WESTWOOD made our family feel brand new…in 1946.
Earlier World War II culture shifted from a rear view mirror of war, upheaval, unsettled security… to serious job-searching, and a screaming need for acceptable new housing. Returning veterans suffered uninterrupted confrontation with this challenge.
Fortunately, almost absurdly, we found our place deep into the intersection of Monument and Libbie Avenues known as Westwood. Under fresh construction, it ran north from Monument Ave. to West Broad Street Road where a new Bill’s Barbecue sat fearsomely in an open field.
Barely under construction, this post-war community flowed west with Morningside Drive, West Club Lane, South Crestwood Ave. Lee Ave. Later, Fitzhugh and Old Richmond Avenues continued the street intrusion. Club Lane enjoyed the luxury of road pavement – all other roads, dirt and dusty.
Norris Lane, one block long, ran from Fitzhugh to Lee Ave. – named for I. Norris Blake, one of two brother-developers of Westwood Homes. It was the first example of Richmond’s mid-century housing boom; expansive, solidly constructed Cape Cods and Colonials abounded. Ours was the first home completed in Westwood – 5905 South Crestwood Ave.
A giant-like Westwood Water Tank on Lee Ave. brooded over the developing community – not unlike the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg over the Gatsby novel’s “valley of ashes” – tall, totally viewable from any near-by location. The original 1927 Westwood Public Golf Course was morphing into newly needed homes for a solid middle class. As an explorative kid, I would discover sand trap upon sand trap, utilized by the construction workers for nature’s call…no porter potties in mid-1940.
At the base of the water tank, was a Riding Stable – located in the 5608 Lee Ave area. Riding paths were clearly available; unfinished roads offered extra riding routes. Beautiful horses were housed there assuring the frequency of our visits. Interestingly, I discovered pornography there.
The stable caretaker held a modest inventory of what we called “8 page bibles” – with familiar cartoon characters. The booklets presented interesting episodes of cartoonish copulation. Specifically, Russ Westover’s cartoon strip character, Tillie the Toiler, was one of those characters. I knew Tillie was in the funny papers (funnies), but had never viewed her en flagrante delicto….and so it went. I barely understood.
The striking Westwood Supper Club, founded in 1927, by Vincent Sprenzo, was located near the end of West Club Lane. Sprenzo, known for his generosity, would later achieve admiring headlines – providing financial aid to family of U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers, during the spy-pilot’s incarceration in a Russian prison.
As an eight year old kid on weekend summer nights, I would sit on our front stoop listening to wonderful Big Band sounds float up South Crestwood Ave from the supper club. It brought longings similar to the distant train-whistle in late night. Summoning images of far away places, exotic lives, and sophisticated experiences; I knew it was all so unreachable.
When the Wallace family arrived at 5905, in mid-1946, the septic tank ditches remained uncovered; additionally, there was no water connection. Dad struck up a friendship with new neighbors, Dan and Pee-Wee Kendrick, long time “natives”, behind us. Their modest home faced Club Lane not far from Henry and Mary Eubank’s home. The generous Kendrick’s allowed my father to hook up their well to our water line – within an hour, the well was dry. Their generous short-term experiment gave us an emergency relief.
The memory of Rev. Reno S. Harp, new priest of St. Stephens Episcopal Church, driving his coup down a dusty Crestwood Ave, calling on mother about church matters, remains unclouded. Other recollections include the Charlie Behle Horseshoe Tournament held on the undeveloped corner lot at 5817 S. Crestwood Ave. Pitching horseshoes was a regular weekend outing, supplemented by an aging German Home Brew operation in Behle’s attached garage next door….it went on and on. E. Lee Trinkle, Jr.; Vance Godbold; Pat Dolan, Dr. Fred Caylor; Maynard Harris; Fred Pleasants (outside visitor); and Ray Wallace, Sr. all reliably present.
Westwood Christmases included dad’s traditional hike, rifle in hand, with the three of us, out Bremo Road north near Broad Street. In the area, later Pollard Drive, the tallest oaks could be found – with natural mistletoe clustered near top branches. Rifle in hand, my father would shoot down clusters for home holiday decorations….we always had mistletoe.
By 1953 Westwood had matured. Atop Crestwood Ave, around 5815, we watched the Channel 6 Big Tower distantly rise in construction – the same time our Westwood Tank was dismantled. I always felt the poignancy of that.
Raymond B. Wallace, Jr., a former CEO, retired Godwin High School teacher, and current Trustee at Virginia Retirement System, can be contacted at email@example.com.