For a city that prides itself on its network of distinct neighborhoods, perhaps Richmond has paid too little attention to Newtowne. Then again, its obscurity is as much a function of the infrastructure and topography which surround it as intentional neglect. This small neighborhood is bound by Broad Street to the south, Lombardy Avenue to the east, and the CSX rail tracks and Interstate 95 to the north.
Newtowne is best understood as part of string of neighborhoods lined up along the north side of Broad Street, from Court End in the east to Scott’s Addition to the west. Newtowne plays a unique role in this sequence of neighborhoods. As development pushed west from the high class antebellum residences of Court End and then from the gilded-age commercial center of Jackson Ward, it became increasingly modest and industrial in character. While a strong retail presence was maintained near Broad Street and its associated streetcar lines, light manufacturing outlets were integrated with working-class residential blocks and townhomes in neighborhood interiors. Newtowne lies on the edge between the fine-grained residential urbanism to the east and the larger scale industrial blocks found in the Hermitage Industrial tract and Scott’s Addition to the west.
Leigh Street is the only channel of east-west connectivity within Newtowne, and is the clear center of activity. It is also home to the neighborhood’s only functioning retail storefront off of Broad Street: Taylor’s Barber Shop. The eastern end of Leigh devolves into the sort of double-wide parkway that sometimes announces an oncoming office park. The expanse of grass along its bare northern flank would reinforce the image, if it was not for the glimpses it affords into the rear of nearby townhomes. Thankfully, the end of this stretch is anchored by Todd Lofts, a hefty brick industrial structure which recently began a new life as upmarket apartments.
Isolation is a critical component of Newtowne’s character, exemplified by the neighborhood’s core: a residential strip on Moore Street between Elizabeth and Dinneen Street. All of these streets dead end shortly, as do Middlesex and Lunenburg Streets nearby. This area’s sole north-south connection is Allen Street, Newtown’s lifeline to Broad.
These residential blocks, completely devoid of through-traffic, are an oasis of calm. Small townhomes and bungalows sit on evenly spaced lots. The long rectangular blocks and shared rear alleys make Newtowne an example of classic American residential urbanism, but the diversity of forms within this strict rubric provide unexpected visual intrigue.
Wood siding and front porches predominate, accented by capricious window placements. The scale and material palette might evoke Oregon Hill if not for the comparatively sparse landscaping. There are a number of recent additions to the neighborhood, vinyl replicas of the existing housing stock which are about as compelling as one would expect for architecture designed to be non-offensive.
The inner world of Newtowne is shielded from the city-at-large by a ring of large structures facing Broad, Hermitage, and Lombardy Streets. Theses buildings, including a Lowe’s, a gas station, a U-Haul storage facility, a Virginia Union University administrative building, and the Maggie L. Walker High School, have, at best, an ambivalent relationship with the neighborhood they obscure.
While Newtowne remains decidedly off-the-radar, it is still subject to the same market forces as its more popular neighbors, Carver and the Lower Fan. The future that lies ahead of Newtowne is difficult to forecast, but in the stillness of its sheltered interior, it is hard to imagine anything changing at all.