In the past, the Garden District was the suburb of Alexandria, while most people lived in the downtown area. Unfortunately, many of the downtown homes have been torn down and replaced by office buildings. This leaves the historic Garden District as the oldest residential neighborhood in our area.
The neighborhood boasts many eclectic architectural style of houses and a variety of sizes, from shotgun houses to mansions adorned with columns. You can find many styles of homes that can fit what you are looking for or what your family needs. You can find bungalows and cottages for bachelors and newlyweds. Queen Anne style mansions and plantation style homes can accommodate larger families. Victorians, American Foursquares, and more can cater to growing families. The Post-War Suburbs (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) have strong homes that have large windows, catering to the artists that admire the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. There is truly something for everyone.
I personally live in this neighborhood, and love it with a fierce passion. Ever since I moved here nine years ago, I have been volunteering to improve the area. My work with other volunteers in the Garden District Neighborhood Foundation has brought a revived interest, and we are seeing an increase in new neighbors. We see many young families moving in who love historic homes and want to preserve them, viewing their ownership as a stewardship of history for future generations.
Older homes have an irreplaceable character that isn’t found in newer properties. The wood used in older homes tends to come from old-growth trees that have weathered the test of time, rather than trees planted and harvested for lumber within the last few decades. Even the walls can be made of stronger materials that provide better insulation and sound barriers. Older homes tend to have larger yards with landscaping that has had time to grow to remarkable heights. Restoring a historic home allows you to retain the character, while customizing it to your own desires. Newer homes of similar size can come at a higher price, and the expenditure to customize it to your personality is an additional investment that only allows for a return on the investment once you sell.
There are tax credits available to help restore or include modern conveniences in historic homes. These tax credits could give an owner between 20-40% back on the cost associated with a restoration or repair of a home. These are available for commercial properties, which include investment properties or homes that are used as rentals. It is important to consult with a qualified historic tax consultant, or to do thorough research and paperwork to have these projects approved before you begin them. These projects could include things that incur hard costs, meaning HVAC plumbing and roofing, or soft costs like insurance, electricity, and other costs associated with a restoration. If you own a rental property, you can receive the tax credits for investing in the property while also renting it out at a higher rate, and can later sell it at a profitable return. Renting to those who appreciation the history of the home may also result in tenants who strive to maintain the property better, allowing for less upkeep and maintenance between tenants.
An area rife with historic homes tends to have a historic sense of community. The preservation of local landmarks allow for excursions with the family where you can all learn how the area came to be. Houses may be passed through generations, granting you the chance to make lifetime friends that your children can continue. The sense of community is strong, allowing for communal events (such as the Alexandria Farmer’s Market, or River Fete, or July 4th’s Rock the Red) to bring people together. Smaller local businesses stand a chance of thriving as neighbors want to support each other. Houses, friendships, and businesses have all stood the test of time and continue on. The Garden District is such a community, with neighbors as friends and loyalty to local businesses.
It is important to remember that they just don’t build them like they used to – and in the Garden District, you can find a home and a community worth the investment.