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The north-south boulevard in southwest Roanoke City came into being in the early 1900s as a planned “splendid suburb.” Its identity as such has only grown over the century.
George Davis Photo Courtesy Roanoke City library Virginia room
Raleigh Court section of southwest Roanoke City.
In the heart of Raleigh Court is a vibrant neighborhood commercial district often referred to as the Grandin Village. Numerous restaurants, a grocery store, furniture and antique shops, a used books store, a ballet studio, and the historic Grandin Theatre give the village an eclectic mix of retail, cultural, and dining experiences that draw people from around the Roanoke Valley. With such a variety of stores, shops, churches and a school fronting Grandin Road, the street is alive with activity that feels both small-town and hip.
Perhaps Grandin’s signature event, the annual Saturday-before-Thanksgiving, Children’s Parade—co-sponsored by the Greater Raleigh Court Neighborhood Association and the Grandin Village Merchants Association—attracts Scout troops, day care centers, school bands, baton twirlers, Shrine clowns, Santa and others to mark the beginning of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons in Roanoke.
Perhaps a parade is what the developers of the Virginia Heights and Raleigh Court sections had in mind a century ago when they decided upon a broad boulevard to anchor their subdivision. The land development companies for those neighborhoods based their street grid system upon the “City Beautiful” design unveiled at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The design called for streets to be laid out in squares, with an expansive central boulevard. The Roanoke Times trumpeted the development with a 1906 headline that read, “City to Have Splendid Suburb.” Original plans for the neighborhood had what is now Grandin Road as being a two-lane street with a tree-lined median. To help market the subdivision, streets were given names reminiscent of England—Windsor, Sherwood, Arlington, Westover, Arden, Avon, and Oxford to name a few. So this begs the question: Where did the name Grandin come from? The answer may surprise you.
The late Judge James Brice, whose father Claude had Brice’s Drugs and Soda on Grandin Road (where Grace’s Pizza is today) for many years in the 1930s and 40s, shared with this writer the story of how, as a young boy, he hung around his dad’s store, Brice listening in on tales being swapped between his dad and customers. One older gentleman, Durwood Stanley, relished sharing how Grandin got its name. During the initial stages of Virginia Heights’ development, one of the realty company partners attended a theatrical performance at the Academy of Music in Roanoke. So smitten was he by leading lady Ethel Grandin that he decided to name his central boulevard after her. Grandin was a silent screen star whose career included over 30 films between 1910 and 1922.
While Grandin Road is noted for its commercial village, it did not start that way. In the three blocks heading south from the intersection with Memorial Avenue that comprise the business district, there originally were residences. Dr. T. Allen Kirk had a large home and expansive rose garden on the northwest corner of Westover and Grandin where Nopales restaurant and the CoLab sit today. A large wood-frame apartment building was located on the site of the present-day Natural Foods Co-Op, and the Grandin Theatre occupies a lot that used to have a brick house and a small spring-fed pond. All this began to change beginning in the 1920s and ‘30s.
When the residential section that encompasses Grandin Road was annexed into the city in 1919, there was only one business on Grandin Road—Reynolds Grocery at the southeast corner of Grandin and Memorial (then Virginia Avenue). The popularity of the new homes in Virginia Heights and Raleigh Court, however, created a demand for small businesses, and by 1929 the commercial village had taken shape. Homes had been razed, as grocers, druggists, small restaurants and a filling station became the hub of activity on Grandin Road; 16 businesses in all including a barber shop, tea room, ice cream parlor, plus two churches.