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Monument Avenue Historic District

Monument Avenue
Monument Avenue East from Leigh Street
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

Monument Avenue Historic District shares the distinction with Jackson Ward of being one of only two National Historic Landmark districts within the City of Richmond. Monument Avenue is the nation’s only grand residential boulevard with monuments of its scale surviving almost unaltered to the present day. The district is nationally significant for its architecture and as an example of city planning. A broad residential tree-lined street extending for some five miles from inner city Richmond westward into Henrico County, the avenue takes its name from the series of monumental statues that mark its major intersections, generally in the center of traffic circles. For many years, the street was Richmond’s ceremonial parade route. Included among those who have journeyed to the Governor’s Mansion along “The Avenue” are Marshall Foch, Commander Richard Evelyn Byrd, Winston Churchill, General Eisenhower, and Queen Elizabeth. The district contains some of the city’s finest residences and continues to be a fashionable neighborhood for Richmond’s elite.

The earliest proposal for creating a broad avenue in Richmond to honor Confederate heroes appears on an 1888 plat showing the subdivision of the Allen Estate west of the present intersection of Franklin and Lombardy Streets. The 1890 unveiling of Jean Antoine Mercie’s great equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee revealed the first major element on this unique memorial street. Afterwards, Monument Avenue seemed the logical place to erect more statues to Civil War heroes. The Lee Monument is the largest and grandest of the statues on Monument Avenue, with a 12-ton, 21’ high bronze statue sitting on a 40’ high granite pedestal designed by French architect Paul Pujot.

Stuart Circle

Stuart Circle
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

No houses appeared on the avenue before 1903, but in 1906 Richmond’s City Council approved the extension of the avenue west to Boulevard from its original terminus at Allison Street. As soon as Monument Avenue’s traffic lanes began to be paved with their distinctive asphalt paving blocks in 1907, the street came to be one of the most fashionable places to live in Richmond. Unveiled in May of 1907, the equestrian monument to James Ewell Brown (“Jeb”) Stuart, by local sculptor Frederick Moynihan, is at Monument Avenue and Lombardy Street. The statue is located in the center of Stuart Circle. Several large historic buildings front the circle, including Stuart Circle Hospital (1914, now condominiums) at 421 Stuart Circle; the Stuart Court apartment building (c. 1924) at 1600 Monument Avenue; First English Evangelical Lutheran Church at 1605 Monument Avenue; and St. John’s United Church of Christ at 503 Stuart Circle. June of 1907 saw the erection of the Jefferson Davis Monument at the intersection of Monument and Davis Avenues. Designed by Richmond architect William C. Noland and sculptor Edward V. Valentine, it features 13 Doric columns representing the 11 southern states that seceded from the Union plus the two states that sent delegates to the Confederate Congress. In October 1919, the Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson statue was unveiled at Monument Avenue and the Boulevard. F. William Sievers designed it as well as the Matthew Fontaine Maury Monument at Monument Avenue and Belmont Street, made public on Armistice Day, November 11, 1929. The sixth and last statue, the Arthur Ashe Statue, stands at the intersection of Monument Avenue and Roseneath Road on the last block of the historic district. The dedication in 1996 of this monument to Richmond’s native humanitarian, scholar, and athlete on Ashe’s birthday, July 10, drew thousands of spectators.

postcard of Lee monument

Historic Postcard of Lee Monument
Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries

Over a period of some 30 years, Monument Avenue became the site of a splendid series of architecturally dignified town houses and apartment buildings. These reflect the achievements of many prominent architects, such as John Russell Pope, William Lawrence Bottomley, Duncan Lee, D. Wiley Anderson, and Richmond’s Marion J. Dimmock and Baskervill & Lambert. The various housing types along the avenue demonstrate the vitality of urban living and a diversity of taste and means. At the denser eastern end of the district sit closely spaced town houses with five feet or less between buildings. They provide a contrast to the attached row houses predominating in other neighborhoods in the city. Progressing westward, these narrow town houses are interspersed amongst mansions and apartment buildings on wide lots; eventually they give way to more modest mansions and smaller cottages. A significant number of freestanding Colonial Revival mansions date from the 1920s. Where lots were not spacious enough to accommodate these statements of affluence the “two-thirds house” made its debut. As the name implies, these more modest suburban mansions for the growing middle class were a smaller version of their neighbors based on the same plan of a central hall flanked by two rooms.

