Visit ‘Old North Davis’ on a guided walking tour

November 22, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

"Step back in time on the streets of Old North Davis" invites the Yolo County Historical Society. This can be done by purchasing (at any local bookstore) a society-published guidebook to the streets, alleys and houses of this unusual neighborhood.

The book is called "Old North Davis" ($10.95), written by a retired UC Davis sociology professor and neighborhood resident, John Lofland.

Those of us who live or have lived in the area bounded by Fifth and Seventh streets, B Street and the railroad, know it to be a special place. But when the plumbing in my little house shuts down irretrievably on Superbowl Sunday or I find there’s absolutely no street parking available Mondays through Fridays when UC Davis is in session, I wonder just how lucky I am.

Lofland’s book reminds me. The Old North is no suburban tract. The point is, there’s not that much history in California, much less Davis, so what history there is should be celebrated and, if possible, protected.

Lofland tells us that there was no "North Davis" before 1910. Up to that time, the land north of Fifth Street was agricultural or largely unused with only a scattering of structures. What he calls North Davis grew in a slow piecemeal manner over the course of four decades, unlike the fully planned post-war neighborhood housing developments.

Instead, North Davis was developed in no big hurry by a man named C.W. Bowers. He and his backers bought 280 acres of land north of Fifth Street in 1912 and announced plans to build 100 home sites.

He was helped considerably by the editor of The Davis Enterprise, William Henry Scott, who wrote often and enthusiastically about Bowers Addition in his weekly newspaper. A headline in The Enterprise of Jan. 18, 1913, reads: "Great Step Forward For a New and Larger Davis."

Cement sidewalks, ornamental trees and alleys were three of the improvements offered to those who bought the $250 lots. Growth was incremental and build-out wasn’t reached until the 1950s.

The first wave of building was marked by a modest architectural style – the bungalow. In the late 1990s, Lofland counted 32 bungalows in the Old North that survived the initial building period. In the 1930s and 1940s, bungalows were replaced with various revival styles of architecture and cottages. Thirty-two Old North homes and structures were included in the 1996 City of Davis Cultural Resources Inventory and all 32 are pictured in Lofland’s book. Each of the six north-south streets in the neighborhood – B, C, D, E, F and G streets – receives its own descriptive chapter.

Even if you’ve walked the Old North streets dozens of times to and from downtown or the Co-op or City Hall, you’ll find several surprises in Lofland’s book. For instance, did you know there’s a barn on Seventh Street? Because of the overgrown landscaping, it’s hard to see from the street except in the wintertime. Built in or around 1910, it has served a variety of uses but is now an art studio.

Lofland also points out that the Old North has many unexpected housing units. He calls them "tiny, hidden abodes."

"While the Old North has many ordinary or smaller-size homes, one of its truly distinctive features is the quite small or even tiny abodes that are nonetheless attractive homes A few of them are pre-World War II signature homes, but most are not. Some, indeed, are relatively recent garage (or other structure) conversions," he says. Lofland says there are 60 of these smaller-than-normal homes in the neighborhood, many hidden behind the main home or on the alleys or tucked away in hiding spots.

Lofland has designed his book to act as a walking guide to the neighborhood so if you keep your eyes open and travel on foot you may find some of these little structures.

If you want to know more about this neighborhood, the Yolo County Historical Society will host the opening of an Old North Davis exhibit at the Hattie Weber Museum today at 2 p.m. The museum is located at the corner of Fifth and C streets, just outside the Old North Davis neighborhood.

Lofland will give a talk on his research, illustrated by old photos and maps, followed by a book-signing and refreshments.

One point he also wants to make sure he gets across is this: The Old North Davis neighborhood is traditional and somewhat quaint. He hopes that it will be kept that way and its absentee home owners will not succumb to pressure from developers and tear down these structures to make room for apartment houses. Amen to that.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books [ Click Here ]

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