1644 and 1666 when the British crown awarded land grants to the Herbert family of Lower Norfolk County across the Elizabeth River from the Borough of Norfolk. By the early eighteenth century, the family had established a shipyard on their land. which later produced Revolutionary-War vessels.' Also in the early eighteenth century, the Borough of Norfolk located its municipal powder magazine near the site, because it was at a safe remove from the general population; accordingly, in 1728 Colonel William Byrd of Westover, who was visiting Norfolk, mentioned "Powder Point" in his journal. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, the site was known as "Ferry Point," because there was ferry service between the burgeoning village and Norfolk. In the late eighteenth century, the settlement was variously referred to as "Washington," "Washington Town" or "Washington Point" in honor of General George Washington.'* Due to the site's strategic riverfront location, a military post was established there during the Revolution, and in 1787, the predecessor to the U. S. Naval Hospital in Portsmouth was established there as well. Moreover, from 1790 to 1801, the Norfolk County Courthouse was relocated from Norfolk to the village before moving to Portsmouth. All three government installations have been demolished. The village continued to grow in size and importance after 1800. The first of several wooden drawbridges was constructed over the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River in 1803, connecting Washington Point to Norfolk's East Main Street. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Washington Point was characterized in William S. Forrest's History of Norfolk (1853) as a "neat and pleasant little village.

Although Washington Point was well-established by the middle of the nineteenth century, its most important era of development and expansion began with the arrival of Lycurgus Berkley. Berkley (1827-1881) moved to Norfolk in 1847 from Fairfax County, Virginia. Owner of a dry goods firm, he married Eliza Middleton, whose family owned land around Washington Point. Foreseeing the potential for growth in the area, Berkley subdivided the Middleton farmland to the south of Washington Point. In 1866, he established the eponymous town, which would eventually absorb the older village. An 1884 letter to a local newspaper described Berkley as "a village of more than 2,000 inhabitants...[that] presents the strange phenomenon of naming itself without the slightest form of municipal government. The Atlas of the City of Norfolk (1889) shows the areas to the south and southeast of Berkley already subdivided, including the land holdings of the Tunis and Nash families. The Hardy Estate, occupying the area east of South Main Street and north of Berkley Avenue was still rural. The estate included "Riveredge," an eighteenth-century mansion built by the Herbert family and expanded and remodeled by the Hardy family in the nineteenth century in the Greek-Revival style. The ancestral home of U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur, Riveredge was demolished in the 1940s, but the site is marked by the Mary Hardy MacArthur Memorial, a garden dedicated to the general's mother who was bom on the estate. The garden is walled with brick salvaged from the house. According to Forrest, the small settlement near Riveredge was once called "Herbertsville" in honor of the Hardys' predecessors.

In 1890, the entire developed area was incorporated under the name Berkley by an act of the Virginia Assembly, and the town was divided politically into three wards. The proposed district covers part of what was once the second ward. Bond issues were floated to improve the area's streets and establish a cemetery, but improvements were made slowly. By 1900, Berkley had expanded east of its earlier boundaries, and new streets were platted on what had been the rural Hardy Estate. Known as "Hardyfields," this section of Berkley was laid out on a grid that ran diagonally north and east of the original town. The development was primarily residential and suburban in character, and it soon attracted a white middle-class population, including many Jews, in contrast to the white and black working-class populations clustered in older neighborhoods near the western waterfront.

Berkley's economic heyday lasted from the 1880s to just after World War I. Both large and small industries prospered there, providing gainful employment for area residents. Financial institutions such as the Merchants' and Planters' Bank spurred additional growth in the area. Streetcar lines fanned outward from the waterfront along Chestnut Street, Berkley Avenue and South Main Street to outlying residential areas. Large churches of virtually every Christian denomination sprouted on prominent street corners, some on land donated by Lycurgus Berkley himself. Despite this apparent prosperity, tax revenue in Berkley was insufficient to sustain its independence. The City of Norfolk, anxious to expand its geographical boundaries and increase its population, annexed Berkley as its eighth ward in 1906 without significant local opposition.'* The physical connection to Norfolk was reinforced in 1918 with the opening of the $500,000 toll drawbridge that connected Berkley's South Main Street with Norfolk's East Main Street. Thereafter, South Main Street assumed an increasingly commercial character.

During the early 1920s, Berkley began to decline for a variety of reasons. Shipbuilding continued to be its strongest industry, but some smaller businesses suffered a series of unrelated but irreversible setbacks. The Garrett Winery, a prominent local concern, closed following the adoption of Prohibition in 1919, and production at local lumber mills slowed as local forests were diminished. In 1922, a disastrous fire erupted at the Tunis Lumber Wharf that spread across five hundred yards of undeveloped land to an African-American residential enclave* The fire destroyed 200 houses, leaving 500 families homeless. Economically, the neighborhood did not fully rebound during the latter part of the decade, and the situation worsened during the Depression of the 1930s. Well-to-do residents moved out of the neighborhood, and many of their houses were converted to apartments and rooming houses. Moreover, the racial demographics of the neighborhood shifted from largely white to largely black in the years surrounding World War II as African-American families from rural areas settled in Berkley.

Perhaps the most significant development to alter the physical character of the neighborhood was the opening of the Norfolk-Berkley-Portsmouth Bridge-Tunnel in 1952. This multi-million dollar project led to the demolition of the Main Street drawbridge and the abandonment of ferry services across the river; thus, it had the ironic effect of isolating Berkley residents from downtown Norfolk, especially those who did not own automobiles. In the early 1970s, the southern section of Berkley became the focus of an ambitious urban-renewal project called Bell- Diamond Manor that provided affordable housing in a modem suburban setting. A great many older houses were razed in the process, however. The most grievous loss occurred in the 1980s with the construction of I-464 southward from the Norfolk-Berkley-Portsmouth Bridge-Tunnel, now known separately as the Berkley Bridge and Downtown Tunnel. The interstate highway buried what remained of Washington Point, and the concurrent widening of Berkley Avenue further isolated the more impoverished northern section of the neighborhood from the more prosperous southern section. The proposed historic district is intended to preserve what remains of the older urban fabric of Berkley, one of Norfolk's most distinctive and significant neighborhoods.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Bellamy Avenue • Berkley Avenue East • Berkley Avenue West • Clifton Street • Dinwiddie Street • Fauquier Street • Frederick Street • Hardy Avenue • Indian River Road East • Indian River Road West • Main Street South • Patrick Street • Pendleton Street • Poplar Avenue • Stafford Street • State Street • Whitehead Street