Bound by four streets with buildings that are rich with architectural diversity, Monroe Park has been an urban oasis in Richmond for over 100 years. Its unique location on the city's western edge lent itself to be a fashionable city park that by the late 1920s was enclosed by monumental churches, public buildings, two high rise apartment buildings and numerous 19th century houses. Although it is a small and simply designed city park, its setting creates "an architectural ensemble which is unique in Virginia for its monumental character and stylistic diversity."
|Classic image of Monroe Park.|
Purchased by the City of Richmond in 1851, the 7.5-acre area that became Monroe Park was located on the western edge of the city. The land was first used as the State Agricultural Fair Grounds in the mid-19th century. During the Civil War the area was used primarily as camp grounds for the City Guard whose barracks were later converted to a hospital. After the war, the first organized baseball games in Richmond were played there.
|These views show Monroe Terrace Apartments (now VCU's Johnson Hall).|
In the 1870s, as Richmond expanded west, the grounds became a fashionable city park as an increasing number of substantial houses were built in the area. Its design, radial walks which focus on its four adjacent streets and on a central fountain, was developed at this time in the city engineer's office of Wilfred Emory Cutshaw (1838-1907). Seen on late nineteenth century maps as both Western Square and Monroe Square (it was located adjacent to the city's Monroe Ward), the park by the 1890s was at the heart of what became one of the city's most desirable neighborhoods. During the day, wrote Richmond writer James Branch Cabell (1879-1958), the park would be "filled with nurses and their well-attired wards who were joined later in the day by older promenaders; often band music could be heard on summer evenings."
|All of these postcards date from 1900 to the 1910s.|
The area west of Monroe Park would become known as the Fan District -- a large residential neighborhood full of late 19th and early 20th century houses. The park's survival was threatened in the late twentieth century as the neighborhood around it evolved from a residential area to a more urban landscape. Today, the park's future seems more secure. In 1992, the City of Richmond recognized its importance by declaring the park "green space in perpetuity." In 2004, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia's largest urban university, renamed its western campus, which sits adjacent to the park, as the "Monroe Park Campus."
|Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.|
An excellent resource on the history of the park is The Ghosts and Glories of Monroe Park, Richmond, Virginia: A Sesquicentennial History by David M. Clinger, published in 1998 by Dietz Press, Richmond, Virginia.