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RICHMOND
West Franklin Street Historic District

West Franklin

West Franklin Street
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

West Franklin Street Historic District is an outstanding collection of monumental buildings and grand residences from the late-19th and early-20th centuries.  The district provides a dramatic and contiguous streetscape between the Monroe Park Historic District to the east and Monument Avenue Historic District to the west.  The city extended Franklin Street into this area from the downtown core in the 19th century.  The variance of this axis from the neighborhood to the south creates the diverging street pattern from which the Fan neighborhood derives its name.

After the annexation of the area west of Belvidere Street into the city in 1867, the West End became one of the most fashionable residential enclaves in Richmond.  The founding of the Richmond Professional Institute, now Virginia Commonwealth University or VCU, in 1917 resulted in the adaptive reuse of many of the older residential buildings along Franklin Street.  Today VCU owns and uses the majority of the historic buildings in the 800 and 900 blocks of West Franklin for classrooms and offices. 

Prominent Richmonders made the district Richmond’s preferred residential address in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.  The architecture on the street closely followed national architectural trends.  VCU Founder’s Hall at 827 West Franklin Street with its mansard roof is an important example of the Second Empire style.  Construction of the Lewis Ginter mansion c.1890 inaugurated the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture in the city.  Harvey Reed of Washington, D.C. designed this impressive mansion at 901 West Franklin Street.    The building, with its deep red brick and brownstone, is one of the finest residences of the period.  Lewis Ginter merged his firm of Allen and Ginter with James B. Duke in 1890 to create the American Tobacco Company, the biggest American manufacturer of cigarettes until 1911.  Gintner’s home became the social center of Richmond.

historic West Franklin

Historic postcard of West Franklin Street
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

Many row houses along West Franklin Street followed the lead of the Ginter Mansion.  The facades of these dwellings are ornamented with local granite or various combinations of brownstone brick and terra cotta.   Queen Anne style buildings at 800 and 826 West Franklin Street feature prominent porches and corner towers. 

The architecture of the street shifted to more classical styles architects influenced by the Beaux Arts movement designed in the 1890s.  In 1895, the Virginia Commonwealth University President’s House became the first Georgian Revival style home in Richmond.  The distinguished Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis, Maryland provided the model for this ornate brick home at 910 West Franklin Street.  The Richmond firm Noland and Baskervill designed the 1909 Scott-Bocock House at 909 West Franklin and the c. 1919 Hunton House at 810 West Franklin, both important examples of the Renaissance Revival style.   The Scott Bocock House features a stone façade and Corinthian portico and the Hunton House a more vertical façade with a one story Corinthian portico and bay windows.   

The West Franklin Street District was also the scene of pioneering Richmond efforts in the development of steel frame high-rise apartment buildings in the opening decades of the 20th century.  The Renaissance Revival Chesterfield of 1903 at 900 West Franklin Street is a seven-story corner building with oriel windows and a prominent cornice.  Carneal and Johnston designed the similar Gresham Court Apartments at 1030 West Franklin Street in 1910.

West Franklin 2

West Franklin Street house
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

The attractive setting of the district prompted construction of the fine Noland and Baskervill designed Beth Ahaba Synagogue at 1125 West Franklin Street.  The synagogue, which dates from 1904, is an outstanding example of the Renaissance Revival style influenced by Jeffersonian Classicism.  Its prominent Doric portico and a dome topped by a lantern are shown off to good advantage by its dramatic site and the terminus of Ryland Street.   The Beth Ahabah Congregation Hall is a handsome early 20th century Georgian Revival building housing the Beth Ahabah Museum and Archives.

The grand mansions, town houses, apartment high rises, and religious buildings make the West Franklin Street Historic District one of the great architectural ensembles in any American city.   The quality of design and materials make it a noteworthy place to visit.

Plan your visit

West Franklin Street Historic District is located on both sides of the 800, 900, 1000, and 1100 blocks of W.Franklin St. between Laurel and Ryland Sts. in close proximity to the Belvidere exits of Interstates 95, 64, and the Downtown Expressway.  Because Franklin St. is one-way going east drivers must approach the district from Lombardy St. Many of the buildings are used by Virginia Commonwealth University.   The Beth Ahaba Museum and Archives at 1109 West Franklin Street is open to the public.  For information, visit the Beth Ahaba website or call 1-804-353-2668. The Palmer House at 211 W. Franklin St. has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.

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