Over the years, Oregon Hill’s boundaries have clearly changed. In fact, some wags say that the actual Oregon Hill neighborhood, as first established, existed mostly further east of it’s current location. Whole streets of row houses (and Pratt’s Castle in Gamble’s Hill) made way for institutional development, like the Virginia War Memorial and Virginia Housing Development Authority. Of course, the neighborhood has been steadily forced to give ground to the expansionist plans of Virginia Commonwealth University. Oregon Hill used to be on Main Street.
As King I declare Oregon Hill’s current boundaries as the following: to the east, Belvidere Street, to the west, Hollywood Cemetery and S. Harrison Street, to the north, W. Cary Street, to the south, the north bank of the Kanawha Canal.
This is necessary for three reasons. One is that VCU, the City, and other entities keep trying to play games with the official borders and that is unacceptable. Secondly, in addition to defining the current area, with this royal declaration, I am unilaterally acting to name Oregon Hill one of the City of Richmond’s Old and Historic Districts.
Some explanation may be in order: Oregon Hill already has Federal and State recognition as a historical district. “Oregon Hill is one of the best examples of an intact working-class Victorian (1837-1901) neighborhood in the United States.” It has many historic structures- from Grace Arents‘ legacy- the William Byrd Community House (the first free library in Richmond), the Arents School (Open High), St. Andrew’s Church, to earlier Quaker and free black buildings- the Jacob House, the John Miller House, and the Parsons House, to name a few. There is no doubt that it is worthy of being included as a City Old and Historical District.
For years, many preservationists have lamented that Oregon Hill had not received this status. If it was just a matter of getting a vote from the neighborhood association, it would have been done years ago. Unfortunately, it had required a petition drive that many absentee landlords and speculators would not want to take part in. With this decree, I bypass the bureaucracy.
While State and Federal status offers some protections, City designation offers more. In the past there has been concern from residents and property owners that going with the designation would surrender too much control to the Commission of Architectural Review (CAR), but since I am King and all final decisions come to my absolute authority anyway, there is now less concern with CAR’s power. I will hear neighbor appeals and rule accordingly.
Which bring me to the third reason for declaring the boundaries. As King, I reserve my right to expand them in the future. Since the City no longer annexes surrounding areas, I might as well annex on behalf of the neighborhood. To be announced…