The Ghent District includes the various Ghent neighborhoods (Ghent, West Ghent, East Ghent) in Norfolk, Virginia. Its boundaries are roughly Brambleton Avenue/The Hague on the south, the Elizabeth River on west, Monticello Avenue on the east and the railroad crossing immediately north of 22nd Street. The area continues to spread eastward with newer developments (The Alexander at Ghent and The Row at Ghent ). The main north/south thoroughfares are Hampton Blvd, Colley Avenue, Colonial Avenue, Llewellyn Avenue, Granby Street, and Monticello Avenue. The main east/west thoroughfares are Princess Anne Road, 20th Street and 21st Street. Brambleton Avenue acts as a connector from Ghent to Downtown and crosses the southern tip of Ghent briefly.
The Ghent suburb of Norfolk, Virginia, began its development in 1890 with most construction occurring between 1892 and 1907. Located blocks west of Norfolk's present commercial core, Ghent originally covered approximately . Although most of Ghent was laid along a standard grid plan, the citing of the south section of the suburb by Smith Creek, and a “Y”-shaped inlet off the Elizabeth River, suggesting a different planning approach. Marshlands at this area were filled and the shoreline given a semicircular shape. The resulting street, Mowbray Arch, soon became the favored location for the stately houses of Norfolk’s middle and upper-middle class residents. Ghent’s plan was not particularly innovative, but it successfully exploited the area’s strategic waterfront location, providing views over the creek to the grass banks on the opposite shore. While Ghent originally covered more than thirty blocks in area, the Mowbray Arch section displays the highest concentration of houses built during the late 19th century. This area is contained by Smith’s Creek and Olney Road, a four-lane traffic artery connecting the two arms of the creek and providing east-west access to downtown Norfolk.
The area went into steep decline in the years following WW II (especially East Ghent) and was the focus of a very concentrated and successful gentrification effort that continues to this day. As a result, the area is one of the most economically diverse in Norfolk with large turn-of-the century apartment buildings, next to rows of cozy bungalows, side by side with newly developed condominiums. During the first few years of the 21st Century, many former apartment buildings were redeveloped into condominium units at a rapid pace. Much of what was East Ghent (which was predominantly an African-American area) was torn down and rebuilt (including roads) so that little of the original buildings remain. The main exceptions are Maury High School and the Van Wyck branch of the Norfolk Public Library.
Ghent's commercial district is known for unique shops, restaurants, the Naro Theater (which screens foreign and independent films), and Doumar's Cones and BBQ (known for having the world's first ice cream cone machine). The businesses within Ghent are predominantly located on Colley Avenue, Monticello Avenue (which includes many fast-food establishments as it is the transition area between Ghent and an industrial area to the east), and along 20th, 21st and 22nd Streets. There are many other businesses tucked into side streets leading from the main streets in Ghent as well.
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