Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Vanished Rochester: Walnut Boulevard

Walnut Street is still with us, of course, but the boulevard islands that once defined the roadway vanished more than half a century ago. Walnut was once a picturesque thoroughfare lined with mature trees, private homes of leading citizens, and churches - seven denominations were represented in a three-block area. The streetscape featured a boulevard down the center even before the street was paved. And when it finally was paved, in the summer of 1931, the boulevard was incorporated into the streetscape. At various times, the island held both the 1917 Harris fountain and the World War II honor roll, both of which are now located at the east end of the Rochester Municipal Building.

Automobiles were the death of the boulevard on Walnut Street. In 1951, the village of Rochester was trying to come to grips with a serious downtown parking shortage. The village council voted to install metered parking on Main Street, and to offer free parking on Walnut. For parking on Walnut to work efficiently, the boulevard had to go. Besides, both the Walnut boulevard and the one in Fifth Street (now University Drive) were taking a beating from the increasing traffic in the downtown area. Drivers were regularly crashing into, or driving over the landscaped medians. In the spring of 1951, the village began the work of reconfiguring Walnut to accommodate higher traffic and more parking. The Harris fountain was moved to the intersection of Second & Main, and the Walnut boulevard vanished from Rochester's landscape.

Photo: This 1940s postcard view from Rochester Hills Public Library's online collection shows Walnut Street looking north from the intersection of Fourth Street. The First Baptist Church of Rochester (now the Village Shoe Inn at 401 Walnut), is seen at left. Note the Harris fountain standing on the boulevard island.

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