Under a brilliant blue sky and in view of the shimmering Mississippi River, Davenport city officials and members of the Gold Coast/Hamburg Historic District neighborhood gathered Tuesday morning to celebrate.
On the lawn of the Gothic-style home that belonged to jazz great Bix Beiderbecke’s grandparents, they announced that the historic neighborhood just northwest of the city’s downtown has been chosen one of 10 Great Neighborhoods in the nation for 2011 by the American Planning Association.
With that designation, the area joins the ranks of Society Hill in Philadelphia, Pike Place Market in Seattle, Back Bay in Boston and the Frank Lloyd Wright
Historic District in Oak Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.
The Great Neighborhoods program honors places of “exemplary character, quality and planning,” said city planner Matt Flynn, who made the nomination. The recipients of the award have a “true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement and a vision for tomorrow.”
The association also singled out the Gold Coast for reasons apparent to anyone looking around Tuesday: striking views, both natural and man-made, outstanding architecture — what other neighborhood has homes known as “The Castle” or “The Alamo”? — and a diverse group of residents and organizations dedicated to enriching and strengthening the neighborhood fabric.
One could argue it’s the latter that makes the Gold Coast what it is today.
The once-upper-class area built around the time the 19th century turned to the 20th had fallen on hard times by the late 1970s, characterized by crime and beautiful old homes divided into often-rundown apartments.
Into that breach stepped a number of “urban pioneers,” including Bill Boom, now the 3rd Ward alderman representing the area, who began fixing up the properties and knitting together a sense of community.
People working individually and in groups have effected change. Without them, the neighborhood might have continued to deteriorate.
In addition to the Gold Coast association, two other organizations involved in the neighborhood are the Gateway Redevelopment and Edmund Gaines groups.
Gateway is responsible for buying and turning around several “lost cause” properties, including the former Jipp grocery store, now the Architectural Rescue Shop. Edmund Gaines works to beautify the Gaines Street corridor with flower beds and period lighting.
Which is not to say the neighborhood is without problems.
While all of the homes within sight of the Beiderbecke house are in good repair, some within the area’s boundaries are in need of repair, outright junky or boarded-up.
And while the notorious “row house” criminal element has been rooted out, crime remains, as in any central-city neighborhood, Boom noted.
“We know we are far from done,” he said.
But the award shows “what a few people with a vision can accomplish,” he added.
Speaking for the neighborhood association, president PJ Slobojan embraced the challenges and said residents will “work and strive to live up to the award,” adding that they will “take (the) award and run with it.”