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17th Street Redevelopment Project’s lasting impact

The RRHA’s 155 acre 17th Street Redevelopment Project was the city’s 2nd urban redevelopment project of the early 1950s/1960s after the Carver Redevelopment Project and before the erasure of old Fulton. The Project included commercial/industrial parcels in Shockoe Valley and the Jefferson Townhouse Apartment and Mosby Junior High and Elementary Schools sites, and along with the continued growth of the public housing communities and the construction of the MLK Bridge, completely redrew the street grid, scale, and density of the area.

In the photo above, the sign post hits the photo where MLK Middle School is now located. The top bridge is the old Marshall Street viaduct.


Street grid (1962) VIA
Street grid (1962) VIA

Expansion at Buchanan School (1952) showing previous houses and street grid VIA
Expansion at Buchanan School (1952) showing density and scale of housing VIA


The edge of Shockoe Valley has long been home to a school. Valley School was built in 1816 at 15th and Marshall Streets, and was replaced by the Charles Robinson-designed Buchanan School in 1912. The sprawling Mosby Middle School was constructed next to Buchanan in 1964, and the new MLK MS opened in 2014.

The area was further shaped by the closure of the Marshall Street Viaduct in 1970 because of it’s unsafe condition, it’s later demolition, and the construction and opening of the MLK Bridge in 1976. As neat aside, options for the new bridge included connecting at Coalter Street, Venable Street, or Marshall Street instead of O Street.


Options considered for location of MLK Bridge (via Proposed Leigh Street Viaduct - City of Richmond May 1972)
Options considered for location of MLK Bridge (via Proposed Leigh Street Viaduct – City of Richmond May 1972)


A disaster was averted when when the new bridge was allowed to terminate at Mosby Street. At the same time as the MLK Bridge was being constructed, the Model Neighborhood Policy Board was very seriously considering the idea of widening Nine Mile Road and Carrington Street east of Mosby Street to connect with with the proposed viaduct. This was an idea that was apparently in the air at the time.


VIA from the Library of Virginia
From the Library of Virginia

17th street 02

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Cadeho 09/05/2016 at 12:53 PM

You can see the pediment of 4th Baptist.

Eric S. Huffstutler 09/07/2016 at 6:11 PM

Great piece of history

Stewart Schwartz 09/07/2016 at 7:11 PM

Thanks for collecting all of this history. “Urban renewal” plans of the 1960’s and 70’s did major damage to the urban fabric, combining big highways, suburban separate of uses, superblocks etc. Of course, most of these plans were developed without public input and discussion. I’m glad we’ve rediscovered urbanism – now the challenge is to successfully combine walkable urbanism with a mix of incomes, good schools and opportunities for all.


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