Exiting the VCU campus on the west side of Main Street, there is a stark shift in aesthetic from the modern architecture of the college’s business and science buildings. One is greeted by a snug corridor of Victorian and Colonial looking flats, painted in bright festive colors. The contrast is a welcome one for students and passers-by alike, moving from the confines of academia into something more familiar from an age past. Colorful murals decorate the stately walls, updating the early 20th century composition, making this one of the more visually interesting areas in the city.
This is the area of Richmond that some people are calling Uptown, a stretch in the Lower Fan along Main Street with a diverse selection of restaurants, bars, breweries and other more eclectic businesses. As VCU has expanded, this area has transitioned from a primarily residential area to a business corridor catering to the needs of students. There is plenty to see and experience here, however, for just about anyone. This little stretch from Harrison Street (ACTUALLY FROM BELVIDERE) to Arthur Ashe Boulevard has enough restaurants to keep a foodie busy for months no matter what their (HIS or HIS OR HER – or alternatively, could read: “ENOUGH RESTAURANTS TO KEEP LOCAL FOODIES BUSY….NO MATTER WHAT THEIR TASTES…) taste may be. In addition, there are a number of barber shops and salons, vintage clothing stores, local markets, and even a couple of martial arts schools, all sandwiched into this section of West Main. (I THINK ART GALLERIES SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN THIS LISTING, HERE. THE TITLE MENTIONS ART AND ART GALLERIES ACTUALLY DOMINATE MUCH OF THE BUSINESS IN PORTIONS ALONG MAIN)
Much of this area’s charm has to do with its history. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800’s, Richmond became a railroad hub, home to the first triple crossing in the United States. As the city grew, a suburb naturally began to spring up around it. Richmond had the first successful large electric railway system, and the “West End,” as it was known at the time, sprawled out in a fan-like formation along the lines of the trolley. The architecture present, mainly a mix of Edwardian and Colonial revival homes, was the norm in the late 19th to early 20th century. The Great Depression saw many of these family homes converted into apartments, before transforming into the store fronts of today. Much of the historical architecture has been maintained through the many renovations over the decades, giving the Fan its unique look.
In addition to the architecture, West Main is also characterized by an abundance of colorful murals that one may find throughout the city. The Richmond Mural Project, begun in 2012 by the Art Whino Gallery, brought world renowned talent to the area to create over 100 murals with the goal of increasing tourism and foot traffic. On Main Street the murals seem particularly at home, blending in seamlessly with the colorful storefronts, many of which are works of art in their own right.
There is much to see, taste and otherwise enjoy in Uptown. Come to appreciate the art, stay to get something to eat, and have a craft beer or two. All within walking distance from VCU. No matter what you are in the mood for, you will find it represented, from hot dogs to health food, coffee and ukuleles. Come get away from the suburbs of today and visit the suburbs of yesteryear. Whatever you are looking for, past or present, you can find it in Uptown.