Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wayne Avenue in the Oregon: 5th to Van Buren

he Dover Block was an excellent urban set-piece, but it only dated to the 1880s. Before it was Dover's Drug Store, standing by 1875, but perhaps going back to the antebellum era. It was built on the route of Seelys Ditch, so would have came after that part of the ditch was filled in and replatted, sometime after 1845.

Dover's was a good example of 19th and early-mid 20th century live-work space for small business.

The entire intersection, showing how the street wall of commercial buildings facing 5th continued some distance to the east of the Dover Block. The Dickey Block (1855!) across the street was probably removed sometime before the Tasty Boy went up in the 1930s or early 40s.

Note that Wayne Avenue here was much narrower than it is today, as urban renewal made the street more car friendly via widening.

One of the points here is that even though th Dover Block was good urban architecture it was transitory, as was its predecessor. This is the nature of the urban fabric, that it is a process as much as brick, stone, wood and metal. Buildings are altered, removed and replaced through time.

Yet the form of the city, the lot sizes and shapes and street pattern, also drives how buildings are replaced. And builders used to be sensitive to this context as well as the context of the constructed fabric surrounding their specific project.

As an example, look at the two Dover buildings, the drug store and commercial block. Though quite different, they both create street walls on Wayne and Fifth and emphasise the corner with a chamfer. The corner is further emphasised with a big sign for the drug store and the tower for the commercial block. Both had a blank side wall along Wayne (to permit interior shelving) but have a secondary entrance or second storefront opening off Wayne (visible on the far righ). The Dover Block improves over the drugstore a bit by having the store entrance right on the corner.

This way of building and responding to the urban context and the street/lot pattern has been lost. In the case of this side of the Waybe urban renewal totally obliterated the street/lot pattern and the replacement buildings (the gas station) had very little response to contex, seperating the corner from the building by lanes for pumps and maybe parking.

The space, and buildings on it, were reconfigured to support the automobile, resulting in suburban form dominating in the old Haymarket area.

Across the street along Wayne Avenue there was a similar thing going on, maybe more unplanned. One and a half blocks on the west side of Wayne Avenue south of Fifth a bit beyond Van Buren should suffice to make the point.

The block just south of Fifth (Fifth to Van Buren) in the late 1940s/early 1950s, from the Harlan Bartholemew aerial:

About the only auto-era insertion is the gas station on far left. The rest of the block appears an excellent collection of urban commercial buildings, perhaps some apartments on the east side, across from the gas station.

The gas station, with its parking and lanes for pumps, is still the exception not the rule on this stretch of Wayne. And there is a large three story building on the corner, maybe around the same height as the Dover Block across the street (high ceilings inside make for a more imposing building outside), which helps intensify the architectonic quality of the 5th/Wayne intersection.

Today, the fabric has been torn. The corner building (actually the entire block along Fifth) has disappeared, replaced by landscaped parking. Parking has also been substituted for little commercial block next to the (former) gas station.

The next block, south of Van Buren ( just half a block shown) here, is taken up by what looks like a long one-story commercial building with corner entrance, with big storefront windows facing the sidewalk.

Noticeable, to, is the commercial encroachment into the neighborhood by a building on the south side of Van Buren.

Across Wayne is a varied streetscape of one, two and three story commercial buildings on narrow lots, with an occasional surviving house. This street was originally mostly houses, but the building substitution process resulted in commercial buildings. Yet the commercial building typology still echoes the narrow lots: lot size & shape being a palimpsest of the urban fabric.

Today, the street frontage building has been replaced with parking, and commercial encroachment into the neighborhood increases in the form of parking lots replacing one or two houses on Van Buren.
Across the street are suburban pancake buildings and parking lots of the urban renewal era.

Suburbanizing Wayne Avenue

In the 1960s Bertrand Goldbergs Burns-Jackson plan called for the removal of commercial buildings on Wayne and Fifth as they were obsolete and detracted from the visibility of the old houses inside the neighborhood. Goldbergs plan failed and the proposed large-scale clearances never happened.

It seems actions along Fifth are making Goldbergs plan come true anyway, as the result of a sum total of individual decisions and actions taken by business and property owners. The building substitution process in this case often resulted substitution by parking lots and modernist buildings that ignore some of the informal rules of city building (as illustrated by the Dover block prologue at the start of the post).

