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Places Dayton: pretty vacant

Trinity Moses

Dayton is losing population and has been since 1960.* The city lost population on a steep slope till 1980, and continues to lose population through the 2000 census, as one can see on this map from "Miami Valley Metropatterns", showing population change from 1990 to 2000, red being areas with the heaviest population lost.


To see how population decline might be reflected in the built environment the following are a series of maps from the census looking at housing unit vacancy %s for census tracts for 1990 and 2000...as one can see there is a pretty clear pattern of inner city vacancies...and consistency from 1990 to 2000



For a bit more detail at the neighborhood level, here are block group maps for the same years....



Yet, just because a unit is vacant doesn't mean its abandoned...it could still be playing in the housing market (although there is a subcategory for "other vacant")

The 1990 census did track possible abandonments as it broke out vacancies into a "boarded up" and "not boarded up" status and provided counts for those.* This information is also in the 1980 census, but it wasn't availabe online.* As a way of showing neighborhoods or areas that might be seeing a loss in housing units via abandonment and eventual demolition I mapped out the % of vacant units boarded up by census tract (for 1990). Unfortunatly the 2000 census didnt have this data so I couldnt do a comparison.*


And I did a comparison of number of units per census tract to show increases or decreases in numbers of units.* A positive note is that some tracts had an increase of units...downtown, the Edgemont area, and the Twin Towers (the neighborhood off of Xenia Avenue, near St Marys).* And some areas had a rather drastic decline in the number of units, including the area around Miami Valley Hospital and UD...probably due to hospital expansion and UD activity of some sort. Yet the "Inner West" area and Riverdale had some of the largest declines in units...with the Inner West area having high rate of boarded up vacant units in 1990 and high loss of units between 1990 and 2000


Yet, in total numbers for the census tracts I looked at the city as a whole isn't faring too badly...there is no drastic loss of units and, though increasing as a % of units, vacanies are not really jumping in a big way.* So the problem of vacant units and loss of housing units seems to be localized.


Lets take a closer look at the worst case neighborhood..the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood in the Inner West area.


In the following 1872 map the neighborhood is called "Miami City", recently annexed to the city and connected via a horsecar line on Third Street.* The neighborhood originated from three settlements...the 1820s "Greencastle" stringtown on Germantown Pike, and the 1840s/50s plats of Fairmont and Mexico on Third & Williams Streets....in 1872 there was still quite a bit of open land between the original West Side plats and the river...


By the late 1940s the neighborhood had evolved into one of the denser areas in the city, as per this population density map from an early 1950s planning document...


This close-up map (part of an urban renewal proposal of the very early 1950s) gives an idea of the denistiy of construction in the area at the time.* 3rd Street shows up as a densley built up buisness stret in the north, but the 5th Street buisness district and one on Germantown Street also show up...


..yet the area was already thinning out.* The next map, from an early 1930s housing study, shows demolitions of dilapidated structures in Dayton from 1929-1933...so, even then, 30 years away from the 1960 peak population, Dayton was starting to remove housing...


By the early-mid 1990s the Wright-Dunbar area had underwent a drastic change.* The area was impacted by freeway and highway construction, and also had lost a signifigant amount of its older housing and buisnesses, and was to lose even more over the course of the decade.


Historically, the area was the home of the Wright Brothers, but was also the site of Daytons Jim Crow era black buisness district...the African American community was barred from downtown restraunts, bars, and theatres starting in the early 1920s as part of a local policy of "customary Jim Crow" (which was also illegal under an 1880s era Ohio law, apparently not enforced), thus 5th Street developed as an alternative buisness/entertainment district for the black community


from Dayton's African-American Heritage, by Margaret L Peters)

...apparently this was a local version of a street like Atlanta's Auburn Avenue ..."Sweet Auburn".

Some of the theatres on 5th Street lasted till very recently....

The Classic Theatre


"The Classic Theatre on West Fifth Street was demolished in 1991 after sitting vacant for many years. It's grand ballroom and marble floors were a favorite for the African-American community in Dayton in the first half of the 20th century." (from the Preservation Dayton website)

And the grand Palace Theatre block...


"Once on Dayton's most endangered structures list, The Palace Theatre was demolished in early 2003. The marquee was saved, but the landmark itself is history.

