Hall Place sees rebirth in the making

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 26, 2002

Tree-lined streets bordered by inviting sidewalks extending past well-maintained Victorian-era homes, and residents mingling without fear in a tranquil, yet stimulating environment appear to be on the horizon for Suffolk’s Hall Place community.

The pressing issue is not how to arrive at this point in the neighborhood south of downtown, but how to return to a time in history when their community held similar prominence of an upper echelon staple, Riverview. The vision is attainable, says Hall Place residents, and very close to reality.

Some five years of diligent research, community meetings, input from consultants and ongoing maneuvering has produced a Conservation Plan, which has been completed by the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. A joint meeting/public hearing of the SRHA Board of Commissioners and Suffolk City Council is scheduled for Sept. 18 to approve the plan.

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Improving traffic patterns, creating more of an aesthetic appeal, strengthening enforcement capability for housing violations, and implementing a design criteria are among the components of the Hall Place Conservation Plan.

Hall Place was the place to live into the early 1900s when society’s upper class made their homes in the community; however, starting in the 1960s a gradual transition could be seen. Hall Place saw a steady evaporation of owner-occupied units, and the transformation of many homes into apartment units. This, in part, has been blamed for declining property upkeep and an infusion of residents that didn’t fit the mold of previous occupants.

And then came the dilapidated structures, poorly maintained property, inoperable vehicles gracing streets and front yards, home furniture adorning property, excessive litter, and crime. Yesterday’s average income in the community represented that of a corporate head, while today the median income is $15,117.

But Hall Place residents already have got the ball rolling toward a new beginning. Civic league president Ronald Hatfield and vice president Sandra Parker say the plan is well on its way to fruition. So far, a new traffic pattern at the entrance of Hall Place accompanied by a park has spruced up the community, providing an attracting nature.

Parker’s husband, Baker Parker, was born and reared in Hall Place. The couple resides in Baker’s great-uncle’s home built around 1915.

In 1975, Sandra Parker originally rented property in Hall Place. She stated the community &uot;was a thriving neighborhood.&uot; After meeting with the housing authority, the city, and consultants, Parker added she’s confident &uot;that we’ve come up with a plan to bring Hall Place back to the grandeur it once had.&uot;

Hatfield said that many of the community’s problems stem from landlords not aggressively supervising property conditions, but residents are banding together more to report housing violations.

&uot;We call the city to alert them if codes are not being observed,&uot; said Hatfield. &uot;We expect everybody to do that.&uot;

While Hall Place has quite a few steps to take to realize its rebirth, both Hatfield and Parker concur that there are &uot;interesting&uot; reasons why people choose to live in the community. For one, tree-lined streets, sidewalks, and &uot;the architecture of the houses beckon to you and say `this is a real nice place to live,’&uot; said Parker.

The process of revitalizing Hall Place started under the umbrella of the &uot;Hall Place Neighborhood Initiatives Plan,&uot; prepared for the city by Urban Design Associates, as part of the city’s ongoing Downtown revitalization plan.

In 1997, Urban Design Associates was hired by the city to create a plan for historic downtown as a component of Suffolk’s Comprehensive Plan. The Hall Place Neighborhood Plan was a follow-up to recommendations made in the Downtown Plan to makeover communities in the direct vicinity of the core central business district.

In the process, the SRHA became a lead player orchestrating the Conservation Plan for Hall Place; Development Director Theresa Provost served as coordinator.

Said Parker, &uot;We have had a good relationship with the housing authority and the city throughout this process. They have been wonderful.&uot;

Just in the past six years, the neighborhood has seen major progress. It was commonplace to see people drinking publicly in its streets, parking on the front lawn, and other infractions; however, a partnership with the city and police department has yielded good returns.

During the first crackdown on inspections violations, more than 150 inoperable cars were found, and the city was able to move out 75 of the vehicles initially. Crime has also taken a downward turn with the inception of police bike patrols and the proactive efforts of the neighborhood crime watch.

&uot;We have to have a starting point,&uot; said Hatfield. The next several steps, he added, will involve taking a hard look at its housing conditions, and promoting consistent architecture.

Among the neighborhood housing designs include Queen Anne with wrap-around porches, decorative brackets, porch posts, and spindle work; vernacular gable front cottage, small one-story frame dwellings, similar to a bungalow; American Foresquare, two-story designs dating back to the early twentieth century which can be identified by its trademark, a hipped roof and square shape; and Colonial Revival, dating back to the early-to-mid 20th century, featuring a simple rectangular form and symmetrical faade. Arched openings and decorative three-part cornices can be seen on more elaborate examples.

To continue Hall Place’s mission, residents want to see any new construction conform to existing historical structures in the community. &uot;We have such a wonderful array of architecture throughout the community,&uot; said Parker. &uot;Part of the guidelines (of the Conservation Plan) allows the builders to add on and stay within the existing architecture.&uot;

Other components of the Conservation Plan involve crime and fire prevention, block clean-ups, traffic controls; neighborhood preservation by encouraging residents to paint and fix up homes voluntarily; community beautification, which would facilitate programs to enhance the community’s appearance; and developing better relations between the civic league and council to keep abreast of any pending action that might adversely affect the neighborhood’s character.

Councilman Curtis R. Milteer Sr., representing the Whaleyville Borough where Hall Place is now located, said he’s optimistic that the governing body will sign off on the conservation plan. Hall Place fell within the Suffolk Borough prior to last year’s rezoning.

&uot;The conservation plan is a great concept,&uot; said Milteer. &uot;I continue to stand behind the revitalization of the older communities. The plan is to help restore the community to its origin character. I don’t see any problems with it, and I strongly support it and encourage council to endorse the conservation plan.&uot;