OLD WEST SIDE BOARD
Christine Brummer, President
Barbara Murphy, Vice President
Stephen Borgsdorf, Fall Forum Coordinator
Eric Boyd, Community Liaison especially non-motorized transportation
Barbara Hall, Treasurer
Sonia Schmerl, Historic District Coordinator
Two positions vacant
Please direct inquiries to Information@Oldwestside.org.
The Old West Side Association, dedicated to the conservation and improvement of the community formerly encompassed by the "old second ward" in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was organized in May of 1967. The group is a non-profit neighborhood association chartered by the state. As the by-laws note: "the retention of its unique residential atmosphere" is a priority. The Old West Side is representative of the modest neighborhoods once typical of the Midwest in architecture, history and environment. The community is now a part of the Fifth Ward.
What Defines the Old West Side?
As presently defined, the Old West Side is basically a residential neighborhood bounded by South Main and the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks on the east, West Washington on the north, Crest, Soule and South Seventh on the west and Pauline on the south. This area includes sections that are not similar in age, building style or type. The topography is characteristic of Ann Arbor in that it is sloped slightly to the northeast with undulations typical of the glacial moraine geology of the area. Most of the older major streets are laid in a grid matching compass lines with two exceptions. West Liberty shows it origins as a trail and runs "southwest/northeast." Newer blocks exhibit curving streets and cul-de-sacs popular at the time of their creation.
While the neighborhood includes parks, schools, industry and waterways, most of the Old West Side is made up of single-family homes on tree-lined streets. Sometimes this collection of approximately two thousand households is referred to as "old German Town" or "Cabbage Town." Most of the structures date from 1850 to 1925. Architecturally, they are of eclectic revival styles, display similar historic associations and are positioned on their respective lots in a familiar pattern allowing a short front yard. Lot sizes are typically sixty-six feet by one hundred thirty-two feet or forty feet by one hundred twenty feet. Interspersed with these modest, older homes are blocks of newer homes built to meet housing demands are the neighborhood filled in following the wars.
The Old West Side Historic District is one of twelve in Ann Arbor. It is the only "streetscape" district and was the first in the nation to receive this designation. In 1972, this segment of the neighborhood was recognized for its essential character as a unique community of homes.
As a survey prepared for the purpose of obtaining protection notes:
The essential physical environment of the Old West Side is characterized by its small one family homes situated on tree-lined streets. About eighty- five percent of the house are of frame construction. A majority have clap boarded exteriors, a lesser number have shingled or stuccoed facades and about fifteen percent are brick. The typical house is a rectangular structure two stories high with six or seven rooms. It has a front gabled roof, a pillared front porch and some ornament on the porch, the gable and around the windows. The larger houses are generally irregular in plan, have front porches and side porches, have more details and protrusions and are more elaborately ornamented. The outstanding character of all of the homes lies in the variety of ornament of all styles, shapes, and textures, generally of machine tooled wood.
Nearly every style prevalent in the United States during the Gilded Era and its aftermath (1860-1914) is represented in the Old West Side. The larger houses tend to predominate along West Liberty and West Huron. Repre- sented are Gothic cottages, Romanesque villas, Italian bracket houses, Colonial and Georgian revival mansions, Queen Anne, American pictur- esque, Tudor, stick, mansard and "carpenter's delight" houses. Although these two streets contain the largest and most elaborate homes, other large homes appear throughout the area.
The smaller homes predominate on most of the other streets of the neigh- borhood. The architecture is less varied but in many cases equally interesting due to the subtle changes in detail and ornament from house to house. The five basic smaller house styles are: scaled-down Italian villas, Queen Anne ornamental houses, classic revival (generally less ornamental houses), small plain New England and colonial revival styles.
Many homes do not fit exactly into these styles but are an eclectic mixture. unlike many twentieth century houses that are oriented to their enclosed private back yards, the orientation of most Old West Side houses is to the neighborhood with their porches fronting on the street. The wooden ornament is the outstanding feature of the houses; while such ornament was characteristic of the period from 1860-1910, the large amount used in the Old West Side suggest that the early German residents found this decoration congenial. The modest houses, their front porches, their interesting and varied ornament, and the pleasing relationship between building and land- scape contribute much to the character of the neighborhood.
One distinct small house area-the Mulholland/Murray Avenues section --should be noted. Here the streets are lined on both sides with small, closely placed classic revival homes. A developer's area, the homes are built with porches close to the street. It is a typical, excellently preserved worker's house neighborhood of the 1890's.
To help preserve this neighborhood, the Old West Side Association draws upon National Historic Register, Michigan State government and Ann Arbor Historic Commission resources as well as the residents and friends of the Old West Side. The Association seeks to guide in the preservation and restoration of homes and other structures. To this end, the nine-member Board of Directors plays a continuing role in shaping the enforcement of the underlying City ordinance governing the historic district, coordinates with various agencies including the personnel at the State administering a tax credit for maintaining historic structures, and hosts a variety of forums to provide information and discussion. A newsletter published nine times throughout the year highlights these and other activities-copies are delivered house to house but are also available at popular gathering spots such as the Washtenaw Dairy and the West Jefferson Market.