Why does it seem best neighborhoods were built in the 30s?

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#1
As I learn more about cities it seems no matter where it is the best and neatest neighborhoods were all built in the 1930s. Rocky River OH, Mission Hills MO, Macalester-Groveland in St Paul, Peabody in St Louis, etc.

Were the 1930s a perfect storm for urban planners or what? can a student of history help us understand why these neighborhoods have withstood the test of time?
 

DVD

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#2
I'm just going to throw out my opinions, not that I'm any kind of expert.
The neighborhoods are more compact.
They're closer to downtown - like walking distance close because people still walked.
They have commercial integrated into the neighborhood with minimal parking because they generally serve the neighborhood.
The houses have some style to them and aren't little boxes of ticky tac.
I think it also depends on the neighborhood. I've seen some that were obviously the wealthy homes back in the day and still carry some weight. Then I've seen others that were obviously the workmen's housing. It was small and pathetic looking. Often they aren't well maintained or have the amenities I offered above. I think those either get bulldozed or just become "that" neighborhood.
I do like a nice old style house though.
 

ColoGI

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#3
The neighborhoods are more compact.
They're closer to downtown - like walking distance close because people still walked.
They have commercial integrated into the neighborhood with minimal parking because they generally serve the neighborhood.
The houses have some style to them and aren't little boxes of ticky tac.
IMHO these. Also the mature tree canopy, walkablity (or at least not gigantic streets with zooming cars), house design variety.
 

The One

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#4
Hmmm......

Can you imagine how cheap labor was back in the 30's? If someone runs the numbers I bet it was like <$1 an hour for the best construction skills money could buy.....same thing goes for materials:r: So people with money could build some sweet ass stuff for next to nothing.
 

Rygor

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#6
To add to what some others said, it was also about the last period in time before Urban Renewal reared it's ugly head in the 1950's. Nobody was really building in the 1940s because of WWII, and the idea of tract housing came about as a response to all the returning GI's and the inception and popularity of VA loans. In the 1930s you had the earliest days of Euclidian zoning (Euclid decision was 1926) but it still wasn't a widespread practice to mixed-use neighborhoods were still being built quite commonly. Finally, most architecture still adhered mostly to classical styles, or at least "revival" versions of them. Vernacular styles were certainly still common but more ornate and incorporating more classical elements than what you saw post-war.
 

The One

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#7
Yeah....

To add to what some others said, it was also about the last period in time before Urban Renewal reared it's ugly head in the 1950's. Nobody was really building in the 1940s because of WWII, and the idea of tract housing came about as a response to all the returning GI's and the inception and popularity of VA loans. In the 1930s you had the earliest days of Euclidian zoning (Euclid decision was 1926) but it still wasn't a widespread practice to mixed-use neighborhoods were still being built quite commonly. Finally, most architecture still adhered mostly to classical styles, or at least "revival" versions of them. Vernacular styles were certainly still common but more ornate and incorporating more classical elements than what you saw post-war.
{chewing}Well said.....patuee(The One spits out chaw on ground)

:D
 
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#8
Here in Metro Detroit there was an extreme housing shortage following WWI so many of the neighborhoods built right after the war were really some crummy construction, tiny, bungalows and the like. Once things cooled off a bit into the 1920s there was some much nicer housing stock being built. However, when the Depression struck in '29 (and really intensified in 1930 and 1931) new construction basically dried up. There are however a few scattered neighborhoods that did see some substantial pockets of new housing in the depths of the Depression (a few spots in the Pointes, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Huntington Woods, and a few of the fancy neighborhoods in Detroit itself). The housing stock from this era that remains today is some of the nicest in the region. My theory is that those who could afford to build in the 1930s could afford to really do it right and pull out all the stops.
 

mgk920

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#9
Can you imagine how cheap labor was back in the 30's? If someone runs the numbers I bet it was like <$1 an hour for the best construction skills money could buy.....same thing goes for materials:r: So people with money could build some sweet ass stuff for next to nothing.
But then again, before the mid 1930s (before FDR deep-sixed the gold standard in 1933), $1 was a lot of money - for example, before then 50¢ could buy a decent restaurant meal for the family.

Those builders did work that they were proud of doing and were well-paid for it. Decent SF houses were EXPENSIVE then.

Mike
 
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#10
I don't know if I'd say the best neighborhoods were built in the 1930s. The 1920s was probably the pinnacle of suburban architecture in the US but the whole period from approximately 1890 to 1940 was a great time from the design perspective.

