The Michigan Daily will be exploring Ann Arbor’s most quirky, lively, and student populated neighborhoods during the next month to see what makes this city tick. Read the first installment about the Old Fourth Ward and the second installment about the Ebel and Yost neighborhoods.
Old West Side
The Old West Side of Ann Arbor is a relatively quiet residential area on the edge of the city’s lively downtown restaurant, shopping and bar scene.
The neighborhood is bounded by the South Main and Ann Arbor railroad tracks to the east; Crest, Soule and South Seventh streets to the west; West Washington Street to the north; and Pauline Boulevard to the south.
Designated as a historical district in 1972, the Old West Side offers a collection of homes of different styles and ages. Characteristic of the neighborhood are one-family homes, many of which have front porches that sit along tree-lined streets.
According to the National Parks Service, a district earns historical designation if it “possesses a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, or objects united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development.”
Barbara Murphy, vice president of the Old West Side Association Board — an organization that seeks to preserve the historical integrity of the district — said the Old West Side was named a National Historic District for its iconic streetscape and overall atmosphere.
Murphy said that the tree-lined streets of the Old West Side resemble those of American neighborhoods circa 1900. She also said the neighborhood is significant in part because it was one of the first neighborhoods settled in Ann Arbor around 1840. Those who lived there were predominantly German.
All architectural styles popular in the United States from 1860 to 1914 are represented in the section’s mansions, located mainly on West Liberty and West Huron streets, according to the OWSA’s website. Home models in the neighborhood include Gothic cottages, Romanesque villas, Tudor and Colonial homes.
The neighborhood today is composed of a mixture of older couples, young couples, graduate students and University faculty members.
“We try to keep some cohesion in the neighborhood,” Murphy said, citing the Children’s Festival, Old West Side Garage Sale and a Lurie Terrace Concert to name a few neighborhood events. Lurie Terrace is a senior citizen’s home in the Old West Side.
Murphy, who moved to the Old West Side neighborhood in 1964, recalled having several elderly German couples or widows as neighbors — remnants of the neighborhood’s heritage — most of which are now gone.
However, Murphy says there is still a lingering German influence by way of names in the neighborhood, as seen in the name of the local Bach Elementary School, and the fact that several existing buildings in the Old West Side were once breweries.
Jim Smith, co-owner of the Washtenaw Dairy, a working ice cream parlor and donut shop of the Old West Side since 1934, said the dairy once pasteurized, homogenized and bottled milk for residents to pick up on a daily basis.
Washtenaw Dairy now delivers all different products including cheese, milk, ice cream and doughnuts. The dairy provides several Ann Arbor coffee shops with milk, including Espresso Royale, Sweetwaters and occasionally Starbucks.
“This is a great family neighborhood,” Smith said. “People walk their dogs around here, and on a nice summer night they all come down to the dairy.”
Jay Platt, owner of the West Side Book Shop, opened his store in 1975.
The shop building was previously owned by a German family who ran a photography studio in the 19th century then converted the store to a children’s bookshop, selling German books.
“It’s an old and established neighborhood,” Platt said. “There are a lot of businesses that have been here a long time.”
German families once heavily populated Ann Arbor’s “Germantown” neighborhood as well. Today, its borders are defined by East William Street to the north, Main Street to the west, South Division Street to the east and East Madison Street to the south.
In 2010, Germantown was voted as not qualifying for a Historic District status by Ann Arbor City Council, paving the way for developer Alex de Parry to tear down seven historic homes as part of his City Place apartment project on South Fifth Avenue.
One remaining historic structure is the stone castle-like Bethlehem Church on South Fourth Avenue, which was named a historic site in 1982 by the state of Michigan. According to state records, the church was Ann Arbor’s first German congregation, originally serving German families who settled in the area in the 1820s and 30s.
However, Murphy said the Germantown designation represents a historical moment, less than a currently designated community.
“Nobody uses the term Germantown anymore and they haven’t in all the time I’ve lived here,” she said. “Germantown is a historical place.”