For the second part of my West Side Walk series, I’ve got a mixed bag of success stories and curious possibilities. It all starts with the corner of Connecticut and Ripley – a house that I’ve walked by hundreds of times. There are so many of these situations throughout the West Side – a part of the city that was once crawling with corner stores and markets. But as the city went into decline, a lot of these storefronts were converted into residential units. What is especially sad is that these projects were done “on the cheap,” which made neighborhoods look forlorn. This particular residence was sold earlier this year (the “For Sale” sign is still there) – it was sold for $110K. I’m hoping, and crossing my fingers, that the new owner converts it back to a cute storefront, or at least spruces it up so it doesn’t look so decrepit. The Connecticut Street corridor is cooking right now, which means that an investment into this property is a safe bet.
Next up is 465 Connecticut. This is an interesting one, not just because of the bizarre looking building, but because of a backstory. This is owned by John Drummer, who also owned 319 Connecticut Street. When he sold the latter property, he told me that his idea was to take the funds and put them into 465 Connecticut. Coming from an artistic family – Jack Drummer’s works have been featured in the Albright-Knox – he told me that the concept would be one based around creativity. Possibly a cultural-driven café? Lets’ hope! There’s a City building permit on the front door, which is a good sign.
What would a West Side walk be without a visit to a Grassroots Garden? At the intersection of Vermont and 16th is a cute little garden in front of P.S. 30. This garden might look simple, but there’s a lot going on. It’s a teaching garden, where students learn the art (and the importance) of composting, gardening, healthy eating, etc. I love that more schools are introducing raised garden beds to their grounds – for so long there has been a disconnect between food and the land… like it just magically appears out of vending machines and cafeterias. Now students will be better prepared when it comes to fueling their bodies with the proper nutrients that will help them to ward off diseases and obesity. My hope for this garden is that one day it extends further around the school building, where there is currently lifeless lawn space. I would think that, in the meantime, a more natural landscape with pollinating plants and fruit trees would be more constructive than mowed lawns. This Grassroots Gardens initiative is certainly a good start, not to mention the accompanying umbrella that provides shade for visitors.
A little further down at the corner of Vermont and 16th, we have a potential “opportunity knocks” situation. It’s hard to believe that with so much progress in this neighborhood (not far from Five Points), a multi-use building like this is not being sold and/or renovated. There are plenty of people out there that would love an opportunity to fix up this historic beauty, which would immediately become another anchor in the neighborhood, instead of a boarded up eyesore. It makes one wonder why the owner would want to get in while the going’s good. This brick stunner (just squint and imagine) with the amazing mansard roof, reminds me of a building at the corner of Rhode Island and 15th Street that sat vacant for ears, but was finally lovingly restored back in 2016. Same with Jack Drummer’s old building that is finally being renovated. Shouldn’t this building be next in line?
Now that we’ve gone over some “what ifs” and “fingers crossed,” it’s time to take a look at a couple of new builds. The first is located at 386 Vermont. It was completed before the pandemic, but about the time when we were ready to tour it, everything shut down. So we’ve been biding our time, and should have an update on this wonderful addition to the neighborhood. Personally, I love the look and feel of this building. I wish that there were more out there like it. Actually, when my brother was looking to buy a house at the city, after driving around the West Side, he called me up and said that this house was his favorite. The house occupies what was formerly a vacant lot. As I passed by a few hours ago, a car drove by slowly, and I could hear someone say, “Now I could live there!” It’s amazing to me that these types of simple modern-looking homes are not constructed more often. It’s probably because they require an actual architect, and materials that are not “off the shelf.” But at the end of the day, it’s places like this that captivate the imagination. These are the types of homes where people want to live. Hopefully this is a growing trend on the West Side when it comes to inspirational infill (more to come on this one).
Speaking of inspirational infill and trends, maybe there’s something to this after all. Last year, we covered the “unveiling” of Rhea Anna Photos + Motion at 381 Rhode Island Street. This is another great “modern” addition to the neighborhood – it’s within eyesight of the Five Points intersection. Yes, it’s modern, but it still seamlessly fits in with its neighbors, with an almost mod-barn type of affect. It’s nice to see some variety when it comes to the way that we build infill, especially in quirky communities where it’s not uncommon to find a house of this nature situated next to a hoop house being tended by the refugee community.
Speaking of Five Points, Five Points Bakery continues to impress, with a game changer for hot weather. In the back of the bakery is a captivating – and cool – shaded sanctuary that is laden with picnic benches. I stepped under this canopy to escape the sun for a spell, and found it very enchanting. It was like a little sanctuary, tucked far away from the street. As I sat there, with my two dogs, I looked around at the giant wooden wheel by artist Scott Bye. This wheel was once located on the bakery’s front lawn. Now it acts as a buffer from all of the action up front, by delineating a hospitable oasis seclusion in the back.
Well, that’s it for this latest episode of West Side Walk. I’ve got lots more to share in coming days. Hopefully this essay is providing inspiration for people who are looking to renovate, purchase, garden, or visit this ever-changing part of town.
If there’s anything you want to talk about (news to share), feel free to send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lead image: Corner stores can be a real drag sometimes, if they are not taken care of properly. I’m talking about the banner signs that are constantly ripping and tattering, the hodgepodge of advertising posted all over the place, the lack of windows, the stickers… they can be extremely unsightly and not very welcoming. Of course there are some fine examples of corner stores that try to keep up their images, such as this one located at the corner of Vermont and 15th. While the actual facade is nothing to write home about, there is a very interesting mural on the side of the building that does an excellent job of advertising all of the goods and services, without pasting flyers and signs all over the place. The painted sign is fun, informative, artistically well done, and offers a slice of West Side life at the intersection. It might make good fodder for artist Julia Wald?