The Palace Theatre was a major entertainment center for Dayton's African Americans who were barred from downtown theatres. Part of the West Side Community Center complex which included the Granada Ballroom and Cotton Club, the Palace brought movies, stage shows, musical presentations, and vaudeville acts to the West Side community. Opened in 1927, its heyday lasted through the late 1950's, when desegregation expanded the options open to the black community. The building was of a Second Renaissance Revival architectural style. It included an impressive continuous arcade, decorative full entablature, and low parapet.

The original wall murals inside existed until it's demolition, as did the stage and the dressing room underneath it that was used for vaudeville acts in the 1920's. The word Alhambra could stil be seen on the ground outside the theater, although part of it was blocked by the ticket booth that was built out from the building in the 70's. The stone block with the letter F that was located on the outside of the building stands for Fala, the man who built the theater."

...from the Preservation Dayton website...

*So, whats left of Fifth Street?

..not much:


Abandoned corner store..the Palace Theatre was the vacant area to the right, where there is some excavation going on.



the building to the left on 5th was the YMCA, now the Urban League offices....





Leaving 5th, some neighborhood shots, showing how the area has de-urbanized...





We are in that open area between Miami City and the river in the 1872 map....time has went in reverse, the development/urbanization meter has been reset to "zero",* and the land has reverted to more or less open country, as it was in the 1860s and early 1870s...



Back into Wright-Dunbar, on the western edge of the neighborhood....




I think this excellent old house dates from the 1850s or 40s, which would make it one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood.* It is available for renovation as part of an ongoing neighborhood restoration project...


...a project which is one of the more remarkable urban revivals in Dayton and perhaps Ohio.*

You can read about it better from the following links than from anything that I can post here:

Wright-Dunbar Historic District with pix, at the Preservation Dayton website, which is more about the housing revival in the neighborhood

Wright-Dunbar Buisness Villiage, which is about the ongoing restoration efforts in the Third Street commercial corridor on the northern edge of the neighborhood...unlike Fifth Street, Third is "still there"..the old commercial buildings are still in existence, forming a more or less intact urban commercial corridor...

Some additional history of the neighborhood, which used to be called "Five Points" (north of 3rd it was Wolf Creek, and was a Hungarian ethnic area).

The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park is dedicated to the neighborhoods most famous residents...the Wright Brothers and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. ...the Wright Cycle Company Complex is the NPS visitors center, museum, and also a restored shop that was the Wright Brothers cycle company.

Finally, the neighborhood won the 2004 Opportunity and Empowerment Award

So from abandonment, to green fields, to rebirth.* A great example of how to bring back emptied out inner city neighborhoods.* *
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Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
What is preventing this neighborhood from a wholesale rebuild?

Looking at this picture, I would think it's ready:


Is there still a negative preception of the area?

I mean, if Crosswinds Communties could mostly rebuild the Brush Park neighborhood in downtown Detroit, why couldn't someone do the same in Wright-Dunbar?
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These photos remind me quite a bit of southeastern Fort Wayne, Indiana, which has many "ghost blocks," especially along South Hanna Street. The old "East Central" neighborhood in Fort Wayne has actually seen a little bit of infill development, but still contains many vacant lots.

Trinity Moses

What is preventing this neighborhood from a wholesale rebuild?
That is happening, I just didn't take any pix of the "new" streets..which are interesting as they look just like a new "new urbanist" subdivision.....you can follow the links at the bottom of the thread to sites that talk about this.

The areas that I took pix of just havn't been worked on yet...you'll note that the grassy lawn is actually being cut, and its not a weedy field, so there is some maintenance going on.

The interesting thing thats not reflected in the 2000 census numbers is some infill thats going on on vacant sites further west, away from this "showcase" project,

The old "East Central" neighborhood in Fort Wayne has actually seen a little bit of infill development, but still contains many vacant lots.
...I think I know where that is at...thats just east of downtown, isn't it? It looks like they cleared out a whole neighborhood there. Fort Wayne seems to be pretty agrressive in demolitions and such, somewhat like Dayton.


Nice photos. When I lived in Dayton I was always amazed by the amount of vacant space downtown. I know when I left they were starting some projects downtown, such as the baseball stadium and I believe the walkway near the river. I still visit the area fairly often.


Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator note:

2019-10-04: Replaced watermarked images with clean images from the OP's Photobucket album.