The Diversity of Broad Street

Many defining changes took place in Richmond in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  With emancipation came a transformation of the south, especially within the city of Richmond, as it had once been the capitol of the Confederacy.  After the war, the population shifted, with many people moving both within their native cities, and throughout the couth in general.  With the passing of the Civil War, Richmond acquired the ability to reinvent itself, creating new businesses that appeared to be sprouting up on numerous streets.  Businesses prospered by adapting which frequently meant changing locations.  Commerce was key at this time and businesses moved to follow the consumer.  As the city of Richmond evolved, its ethnic and racial structure changed.  Additionally, the actual infrastructure and organization of the city was altered and success meant embracing these changes.  The make up of each city block was affected by these changes.  Broad Street is an area of commerce with relatively little housing, and was this way, it would seem, from its beginning.  During the Civil War, businesses, although affected by the inevitable hardships, still ran.  After the Civil War, the businesses could start anew and move to a place where they could increase business.  As the times and tastes of the civilians of Richmond matured, the businesses and physical construction changed on Broad Street.  Depending on the business and the land available, the infrastructure would change over time.  Many workers in Richmond were ethnic and even foreign and, as a result, they often ran small businesses open on Broad Street between 9th and 12th streets.  The infrastructure that existed changed as the businesses adapted which culminated in changes to the owners themselves.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Broad Street housed many shops, hotels, and churches between 9th and 12th streets.  Both the First Baptist Church and the Broad Street Methodist Church resided on Broad Street.  Churches played a large part in the everyday lives of many Richmonders.  Because the churches played such an integral part of life in Richmond, they endured on Broad Street and seem to have set up an almost permanent residence there.  From 1886 to about 1952 although many buildings were changing ownership and being converted to accommodate varying commercial needs, the churches with seemingly only one minor structural difference: the First Baptist Church added an annex in 1924.

Broad Street also accommodated many hotels.  The hotel business relied heavily on changeable variables, such as the popularity of the location.  Because of this, the success of a hotel depended, on large part, to its adaptability.  The result of changes in a location’s popularity forces some hotels to move and others to close altogether.  Because Broad Street was known as being a center for commerce, many hotels took this cue and put up residences there so that visitors could stay in the middle of the action of the commercial part of the city.  Over time the name and size of these hotels changed, until by 1911 they had all disappeared from the section entirely.  One hotel located between 11th and 12th streets was called the Ford’s Hotel that seems to have taken up the entire block.  Another hotel between 9th and 10th was called the Valentine Hotel and took up about half the block.  These hotels appear to both have changed owners or management some time between 1886 and 1911, with Ford’s Hotel changing to the Powhatan in 1905 and the Valentine changing to the Park Hotel in 1911.  The hotel business was far more transient than the churches in Richmond.

Storeowners built many shops on Broad Street.  Broad Street was also home to City Hall, and corporate offices, including a like insurance company, thus making it a true city hub.  The street’s diversity did not end there, as it also housed a theatre, the fire department headquarters and a stable.  As time went on, many of the businesses housed on Broad Street changed, as did the physical structure of the buildings themselves, as some businesses expanded or left.  With the advent of the car and the ability to commute people began to move out of the cities.  As a result, lots opened up and service stations and parking began to dominate Broad Street.  Several parking lots opened as well as filling stations and stores for repair, parts, greasing, service, and sales, thus changing the landscape of the street.

Richmond has more ethnic and racial diversity than one might think.  This was especially true during the turn of the 20th century, but Broad Street, and specifically between 9th and 12th, was a center for commerce, so the racial make up was determined the ethnicity of the local merchants rather than by housing.  Foreigners and free blacks who stayed in the area ran shops and small businesses located on Broad Street.  Many of the names of the owners of the stores appear to be ethnic, such as Roupas, Ciucci, Delpapa, and Arakel Mugridrichian.  They ran stores such as a bootblack shop, a tailor’s, a cleaning and pressing shop, and a barbershop.  Segregation was in full fledge and the feelings between races were bitter.  White people wanted to separate themselves from their perceived inferiors and created a firm role for blacks and people of other races by confining them to certain jobs.  The advent of the car allowed white people to move out of the city, but the lower classes (made up primarily by minorities) could not afford this luxury.  This restriction, among others, forced them to work jobs that were both menial and blue-collar.  As business changed on Broad Street, so did the owners of each physical building.  Because the shops there were mostly beneath the ambitions of white people, this area of Broad Street was relatively ethnic and stayed that way for many years.

Richmond experienced two different kinds of diversity, one racial the other structural.  The nature of the city and the times allowed for racial diversity.  The structural diversity, especially found on Broad Street, was a result of the constant adaptation of the city and its need to acclimate to the changing times.  White people restricted ethnic people to certain jobs that they felt were beneath them.  Many of these racially diverse people set up shop on Broad Street because it was not only a commercial center but a social one as well.  The influx of workers, coupled with the need for them to work at the luxury hotels meant that there were outlets for an ever-changing population, which in turn affected the street itself.  It went through much metamorphosis as it established itself as the center of an evolving community.  Broad Street was home to shops, religious institutions, theatres, hotels, and places of business.  The Street successfully adapted to the changing needs of society, thus ensuring itself a place in history as the heart of Richmond.

Hill’s Richmond City Directory (Chesterfield and Henrico Counties, VA).  John Maddox: Richmond VA, 1911. Print.

Digital Sanborn Maps, 1867-1970, Virginia.  Bell & Howell Information and Learning, 2001.  Digital Resource.

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