Historic Old Southwest, just a few minutes walk from Downtown Roanoke, is a living celebration of history, architecture, and the new “urban pioneer” spirit. Residents from all walks of life live and work together, experiencing a sense of belonging very much like their predecessors did years ago. In addition to the residential population, businesses, churches, a café, and the Highland Park Higher Learning Center share historic Old Southwest, representing the very best of neighborhood life in America.
The charm of Old Southwest comes from its eclectic and often exemplary architectural styles, its interesting groupings of homes, together with its streetscapes and green spaces. Expansive porches with classic columns, complicated roof lines of slate, pressed metal and shingle, interesting dormers and towers, fanciful millwork, leaded and stained glass windows, multicolor paint schemes – these and other fine details make Old Southwest the most architecturally exciting neighborhood in the Roanoke Valley.
Old Southwest is both a State and Nationally recognized organization.
In 2010 Old Southwest, Inc. was awarded BEST Neighborhood of the Year in the United States for it’s annual Holiday Parlor Tour of Homes from NUSA (Neighborhoods USA) www.nusa.org as well as BEST Neighborhood Organization of the Year at the VA Statewide Neighborhood conference www.vsnc.org.
In 2007, Old Southwest, Inc. placed 1st for “Best Neighborhood of the Year” at the VA. Statewide Neighborhood Conference. In 2008, Old Southwest, Inc. placed 2nd in the Nation for “Best Neighborhood of the Year” in the Social Revitalization Category at the NUSA (Neighborhoods USA) Conference. In 2009, Old Southwest, Inc. placed 1st for “Best Neighborhood Project of the Year” at the VA Statewide Neighborhood Conference for the annual “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” event.
Highland Park – This 32 acre park within the neighborhood is one of the residents’ favorite things about Old Southwest
Proximity to Downtown Roanoke – You can easily walk downtown to enjoy the many restaurants, galleries, shops, and art and cultural centers like Center in the Square
Businesses, Restaurants, and other Commercial Enterprises – In addition to being a residential neighborhood, Old Southwest offers a wide variety of services for it’s residents and visitors
The written history of the Old Southwest neighborhood begins with the land grant of James Alexander in 1771 and Thomas Tosh in 1781 by King George III of England. Peter William Coon bought the Alexander land in 1836 and Thomas Lewis and Benjamin Tinsley purchased the Tosh lands in 1858.
Eventually deeded to Samuel H. Gish, the pre-1838 log home on the site, now known as the “Alexander/Gish house”, was later covered with clapboard siding. This home is one of the Roanoke Valley’s oldest structures and now serves as a meeting place for Old Southwest, Inc., the neighborhood organization.
Until the end of World War II, “Old Southwest” was considered one of the premiere neighborhoods in the city. Many of Roanoke’s first families lived in the large elegant homes which grace tree lined streets dotted with other homes smaller in scale but just as beautifully detailed. The post-war exodus to the suburbs caused a gradual decline in the character and quality of life in the neighborhood. Many unique homes were razed for urban development; others were cut up into apartment units or inappropriately remodeled, adding the area’s woes.
Rebirth in the 70s
In the mid-1970’s, Old Southwest recaptured the interest of citizens seeking affordable housing. This once-glorious inner city neighborhood with its pleasant shady walkways captured the imagination of both suburbanites and out-of-towners who appreciated its character and convenience to downtown. Old Southwest, Inc., began to take shape, and with vigorous groundwork, vigilant observation, and persistent re-education, members convinced local government and private institutions to participate in preserving an important part of Roanoke’s heritage.
In 1985, the area known as “Old Southwest”, and some additional adjacent area, was officially listed in The Virginia Landmarks Register and The National Register of Historic Places. Following these prestigious listings, the City of Roanoke established the Neighborhood Preservation Zoning District (H-2) and the City Architectural Review Board to protect the historic and architectural integrity of Old Southwest. The H-2 district encompasses most of the Old Southwest neighborhood and portions of the Gainsboro, Hurt Park, and Mountain View neighborhoods. The H-2 code and the Architectural Review Board address issues of exterior building modifications, new construction, and proposals for demolition. Now with its reenergized streets, polished exteriors, and friendly front porches, residents enjoy the sort of intimate ambiance that cannot be found in the suburbs. The recognition of Old Southwest as a whole community rather than single buildings is a new approach to preservation and reflects the sense of “togetherness” which has saved and revitalized the neighborhood’s individual homes and buildings, streetscapes, and landscapes.
The charm of Old Southwest comes from its eclectic and often exemplary architectural styles, its interesting groupings of homes together with its “streetscapes” and “green spaces”. Of its hundreds of structures, no two are exactly alike, and no single architectural style can be said to dominate. The neighborhood is blessed with styles ranging from the simple I-form to the flamboyant Queen Anne, playful Victorian, stately Colonial and Georgian Revivals, Tudor Revival, and Shingle, as well as vernacular mixes. After the turn of the century, the style now known as the classic American Foursquare, built in frame, brick, and occasionally cast stone began to appear, as did the Bungalow. Early twentieth century two-family and four-or-more-family apartment dwellings, built with the same flair and pride in craftsmanship as the single-family homes, add to the rich variety of the neighborhood. Expansive porches with classic columns, complicated roof lines of slate, pressed metal and shingle, interesting dormers and towers, fanciful millwork, leaded and stained glass windows, multicolor paint schemes – these and other fine details make Old Southwest the most architecturally exciting neighborhood in the Roanoke Valley.
Architectural Review Board (ARB)
To guide rehabilitation and ensure compatible new construction, the City of Roanoke created the Architectural Review Board which must review all exterior changes within the H2 district, and approve a Certificate of Appropriateness before a building permit will be issued. The review board is comprised of seven citizens that are appointed by City Council for three year terms. The ARB has jurisdiction over exterior alterations, new construction, and demolition. Jurisdiction covers all structures including garages, outbuildings, fences, exterior stairs, pools, decks and porches, signs, exterior lighting and changes to such elements as windows and doors. In order for to make any exterior changes, build something new, or demolish any exterior structure; property owners must first submit an application to the ARB. If an application is approved, then the ARB will issue a Certificate of Appropriateness. Please note that for some projects, a building permit and zoning approval are also needed.
The ARB encourages rehabilitation of existing buildings and proper maintenance and repair of existing materials, as opposed to replacement with new and dissimilar materials.
Click HERE for further information regarding the H2 zoning, ARB procedures, building permits and population density regulations. Real estate tax abatements are also available for major rehabilitations of buildings in very poor states of repair. Arrangements must be made prior to the beginning of rehab.
Click HERE to view the Old Southwest Neighborhood Plan
Click HERE to view zoning ordinance maps recently under review by city officials.