The combination of factors, including the popularity and influence of the garden city movement on street and lot designs and landscaping, particular focus and care on the design of neighborhood amenities, proximity to shopping and commercial activities, even public transportation, the relatively affordable cost of building high quality housing out of brick and stone and hard timber, increasing sophistication of more accurate architectural styles, all came together to produce a really remarkable set of suburbs across the US.
 

mgk920

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#11
That's another point, the closer-grained 'old growth' timber that was used to cut house-framing and finishing lumber back then compared with the quick-grown farmed stuff that is used today. It's not as strong nor as sturdy as the old stuff.

Mike
 
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#12
It was recently enough that some consideration was given to light, air, minimal parking, etc., but not so recently that these issues overwhelmed the need for walkability and good design. They also generally still clustered on transit lines, because even if you owned a car you probably didn't drive it downtown to work every day. While the lines are gone in some places (or replaced with a bus), the compact neighborhoods remain.

After WWII the housing shortage combined with the scientific mentality to specialize and resulted in safe, bland neighborhoods with plenty of parking and setbacks but no character or even sidewalks.
 
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#15
To add to what some others said, it was also about the last period in time before Urban Renewal reared it's ugly head in the 1950's. Nobody was really building in the 1940s because of WWII, and the idea of tract housing came about as a response to all the returning GI's and the inception and popularity of VA loans. In the 1930s you had the earliest days of Euclidian zoning (Euclid decision was 1926) but it still wasn't a widespread practice to mixed-use neighborhoods were still being built quite commonly. Finally, most architecture still adhered mostly to classical styles, or at least "revival" versions of them. Vernacular styles were certainly still common but more ornate and incorporating more classical elements than what you saw post-war.
Yes. In the 30s, people were happy to work. They had a better work ethic and valued craftsmanship. They had a depression mind set -- let's not waste. So they built compact neighborhoods that had everything you needed in a walkable distance -- not because it was green but because it was a necessity. They weren't yet in the suburbanist, American-dream mindset.

I love 1930s architecture and design. It truly is beautiful.
 

Ringo

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#16
the Peabody neighborhood or Peabody-Darst-Webb Neighborhood in St.Louis , I would argue is not a great neighborhood, it has been destroyed by urban renewal infilled with public housing, recently more has been demolished for big box retail-more threatened, destroyed by interstates. Also, this neighborhood was not built in the 30's, unless i have no idea what im talking about. Most of St.Louis Great neighborhoods i would argue were the ones built in the late 1800's, and they are thriving and beautiful, Soulard, Benton Park, Lafayette Square, etc, - Towergrove area, Central West End late 1800- earlier 1900s. I do enjoy a quaint 1930's neighborhood though, the kind that seems to be family-friendly orientated without the i want a cozy plot of land in the suburban form type.
 

mercdude

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#17
Here's the deal: prior to the great building boom of post WW2, architects designed neighborhoods, individually. Study any of the old master planned communities and there's an architect that sites and crafts each home. Other reasons why the neighborhoods are great: they're spaced around street-cars, so everything was very compact; everyone walked, so there were shade trees and sidewalks on the inside of the landscape buffer; because everyone walked, there wasn't an auto-centric design to the subdivision and streets were narrow causing very little through-traffic furthering pedestrian orientation; these suburbs were located very close to urban centers, so they've retained their real estate proximity to amenities, jobs, shops, etc.; and lastly, those suburbs were eclipsed by other, bigger 'modern' suburbs (and the war) that limited further production and expansion of these pre-war suburbs. As we all know about real estate, as supply goes does down, demand increases. And so, these pre WW2 suburbs (which probably weren't always nice, ala 1950s with white flight), became the most well-crafted, designed, unique places to live that were conveniently adjacent to an urban center. Now, those elements are undeniably attractive, but are also very expensive. There are lots of similar vintage suburbs that aren't located directly to downtown or have access to amenities, so they never retained their real estate value; thus, no one invested into their homes and the neighborhood (as it aged) slide into disrepair. It's ironic, but the simple economic engine of real estate (buy house, fix it up, gain value) also causes social justice issues to those were are not able to increase value in their homes and then 'sell-out' as the neighborhood increase in value and move to less expensive areas. On the one hand, we like really upstanding neighborhoods with pride in ownership; on the other, we hate gentrification. But of course, they're part of the same economic/real estate process.
 
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