From the RTD this morning. Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority is indeed distancing our historic neighborhood from it’s past. As excavators claw at the earth in Richmond’s Fulton neighborhood, a sign announces “another revitalization project of RRHA.” Four decades after it demolished and displaced virtually an entire community, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s body of work in […]
From the RTD this morning. Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority is indeed distancing our historic neighborhood from it’s past.
As excavators claw at the earth in Richmond’s Fulton neighborhood, a sign announces “another revitalization project of RRHA.”
Four decades after it demolished and displaced virtually an entire community, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s body of work in Fulton more resembles an interment than a revitalization. So those who remember Fulton before urban renewal aren’t turning cartwheels over the clearing of land for 26 new single-family homes — the second phase of a project that will add 58 homes to Fulton but further distance this historic neighborhood from its past.
Richmond has a disturbing legacy of cleaving old neighborhoods (see Jackson Ward) or making them vanish without a trace. That was the case when the Richmond Coliseum and the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park swallowed Navy Hill. If something isn’t done, old Fulton could be purged from memory.
“This is part and parcel of what’s been going on here for 40 years,” said Spencer Jones, 59, who was born in the same Denny Street home as his mom and is the keeper of the fading Fulton flame.
Jones and other old Fultonites have found an ally in David Herring, director of the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods.
“I cannot even imagine having your entire community wiped off the planet and having no recourse,” Herring said. He likened former Fulton residents to ghosts seeking to reconcile their prior existence. “Your entire connection to the universe was wiped off the planet and you don’t know what to do.”
To salvage memories of the community and preserve a longtime gathering place, the Fulton Family Reunion Committee has made a modest request — that the now-vacant 4800 and 4900 blocks of Fulton Street be preserved for the Fulton Memorial Park.
When asked about the park proposal, RRHA spokeswoman Felicia McLemore said in an email: “We cannot accommodate the request for that question at this time.”
What’s clear is Fultonites have been kicked off the proposed park site, which lies within the construction zone. The area is a meeting place for Fulton alumni and the location of an annual summer reunion. Having pulverized the physical Fulton, forces are at work to sever its spiritual and emotional bonds.
“They can say it all pretty and fancy, but the bottom line is they’re trying to break our will,” Jones said.
The development would surround the oldest home in Fulton, a 1965 brick rancher owned by Earl Robinson.
“I knew one day it was coming,” said Robinson, 67. “Now it’s here.”
It’s a sad denouement for a community that dates to May 1607, when English explorers from Jamestown were greeted by American Indians, an alliance report says.
The lower portion of Fulton, known as Rocketts, was annexed into the city in 1867. It became a densely developed neighborhood with cobblestone streets, brick row houses, churches and businesses before drugs and decay led RRHA to raze and rebuild it rather than reclaim it.
Fulton’s population fell from 3,062 in 1970 to 123 a decade later. Today, it has about half of its 1970 population but is otherwise unrecognizable since its renewal.
“It is a suburban subdivision in every respect. It’s totally out of context,” Herring said. “Once you get past Gillies Creek, you could be in Henrico County.”
Herring is trying to make people understand what’s at stake. “Maybe people should put the brakes on and heal the wounds of the urban-renewal effort 40 years ago.”
Given its role in the near-death of a historic Richmond neighborhood, a memorial park is the least the RRHA can do.