Oakwood Celebrates Defeating Highway 40 Years Ago

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Picket fences, porches with rockers and swings, dappled sunlight filtering through the many trees that line East and Bloodworth streets in Historic Oakwood. These views of Raleigh were almost destroyed 40 years ago.

[media-credit name=”The Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood” align=”alignright” width=”320″][/media-credit]In the early ’70s the City of Raleigh was working on an urban renewal plan, and officials hired a consulting firm. The consultants recommended a north-south expressway in an effort to enable traffic to get in and out of downtown Raleigh quickly. That expressway would have run along what was then and now East and Bloodworth streets. The move would have effectively cut Oakwood in half, leaving a decimated neighborhood community.

The residents of Oakwood became alarmed. Many were new Oakwood residents, having just bought an old house for between $10,000 and $25,000 and were now beginning their renovation and restoration projects.

The controversy grew in the fall of 1972 when the expressway was designated a high priority in the urban renewal plan.

Residents formed The Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood. The temporary chairman of this new organization, Ames Christopher, said the organization was formed to oppose city and State Highway Commission plans to run a highway through their neighborhood.
When it came to a vote before the Raleigh City Council meeting, more than 70 residents turned out to protest. Councilors approved the downtown revitalization plan — minus the expressway.

“The North-South freeway is not really a part of the downtown plan. Right now that line is just a line on a map,” then Mayor Tom Bradshaw told the Raleigh Times in 1972.

Representatives of the Oakwood residents said these residents were performing their own form of “urban renewal” with their many restoration projects.

This week residents are celebrating the 40 years of an intact neighborhood. Purple ribbons have been wrapped around poles on the east side of Bloodworth Street and the west side of East, which marks the boundaries of where the expressway would have been.

[media-credit name=”Karen Tam ” align=”aligncenter” width=”600″][/media-credit]
Purple ribbons on poles on East and Bloodworth streets show boundaries of where the north-south Expressway would have been.

Vallie Henderson, an Oakwood resident since 1934 and since deceased, told the News and Observer at the time, “We are not opposed to the downtown plan. We think it’s great. But we are opposed to taking the most gracious, most beautiful and most historical places we have.”

Today her words seem prophetic, Oakwood is one of the most gracious neighborhoods in Raleigh and today’s residents support all efforts to keep downtown Raleigh diverse and vibrant.

Below, check out some photos of the neighborhood today.

Historic Oakwood Celebrates Civic Action Anniversary
Friday Sept. 28, 2012
A Forum held at Burning Coal Theater
1:30 to 5 p.m.
Experts discuss how a neighborhood saved history and houses from a highway’s path 40 years ago and how that experience applies to current and future planning issues.

Saturday Sept. 29, 2012
3 p.m.
Burning Coal Theater presents a collection of vignettes celebrating Oakwood’s history and people.

Both events are free but seating is limited and reservations are encouraged.
For more information, visit www.HistoricOakwood.org.

Click on an image to view full size.

7 thoughts on “Oakwood Celebrates Defeating Highway 40 Years Ago

  1. The Oakwood neighborhood was certainly partially responsible for the defeat of the proposed north-south arterial which would have run through the city between Bloodworth and East Streets. Oakwood was at the northern end of both streets and was predominantly white and residential. However, most of this highway would have run through a predominantly black section of the city, dividing an area that had been historically black and which contained small local black-owned businesses as well as residences. Whites and blacks joined forces to oppose the arterial and then a third major player appeared, a large bank that was willing to pledge large sums of money that could be leveraged with state and federal funds to redevelop and revitalize the downtown, center and southern, area. The union of these parallel efforts led Raleigh City Council to decide not to build the arterial but, instead, to redevelop the so-called blighted parts of the area, which lay south of Oakwood. City Council created a committee called the Eastside Neighborhood Task Force to develop a master plan for the area and the Raleigh Community Development Department has steadily fleshed out this plan over the last 40 years.
    So, a lot of people and organizations deserve credit for stopping the arterial, not just Oakwood. John “Topp” Greene was the first chairnan of the Eastside Neighborhood Task Force and served at least 25 years. Lockhart Follin-Mace served as Oakwood’s first representative on the Eastside Neighborhood Task Force.

  2. As a current resident of East Street I am eternally grateful to my predecessors for all their efforts. I can now sit on my front porch and see the purple ribbon on the utility pole instead of what might have been.

  3. Great anniversary story. Peter Andrews has added some important info that time forgot. The beauty of our town is because of the way we time-and-again impress our cultural heritage upon the public process. It has always been the people who love Raleigh for what she is that keep her from becoming what she is not.

  4. IMHO, only idiots would have suggested that route to begin with.

    Thank God they failed.

  5. So does Dawson and McDowell serve the purpose that this expressway would have served?

  6. Phillo, for those of us in very-congested north Raleigh, it would be capital blvd that attempts to serve the purpose. Which is also why I only venture downtown when it is otherwise unavoidable; I cannot imagine how many others do the same. Oakwood is nice, if only the rest of us could get there…