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Norfolk History


wrldcoupe4

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194911HISTORICAL00042.jpg195801HISTORICAL00099.jpg

Norfolk 1949 and Norfolk 1958

It is so crazy to see what Norfolk looked like even in the late 50's, so much of its history was erased in such a short period of time. The urban fabric the city had was quite amazing for a smaller city on the east coast. Just imagine what the city would look like today if the current towers in downtown were integrated into the urban fabric that once existed in the city.

Edited by urbanlife
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Looking at those old photos, Norfolk could have taken what is the Neon District today and Young Terrace and redeveloped that whole area as the new skyscraper city center district rather than tearing down everything along Main for new towers. This would have created a new downtown while preserving the old downtown and having Granby be the connection between the two districts. Unfortunately the short sighted views, white flight, and post WW2 federal money that only went to redevelopment rather than renovation of existing areas, combined with Norfolk being one of the first cities to get this federal money to tear down its downtown for future developments and new public housing essentially ruined the city that one existed there.

Had Norfolk preserved its downtown and built its highrise district in the Neon District area, I would probably be living in Norfolk today rather than moving across the country.

If you measure downtown Norfolk from the Waterfront to the Elmwood Cemetery, and from Fort Norfolk to Tidewater Dr, you have the same amount of land that is similar to downtown Boston. Had Norfolk preserved much of their historic downtown while building a new highrise district to the north of it, combine that with infill projects going in all around in the downtown and we would have had the Boston of the Mid-Atlantic.

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The city did have some of the worse slums in the whole country.  There was a movement in the 50s and 60s to provide clean sanitary housing in the middle of the decaying city core.  What we got just exacerbated the racial and economic disparity that still exist today.  I think there intentions were good but misguided.  Hindsight is 20/20.  

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I believe one condition for receiving grant money for redevelopment was that it had to be public housing, hence Tidewater and Young Park. But if I could play Sim City and go back 70 years, I’m developing the Church St. corridor, what’s now Young Park and NEON, and building downtown proper around that. You still have businesses on Granby, but I’d keep a few warehouses along Waterside Dr. 

If you look at skylines of waterfront cities, it’s a few blocks of mid rise apartments and offices on the water, with the towers behind all that. I really don’t think Norfolk utilizes its space properly there. 

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I'm sure the worst of the slums were bad and needed replacement, but that lets city leaders off way too easy. I think they intentionally exacerbated racial and economic disparities in the city.  Atlantic City wasn't put to the bulldozer until the neighborhood started to become racially mixed. It wasn't a slum. It was a working class, affordable , urban neighborhood.  Same for the multiple buildings downtown, some of them iconic and important parts of the city's fabric and history. Same for Lambert's Point. Same for East Ghent. I could go on. "Renewal" (demolition) was used as a tool to keep Norfolk segregated.  A desegregated Norfolk would not be able to live up to the separate but equal doctrine towed by the gov't at the time. NAACP argued that if a black kid lives closer to a white school, but has to travel farther across the city to get to a black school, that is not separate but equal. So, if you have racially mixed neighborhoods, as was beginning to happen after World War II in Norfolk with population boom and influx of black residents with relative money, that messes up the whole balance of segregation, a cardinal tenet of Virginia politics. Duckworth, the mayor at the time, basically reshaped the city, physically, in order to satisfy separate but equal, effectively wiping away the racially mixed neighborhoods. All this of course was a fool's errand, because NAACP's argument won and sep but equal would be overturned a few years later. 

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Here is a movie reel about Norfolk's redevelopment efforts in the early sixties.  I think it shows that NRHA designated neighborhoods slums when in reality there were nice well kept homes amongst the dilapidated homes.  Really gives you an idea about what the mindset was in the 60s.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nde92jgpKnw

Edited by EJ_LEWIS
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  • 4 months later...
  • 2 weeks later...

  • 2 months later...
15 hours ago, EJ_LEWIS said:

Here is a photo of Otter Berth in Downtown Norfolk 1980.  Now the area is where the Wisconsin is docked and all of the industrial buildings and parking are now expensive waterfront condos.  

The Otter Berth is where the Sprit of Norfolk is docked, between Waterside and Town Point Park.  This used to be called the Banana Pier.  (I don't know why.)  Nonetheless, it is a very interesting picture.  Thanks for sharing.

 

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IIRC, that marina was called Banana Pier.  I remember going to a few Harborfests in the late 80s where we knew folks who had docked boats there.  I was very little, so these were some of my first memories of downtown Norfolk.  Harborfest seemed like a much bigger party back then.  

Edited by lammius
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I get the Otter Berth and the Banana Pier mixed up.  Otter Berth I think was where Waterside and the Spirit of Norfolk is now.  I remember those early Harborfests when the announcer would announce on the loud speaker that there was some event at the Otter Berth.  Most of the time we were at the Banana Pier near the Bousch Cold Storage Building so I think that is why I get them mixed up. 

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  • 1 month later...
On 2/1/2021 at 9:23 AM, BFG said:

Give me a time machine, the ability to redesign downtown, and let’s go back to about 1950. Preserve as much as possible and go from there. 

If I could have redone that history, I would have preserved the downtown through renovations and select demolition. Then I would have made the Neon District and Young Terrace be the "new downtown" where the office buildings that were built from this renewal could have been built. This would have made the Hague a focal point for the downtown skyline, it would have made Brambleton a tower centric road, and it would have doubled the size of downtown by creating an old and new portion that could have then preserved the historic waterfront and urban core of the old part of the city.

To put this in perspective, this would be like taking the section of downtown from Boush to St Paul, and Waterside to City Hall and filling up Neon and Young, that would be about 2.5x the current size of the office building core of downtown.

I would have also prevented the widening of Church St because that was unnecessary and racist.   

Edited by urbanlife
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