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RICHMOND
Broad Street Commercial Historic District

Broad Street Historic District

Broad Street
City of Richmond Department of Community Development

 

Broad Street, Richmond’s historic commercial artery, cuts through the city’s downtown. The Broad Street Commercial Historic District includes a fine collection of historic buildings in an impressive variety of architectural styles from Art Deco to Romanesque Revival. The majority date from between 1880 and 1930. The area became the commercial center of the city by the mid-19th century and later the focus of the streetcar system. Only three antebellum buildings remain to illustrate the scale and character of Broad Street in the first half of the 19th century. The 1858 wood frame William Duggan House sits at 320 West Broad Street, a two-story brick house at 419, and a badly altered building at 222. The Beers Atlas of 1876 indicates that two-story wooden residential and commercial buildings were common on the street at that time.

Broad Street is 115 feet wide between its building faces to accommodate the trolley lines that once ran down the center of the divided boulevard. The width of the street, which is more than twice that of an average city street in Richmond, is one of the district’s most defining characteristics. The trolley system and the introduction of the electric streetcar in 1889 transformed the street into the focus of the city’s mass transit system and encouraged the development of shops and department stores along its length. By 1900, the area was Richmond’s most important shopping district and the most desirable location for retail trade. From the 1880s until the 1930s, the buildings erected on the street were typically large and impressive commercial buildings-- architect-designed and elaborately-treated. Most are brick, often embellished with granite and limestone trim.

Prominent buildings include the Masonic Temple (1888) at 101 West Broad Street, the Empire Theater (1910) at 118 West Broad Street, and the Richmond Dairy at 312-314 Jefferson Street. The Empire Theater, Richmond’s oldest surviving playhouse, was one of the first historic buildings to be rehabilitated in the district. While almost nothing remains of its original Beaux Arts exterior ornament, much of the interior is intact. The Richmond branch of the Woodward and Lothrop Department Store chain, known as “Woodies,” opened for business in 1893 and was for a time housed in the first floor and basement of the Masonic Temple. Jackson Gott designed the Romanesque Revival temple, which contains meeting rooms and a ballroom still used for social functions. The building has hosted many dignitaries, including Theodore Roosevelt. When Woodward and Lothrop moved from this location, the local branch of the Masons nearly went bankrupt. The temple now houses apartments, a conference center, and businesses on the ground floor. Many former commercial buildings in the district, including the Richmond Dairy, have been rehabilitated for residential, retail, or restaurant use bringing vitality and street life back to this once-thriving area of downtown Richmond.

Historic Postcard of Broad Street

Historic Postcard of Broad Street
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

The largest buildings on the street, other than the Masonic Temple and the Central National Bank, were department stores. The J.B. Mosby Dry Goods Store at 201-205 West Broad Street became the city’s first fireproof department store in 1916. Designed by New York architects Starrett and Van Vleck, who also designed Richmond’s Lord and Taylor department store, this 6-story building now houses more than 50 loft apartments.

The 1929 Central National Bank building at 219 East Broad Street is Richmond’s only Art Deco skyscraper. Architect John Eberson designed this 22 story, 282 feet tall high-rise office building, which at the time of its construction was the tallest building in the city. The playful neon sign that once crowned it changed colors according to the weather forecast for the next day. Elsewhere, business signs remain a distinguishing characteristic of the Broad Street commercial area, with vintage signs such as one for Coca-Cola still adorning the façades of historic buildings. A new owner has purchased the Central National Bank building and the prominent Interbake Foods Company building, further west on the north side of Broad Street. The owner's plan is to convert them to some combination of offices and condominiums.

Plan your visit
Broad Street Commercial Historic District is located in the area of Broad Street from Belvidere to 4th St. Some of the buildings in the district are open to the public. 504-510 West Broad Street has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.
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