This process is ongoing in Dayton as building substitutions (when a building is actually subsistituted, that is) are with a suburban typologies designed to accomodate and respond to automobility.

The result here, as elsewhere in the city, is a particularly unsatisfactory streetscape, as it combines the worst of surburan development with surviving fragments of the past acting as reminders of how much was lost. Lost as in the cultural amnesia on remembering how to build in cities as much as physical loss.

Wayne was a great street, but it's gone. Yet there's plenty of parking


"TheDonald" said...

These two posts on Wayne Ave. bring back a lot of memories from my teenager years.

I took an "urban affairs" class at the magnet school downtown when I was a senior in high school. Past, present and planned urban renewal in Dayton was the primary focus of that class. So I was exposed for a few months to the mindsets of the planners who were calling the shots on these projects, via our teachers.

Here's what I recall:

Density was considered absolutely evil and a signature of a medieval, backward age. The sparser, the better.

Even if an old building had charming elements, it should be ripped down just because newer is better.

There was so much old housing and commercial stock in Dayton that you should NEVER, EVER fear that one day we would run out of disctinctive city scapes.

And just in normal non school life, I remember that if you lived on the outskirts in an area like Belmont, you were sort of trained to feel sorry for relatives who were invested in a house in the inner east side. And there was a general distrust of older areas.

I recall, though, that the east side (Fifth Street around Findlay as an example) was considered quite rough. A friend there used to have 8 tracks and car batteries stolen regularly from his car, and someone was shot and killed right outside their front door.

I think the main factors at work that eased people's minds into "urban renewal" at the time were that the influential middle class had long since fled these areas. These neighborhoods had been infilled with the briar and very rough poor element and were crime ridden. So it was considered OK to bulldoze these blocks because they were no place that you'd want to live, shop or even walk through in the middle of the day.

So, urban renewal of such areas definitely didn't happen in a vacuum. The perceived value of the existing stock was considered almost negligible due to a kind of abandonment.

Considering how Dayton developed as a metro region - white flight and all - I doubt it could have played out any differently.

These pictures you used make that 5th and Wayne area look like a small slice of Brooklyn or some other east coast city - definitely not Dayton. Very sad. I think locals loved their manicured lawns and just hated the idea of density at the time.

"TheDonald" said...

Another thing occurred to me.

A way of thinking that was common at the time (at least I perceived it as such through the urban affairs class) was a universal devotion to big government projects.

Renewal like the obliteration of the blocks described in your block post was just one small cog of a strategic array of similar initiatives. In other words, wiping out such an area was considered "good" because it advanced the larger common plan.

Very, very Soviet style thinking: "We must replace X with Y because it is part of the greater 'Gem City 1980' initiative."

I don't recall there being much lamenting of the east Dayton neighborhood that was butchered by the 35 expressway. That is a specific example of the thinking.

Cartophiliac said...

Hey, Daytonology guy. Great stuff with the before and after on Wayne Ave. Neighborhoods... but speaking of maps, you might like to check out the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps database available through the Dayton Metro Library website. It shows neighborhoods and buildings as they existed in the early to mid 20th century, prior to the expressways, suburban flight, etc.

Jefferey said...

Oh yes, the online Sanborns are indespensible! They have opened an entire new dimension to the historical stuff I sometimes blog on.

I've used them in conjunction with info in the criss-cross sections of the city directory collection in the basement of the downtown library and the Lutzenberger Collection to do various types of historical analyses.


These pictures you used make that 5th and Wayne area look like a small slice of Brooklyn or some other east coast city - definitely not Dayton.----Based on all these old pix and what I was able to research about the neighborhoods and businessess this city did indeed seem more like a miniature version of a big city like Chicago or Brooklyn. I think Dayton might actually seem smaller now than it did in the, say, the 40s' and 50s'.

Woodrowfan said...

I remember Fifth and Wayne being called "Filth and Wine" by adults when I was a kid, referring, I am guessing, to the alcoholic homeless and "adult" book stores...

But yes, all those lost wonderful old buildings.....