Architects: Bascom Rowlett, Davis Brothers
Address: 3418 – 3450 Grove Avenue
On an unassuming block of Grove Avenue stands English Village, a development almost 90 years old and deeply embedded in Richmond’s architectural heritage. Yet at its conception in the early 20th century it was a break from the typical financial and spatial model of the city’s multi-family homes.
While mostly removed from one street edge, the departure from common row house typology here is a relief, and the form neatly occupies less than a quarter of the block, exhibiting a grandeur far greater than its physical size. The wings of the connected 17 units are symmetrical, but the overall impression isn’t one of rigidity or monotony. Instead a subdued color palette and careful control of scale help provide a harmonious composition to the complex.
English Village stands as perhaps the masterpiece of both the designer Bascom J. Rowlett and the contractors, the Davis Brothers. While the Arts and Crafts, Tudor complex was a stylistic addition to Rowlett’s eclectic portfolio, it was in keeping with numerous other residential buildings completed by the Davis Brothers west of the Boulevard. The great amount of care and attention to detail familiar to the Davis Brothers’ work can be seen in numerous instances, including the ornamental chimneys and cast concrete, slate roofs, and board-and-batten doors.
While undeniably charming, the development was notable when built mostly for its innovative housing cooperative. Seventeen homeowners bought stock in the English Village Corporation, and while they each contributed to the development’s upkeep, the corporation made no profit and each owner was able to retain individual property titles. This reduced housing costs and gave residents an opportunity to manage their development, both in design and conservation. One of the first cooperatives in the nation, the trend would grow considerably worldwide and find a more modern parallel in condominiums. In addition to this unique cooperative, modern amenities like a boiler room, a concealed attic stairway and sophisticated refrigeration led a newspaper of the time to call English Village “Richmond’s most modern building achievement.”
Interestingly enough, one of the most handsome developments in the city was designed with economy, efficiency and durability as the primary concerns and used the modest cottages of rural England as an aesthetic model. English Village has been immaculately maintained, and despite changes to the landscaping (brick paving replaced by asphalt, the central fountain and rear playground removed), the exteriors remain largely intact, due in part to original by-laws of the cooperative.