Marshall Street: We Mean Business

Marshall Street completely changed its identity in the mid-twentieth century.  Up to this point, the street was almost exclusively residential, but from the 1920’s and onward the street changed considerably.  Marshall Street acted as home to business development, including the construction of education and government buildings and the opening of parking decks, as the three pictures from the Valentine Richmond History Center show.  The expansion of Richmond’s business district to Marshall Street profoundly impacted the street’s architectural structures, as well as the way people used the area.

The Broad Street Commercial Historic District was first listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.  The boundaries for the Historic District extended to Marshall Street on the North, and include the portion of Broad Street from Belvidere Street to 4th Street. Unlike the rest of Broad Street, this district was initially heavily residential.  Sanborn maps and Richmond city directories in the early twentieth century reveal just a few businesses in the area.[1]

Over time, however, The Historic District’s role in Richmond changed dramatically.  Whereas the 1905 Sanborn map shows a residential neighborhood, the 1924 map displays a completely commercial space.  Houses were replaced by shops, restaurants, and specialty stores.  Entrepreneurs nationwide enjoyed success through this model, but the dramatic decrease in housing availability created a shortage.[2]  Displaced city dwellers needed a place to go, and an attractive option emerged.  As part of this new center of commercial activity,[3] Marshall Street could not help but undergo business development.

The concept of suburbia was played up by popular culture, industry, and government alike.  This promotion began during World War II, when advertisements in women’s magazines detailed the possibility for a dream house to share with their returning loved ones that would allow life to resume again, as normal.[4]  The American Dream was altered to include the acquisition of a suburban house and a car.  When the economy boomed after the war’s end, Americans could afford this lifestyle.  Since people were content, businesses faced no pressures to halt expansion, and as a result business districts continued to grow.[5]

Since the Broad Street Historic District, and more specifically Marshall Street, was now a commercial area, workers needed to drive to work, and a place to park when they reached the city.  Richmond adjusted to fix this problem just as the rest of America did; new construction.  By the early 1960s, more than fifty percent of some urban business districts were devoted to streets and parking spaces, a statistic that does not take into account the gas stations, car dealerships, or auto supply stores that littered the streets.[6]  In 1965, a large parking deck was opened on Marshall Street, between 6th and 7th Streets.[7]  Open-air, concrete garages identical to the deck on Marshall Street became commonplace nationwide, as the convenience of a self-park area dawned on city developers.[8]  The garage on Marshall Street was just two blocks from the boundary of the Broad Street Commercial Historic District, which acted as the center of Richmond’s commercial activity.  This was an easy walk for suburbanites who worked in the city.

Business districts traditionally focused on retail endeavors, but in the 1950s more commercial enterprises and office spaces were constructed.[9]  In 1961, the Medical College of Virginia began construction on its new School of Medicine, which opened at the corner of 12th and Marshall Streets in 1963.[10]  The school housed headquarters for faculty, offices for departments and administrators, and laboratories.[11]  There are many reasons why an urban university improves its city.  Public service programs connect the university to the community, neighborhood amenities are developed, richer people move to the area, the local economy is improved due to resident employee programs, and the school’s presence motivates urban youth to succeed in the classroom.[12] Additionally, the expenses of staff and students in the community provide a great influx of money.[13]  There were no universities on Marshall Street when it was a residential area; its new role as a center for economic activity persuaded the Medical College of Virginia to construct a school in the area.

Construction for a new city hall in Richmond began in the late 1960s.[14]  The decision to move from the beloved Old City Hall was made to modernize the government building, both in structure and in location.[15]  The official address for the current city hall is 900 Broad Street, but its back door, an official entrance to the building, opens up to Marshall Street.  When the building was considered too outdated for an official government building, city planners aimed to move it downtown.  It is very common to have to house government offices in or near business districts, and in moving to Broad Street between 9th and 10th Streets, this was achieved.

One block from Broad Street, two blocks from the Old City Hall; Marshall Street appeared to be the perfect place for business to expand.  The street stayed residential for a long time, but eventually entrepreneurs seized the chance to develop on Marshall.  Photographs from the Valentine Richmond History Center show the construction of a parking garage, a building of the Medical College of Virginia, and a new city hall on the street, all within a couple of years.  Marshall Street responded to the needs of Richmonders in the twentieth century, and as a result it underwent great economic development.

[1] Gombach, Julia. “Broad Street Commercial Historic District, Richmond City, Independent Cities, Richmond VA 23220.” Residential Neighborhoods, Subdivisions and Historic Districts. 2010. Accessed April 17, 2011.

[2] Kenney, Kim. “Suburbanization in the 1950s: Glamorizing Suburbia in Popular Culture.” Online Magazine and Writers’ Network. December 18, 2008. Accessed April 17, 2011.

[3]  “Richmond: A Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary.” U.S. National Park Service – Experience Your America. Accessed April 17, 2011.

[4] Kenney, Kim. “Suburbanization in the 1950s: Glamorizing Suburbia in Popular Culture.” Online Magazine and Writers’ Network. December 18, 2008. Accessed April 17, 2011.

[5] Rosenberg, Matt. “CBD – An Overview of the CBD or Central Business District.” Geography Home Page – Geography at 2011. Accessed April 17, 2011.

[6] Melosi, Martin V. “Automobile and the Environment in American History: The Automobile’s Imprint on the Landscape.” Automobile in American Life and Society. 2010. Accessed April 17, 2011.

[7] V.66.10.201. November 21, 1965. Richmond Times-Dispatch Collection, Valentine Richmond History Center, Richmond.

[8] Swope, Christopher. “The Fascinating History of Parking.” GOVERNING: State Government News on Politics, Management & Finance. December 2009. Accessed April 17, 2011.

[9] Rosenberg, Matt. “CBD – An Overview of the CBD or Central Business District.” Geography Home Page – Geography at 2011. Accessed April 17, 2011.

[10] V.62.109.79. November 9, 1961. Richmond Times-Dispatch Collection, Valentine Richmond History Center, Richmond.

[11] The First 125 Years of the Medical College of Virginia. Richmond, VA: Medical College of Virginia, 1963.

[12] Hampton, George, and David Higham. “The Impact of an Urban University on Community Development.” June 1999. Accessed April 17, 2011.

[13] Steinacker, Annette. “The Economic Effect of Urban Colleges on Their Surrounding Communities.” September 2004. Accessed April 17, 2011.–%20university%20impact.pdf.

[14] FIC.033222. April 25, 1968. Richmond Times-Dispatch Collection, Valentine Richmond History Center, Richmond.

[15] Rice, Tonya. “Richmond’s Old City Hall – The Story Behind the Construction – Richmond Landmarks & Historic Districts |” Washington DC News, Washington DC Information, Washington DC Events – | September 22, 2010. Accessed April 17, 2011.

This entry was posted in Assignment #4. Bookmark the permalink.