As I begin to write about the Villa Place Historic District, the lines of a song keep running through my mind that I offer as a metaphor when we think about the revitalization of Rocky Mount.
Things are mending now
I see a rainbow blending now
We’ll have a happy ending now
Taking a chance on love
Taking a chance on love….that’s what it’s about isn’t it? Each step along the way from the early preservation decisions to restore the Train and Bus Stations, the Imperial Center, the Douglas Block, and to install the beautiful streetscape along Main Street…..it’s been about taking a chance on love. Ask Kimberly Thigpen at The Bath Place or Ed Riley at The Smokehouse or the folks that are opening the new Washington Street Bar and Grill in the Twitch Restaurant building that Garland Clark beautifully restored. I think they will tell you they have taken a chance on love. I bet Ginny Davis at Virginia’s Dress Shop and the other businesses who have stayed downtown will say the same.
The Villa Place Historic District is perfectly located when it comes to the revitalization of downtown Rocky Mount. This fact didn’t enter into my delight the first time I laid eyes on the homes along the streets that make up this roughly nine-block neighborhood three blocks west of Main Street. It was the rich historical significance of the area with a treasure trove of significant architecture that captured my imagination. I hope you will take a minute to click on the Tony Bennett rendition of Taking A Chance on Love – the song I am singing in your ear as we wander through the neighborhood.
Let’s start with the fact that Villa Place features planning that is typical of inner-city neighborhoods built before World War II. This includes grid-patterned streets, small front yards, side driveways leading to frame garages set at the rear property lines, and the location of the graded school at the eastern edge that created an orderly, tightly-knit neighborhood. In 1999 The Villa Place Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (I have researched and used information from an adapted copy of the original nomination document.)
Part 2 of Villa Place will be about the architecture in this densely developed neighborhood filled with well-preserved Queen Anne, Foursquare, Craftsman, Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival style houses built between 1900 and the 1940s. Why not FOLLOW Main Street so you don’t miss anything?
PS: Taking a Chance on Love was written by Vernon Duke with lyrics by John La Touche and Ted Fetter, published in 1940. It was introduced in the 1940 show Cabin in the Sky, a ground-breaking Broadway musical with an all-black cast, where it was performed by Ethel Waters and Dooley Wilson. Click here for this version. It’s fabulous!