Story by Sarah Alderson
Photos by Rick Lasch
Bellevue means “beautiful view” in French, and this 1920s neighborhood on the Northside of Richmond, VA was appropriately named. I was fortunate to live there for a few years before moving back to Alderson, WV. It was a good fit for me, because it reminded me a little of my hometown. It still doesn’t have a single stoplight within its boundaries, which can be fairly rare these days, especially in a city. It also has a small “downtown” commercial area with unique shops and popular eateries, with names like Once Upon a Vine, Stir Crazy Café, and a long-time Richmond favorite, Dot’s Back Inn.
I lived in a bungalow with classic Arts and Crafts influences on a street named Avondale. I love so many things about this time period – from fashion to décor to architecture. I immediately felt at home with many of the period accents of that house, from glass doorknobs to a swinging door in the kitchen, because my grandparents’ house had been built about the same time and had many of the same touches.
The neighborhood was actually dreamed up in the late 1800s as a “streetcar suburb” to capitalize on the fact that Richmond was the first American city with a successful electric streetcar system. Even though its name is French, it has been said that the inspiration for the development was actually Australia’s Bellevue Hill, an affluent suburb with a view of Sydney Harbor.
Work began on Richmond’s Bellevue with construction of the impressive granite Bellevue Arch in 1894 and a new road winding through the property that had previously been farmland, but it didn’t really take off as a successful middle class neighborhood until the 1920s.
By the late 1940s, most of the homes in Bellevue had already been built and featured a rich mix of architectural styles including Bungalow, American Foursquare, Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival. The houses also range from huge ornate mansions to cozy cottages and everything in between.
I say that the neighborhood was “dreamed up” and it was by some extremely successful and wealthy local businessmen. But it’s also an appropriate description of how it all came together because of a dream. Some of the homes there actually look like something right out of a fairy tale. A rare architectural style called “Storybook House” first became popular in California in the 1920s and 1930s, and apparently came to Richmond soon afterwards. Many of these structures look like they belong in an old-world village with intentionally mismatched windows, odd-shaped doors, uneven roofs, and lots of cobblestone.
Like many old neighborhoods and small towns, parts of this area became somewhat run down at one point but began to experience a renaissance of sorts at the turn of this century. Now it’s considered one of the coolest places to live in Richmond.
Sadly, a derecho destroyed several historic homes in the neighborhood in June, but in true small-town fashion, neighbors stepped up to help neighbors in a variety of ways. The sense of community is strong in Bellevue. People tend to watch out for and help each other.
Several popular old-fashioned community events are held throughout the year. A few favorites are the annual Bellevue Garden Walk held in May, the neighborhood yard sale in September, and “Christmas on MacArthur” in December.
One of the most popular shopping venues in the Richmond area, known as Consignment Row, is right next door in the Lakeside area, as is Joseph Bryan Park, a public park with an amazing azalea garden; and Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, voted one of the best botanical gardens in the country. With so many things to see and do, it’s definitely worth a visit whenever you’re “in the neighborhood” of Richmond.
If you ever studied French, or simply like to sprinkle your conversation with French phrases, you’ve probably said “C’est la vie” ~ “such is life” at some point. For those who live in Bellevue, the “La vie est belle dans Bellevue” is more appropriate because life there is indeed beautiful.