Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Franklin Street: "Richmond's Fifth Avenue"

     Though it may be somewhat overshadowed by historic Monument Avenue, Richmond's Franklin Street has an equally long and impressive history.   Maury Place at Monument is located at the intersection of West Franklin Street and Monument Avenue, 3101 West Franklin Street.
     The development of Franklin Street followed the growth of Richmond from the city's beginnings to the decades after the Civil War, when it played a key role in shaping Richmond's image as a modern capital of the New South.  Originally referred to as "F Street,"  the section of Franklin that runs through Shockoe Bottom dates to 1737, when it appeared as part of Richmond's original street grid.  By the 1790's, it had expanded several blocks west to the new State Capitol.  The first substantial house built on F Street west of the Capitol was built in the 1790's and was a two-story brick Georgian house near the present downtown YMCA building.  After the Civil War, property owners began subdividing their lots, and with the rise of smaller lots on Franklin Street (as it was named in 1844), the character of the street changed from suburban to urban and was dominated by construction of narrow townhouses.  The architectural styles of these buildings ran the gamut from Italianate to Romanesque styles.
     By the mid-1800's, Franklin Street had attracted some of the wealthiest and most powerful families of Richmond.  With the development of Monroe Park at the corner of Franklin and North Belvidere streets in 1869, Franklin became Richmond's most fashionable thoroughfare and was the forerunner of Monument Avenue as Richmond's grand avenue.  Promotional materials referred to Franklin Street as "Richmond's Fifth Avenue," and the street was so central to the city's identity that in 1890, planners routed the path of the new Robert E. Lee statue (now on Monument Avenue) so it could be hauled up Franklin Street as part of a celebratory parade.
    The character of the street went through further changes in the 20th century as Virginia Commonwealth University began to convert many of the houses west of Belvidere into academic buildings and department offices.  A few single family homes survive in a few blocks west of VCU that rival the elegant homes of Monument Avenue.  Certainly Maury Place, which was built further west of today's core downtown and VCU area in 1916, falls into that category.  Franklin Street has changed over the years as the city's needs have evolved, but signs of its role in the city's history survive in its architecture, of which Maury Place is a spectacular example.  Franklin Street, along with Monument Avenue, is one of the few streets in Richmond that largely retains its historic residential character.

Mac Pence and Jeff Wells
your Richmond Virginia Bed and Breakfast Innkeepers at Maury Place at Monument