Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Last of 19th Century Dayton

Dayton is about to lose about a substantial amount of 19th century housing stock, and probably quite a few old commercial buildings. City government is embarking on an ambitious demolition program that will transform the face of the city.

Mapping Older Housing.

There are three primary sources for quickly mapping concentrations of older housing in Dayton.

1. 1934 Housing Study, a local project from the New Deal era, which identifies housing by precinct.

2. 1940 Housing Census, part of a national project by the US Census & WPA to provide city atlases of various characteristics of housing, by census block for US cities (the Chicago atlas is two large dictionary-size volumes).

3. 1954 Housing Plan, by Harlan Bartholomew & Associates, which appears to be based, in part, on the 1940 housing survey, but omits commercial strips and downtown.

The 1930s Housing Study uses “how old", average age over 40 years old, 39-20 years old, etc, as a way of mapping housing. As this was in 1934, the black colored areas are 1894 and older average age, some of the very oldest districts in the city. The bold hatching would be 1894-1903, cross hatching 1904-1913. Together they are districts with, on average, the oldest housing; antebellum, victorian and ragtime eras.

The 1940s survey uses median age, with the following classifications,

  • 1899 and earlier

  • 1900-1919

  • 1920-1929

  • 1930-1940 (and there’s not much there)

Big x’s on a block mean there are fewer than 5 units, and blanks mean no units.

As a close up, here is downtown (with quite a bit of housing as late as 1940) and the areas mostly along 3rd Street, showing the last remaining housing in Webster Station and blocks of older housing around the Front Street buildings, north of 3rd. Most of this housing is 1899 and earlier.

The Harlan Bartholomew study just shows blocks with a median age before 1900 and 1900-1919. Actually a an interesting east-west growth pattern to the WWI era, contrary to what we're used to in modern times.

As one can see by this close up the area with the most number of blocks, contiguous blocks of concentrated pre-1900 housing, was the east side of the city. As late as 1954 this was still a substantial collection of vintage housing.

Clearing the East Side

Mapping out the 1954 pre-1900 concentrations as black plan (recognizing there would still be a lot of pre-1900 housing in the 1900-1919 range, median age might be closer to 1900 for some of the closer-in blocks).

Then looking at removals to 2008:

…one can see extensive clearance due to urban renewal and freeway construction. In some cases entire neighborhoods have disappeared. If this was mapped to included median age to 1919 the clearances would have been even more dramatic.

Concentrations of pre-1900 housing as of 2008 (note this does not include older commercial districts like Oregon 5th Street or Tals Corner).

Certain areas are now under historic district protection and additional large scale removals are planned for certain block groups (MVH acquisition & demolition efforts at the fringes of South Park, plus the Wayne &Wyoming Kroger project).

Next, a map from a recent study of vacancy in Dayton, mapping out two kinds of vacant structures (not just housing) enlarged to show the study area. and some prominent streets are drawn in for reference (the numbers on the key are citywide, not just the area shown).

Note the clusters of “problem vacancies” (in yellow).

And once again, historic districts, as sort of an architectural Noah’s Ark for 19th century housing, and “missing historic districts” labeled, all with substantial concentrations of 19th urban fabric.
These are shown in gray as “free-fire zones” for the stepped-up demolition effort. Substantial quantity of the 19th century urban fabric could disappear in the near future in these districts (and a lot of it is boarded up deteriorated, too).

We are seeing the last days of quite a few of Dayton’s “century houses”.

Note that the new aggressive demolition policy will be piecemeal, not the wholesale neighborhood clearances of yore. The free-fire zone neighborhoods will be eroded house by house, leaving vacant lots pock marking a neighborhood.

The greening of these 19th century neighborhoods will be a long term and imperfect process, as most likely one won’t see entire blocks disappear, and there is the opportunity for infill.

But there will be a definite thinning-out in the next 10 -15 years or so of what's left of the 19th century city


Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, I am a fan of your many well researched narratives and historical overviews on Urbanohio. As a Dayton "lifer" whose mother was deeply connected to the region all through her life, I can say that you do this region a great service with your overviews. I grew up here and it wasn't the city I grew up in even 20 years ago, but it's becoming something very alien and, as you said, "Detroitified."

It's depressing as hell but extremely good stuff nonetheless. Well done, kudos, keep it up, etc. This material should be much more visible to the local media.

Jeffrey said...


I don't find it that depressing, more ironic and a bit frustrating condisering the appreciation residents of other citys & metro areas would have for their oldest areas.

Not being from here, having no attachments, I don't have quite the emotional reaction that comes with old association. Instead, in my minds eye I look at comparisons with other places I have known, and know what could be, but isn't. Thats why you see those occasional Louisville posts, me saying "hey this what another city has done".

As for the media a reporter did contact me once but i declined to be interviewed as I am not a reliable source.

I am an amateur, doing "urban affairs" as a hobby. There are experts in government, industry and academia who can provide can the real informed, insider story on all this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Request as follows: When were the
McGuffey Homes, north of the
McGuffey School removed?
Thanking you in advance, I am

Harry Ewing