While both clients and architects seemed to prefer the Colonial Revival style for Monument Avenue, they also experimented with Spanish Colonial, Tudor Revival, French Renaissance, and Italian Renaissance styles. Famous American architect John Russell Pope designed the Branch House (1917), a large Tudor Revival mansion at 2501 Monument Avenue that now houses the Virginia Center for Architecture. Jaquelin P. Taylor designed the atypical but grand 1902 Italian Renaissance-style villa at 2315 Monument for Duncan Lee. Duncan Lee was also responsible for, amongst other homes, a large three-story Mediterranean villa at 2325 Monument. Well-known architect William Lawrence Bottomley did the designs for the Colonial Revival houses at 2301, 2309, 2320, and 2324 Monument Avenue and a Mediterranean-inspired building at 2315. At 2327 Monument Avenue facing the Davis monument stands a commanding 1913 plantation-style home with a two-story portico. Architect Walter D. Blair designed the building six years after the unveiling of the Davis monument. New York architects Carneal and Johnston did the designs for the two houses on the same block, a Tudor Revival mansion at 2312 and the house at 2304, one of the most expensive buildings on the avenue. A local doctor built this house basing it on Mompesson House in Salibury, England. Carneal and Johnston also designed an eclectic 1911 house at 3201 Monument on a triangular lot. This home is known largely for its association with novelist James Branch Cabell, who resided there with his wife Priscilla beginning in 1925.

Davis Monument

Davis Monument
City of Richmond
Department of Community Development

Monument Avenue also has numerous apartment buildings. Large, architect-designed low-rise apartment houses, frequently with Anglo-Saxon Protestant names such as Stratford Court (2512 Monument Avenue) or Lord Fairfax Apartments (3100 block), proliferated on the avenue in the 1920s and 30s. Many are west of the Boulevard, particularly on the 2900 and 3000 blocks of Monument. Some apartment buildings are not in the more typical Colonial Revival style such as Stuart Circle Hospital, built in 1914 at 421 Stuart Circle and now converted to condominiums. Across the circle at 1600 Monument Avenue stands the Stuart Court apartment building, a c. 1924 high-rise that, at 11 stories, is the tallest building on the avenue and in the entire Fan neighborhood. Originally unpainted red brick, the building was later painted white, accentuating the Mediterranean flavor of its architecture.

Although the district is mostly composed of houses, institutional buildings, primarily churches, visually dominate portions of Monument Avenue. Most often designed in the Gothic or Classical Revival styles, they generally sit on spacious sites and create an architectural impact while buffering the surrounding residential neighborhood. Richmond firm Noland and Baskervill designed St. James Episcopal Church and Parish House at 1205 West Franklin Street. Other examples include First Church of Christ, Scientist at 2201 Monument, St. James Episcopal Church at 1205 West Franklin Street, and First Baptist Church at 2709 Monument (intersection of Monument and Boulevard). Two churches front Stuart Circle: St. John’s United Church of Christ (ca. 1900) at 503 Stuart Circle and First English Evangelical Lutheran Church at 1605 Monument Avenue.

Plan your visit
Monument Avenue Historic District encompasses the stretch of “The Avenue” between Stuart Circle in the east and Roseneath Rd. in the west, plus the adjoining 1200 block and 3100-3300 blocks of West Franklin St., and the 1500 block of West Ave.  The portion of the Monument Avenue Historic District facing Monument Ave. from the 1200 block of W. Franklin St. to the intersection of Monument and Roseneath Rd. has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Some of the buildings in the district are open to the public. The Branch House at 2501 Monument Avenue houses the Virginia Center for Architecture, which is free (suggested documentation $5) and open to the public Monday-Friday, 10:00am to 5:00pm, Saturday and Sunday 1:00pm to 5:00pm.  For information, call 804-644-3041 or visit the Virginia Center for Architecture website.  Much of the Monument Avenue Historic District has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.
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