Walking About Westerwood Tour of Homes

Questions about a strange door leading from the formal dining room out onto steps of a driveway prompted a young docent in the 1923 home to explain, “it was originally for women being dropped off by carriages.”

The Nicholson house is a Colonial Revival and was one of the oldest homes on the Tour of Historic Homes in Westerwood presented by Preservation Greensboro Incorporated (PGI) during the weekend of May 17-18. On Saturday morning the sunny skies and light, fresh air were in cooperation with the spring flowers to show off the historic neighborhood.

Architect Steve Johnson is the President of PGI and works with Executive Director Benjamin Briggs on deciding which neighborhoods to feature on the tour. Johnson said, “[Westerwood] is one of those neighborhoods in Greensboro that offers the historic character we’re looking for.”

The idea for Westerwood as a planned neighborhood came from the enterprising vision of an ambitious treasurer named Arthur Kirby Moore who worked for a Greensboro real estate company. Moore acquired the lots that would become Westerwood in 1919 and held a public contest to name the streets that would soon lead to the modest homes.

Moore knew that soldiers returning from the First World War would be starting new families and would need the right homes.

The proximity to downtown Greensboro, UNCG and Greensboro College made the neighborhood appealing to young adults. The nearby parks and charming streets were ideal for a growing family.

Even though Westerwood is a planned neighborhood, the homes demonstrate a diverse range of architectural styles.

Jack Jezorek is a member of the Board of Directors for the Westerwood Neighborhood association who also volunteered at a docent for the tour. “One of the unique things about Westerwood is that no two houses are exactly alike,” said Jezorek.

The Colonials and Craftsman bungalows of Westerwood are simple and charming. These homes are not the imposing estates of traditional Southern old money neighborhoods, squatting upon expansive lots.

The smaller scale adds to the sense of community. Half of the people on the tour seemed to know each other and swapped stories of antiquing trips to New York City while confirming the garden-fresh menu for the upcoming week’s dinner between next-door neighbors.

The relatively small spaces between homes spill over with the lush branches of old trees and carefully pruned shrubs. Homes appear to peak out behind curtains of green. There are hybrid cars in most of the driveways, and many of the lawns display colorful sculptures.

Westerwood is known as an enclave for artists, musicians and professors. The creative homeowners have used their talents to add layers of character to the historic houses.

The Airplane Craftsman bungalow featured hand-painted floors with a diamond pattern done by the homeowner, an artist. The rich and earthy color palettes of the Mediterranean Revival seemed to reflect the owners’ love of cooking, apparent by the customized floor to ceiling shelves of cookbooks and gadgets. The storybook gardens of the English stone cottage featured an old wrought iron bedframe beautifully rusting among the plants.

The whole tour created the effect of having stepped into the glossy pages of a quirky design magazine. Visitors marveled at the creative designs of carefully and lovingly curated homes.

The details of the homes brought sheer delight. A giant wooden structure in the breakfast room of a Colonial Revival known as the Hodgin house was both a daybed and a set of monkey bars. An old box telephone in the Nicholson House served as a charging station for modern iPods and smart phones. The white built-in bookshelves of an incredible Mid- Century Modern added femininity to the masculine wooden floors that originated from a tobacco barn.

Owners have been conscientious to keep original details and accent them with unique, modern and playful décor. The result is a romantic and freshly contemporary feel.

The thing that really makes Westerwood special is its submersion in nature. Gardens, porches, sunrooms or patios appeared in almost every home. Some of the houses allowed for an incredible sense of retreat. On the second-level patio of the Mid-Century Modern, you would swear you were in the remote woods of the Pacific Northwest instead of yards away from busy city roads.

“One of the things that strikes me about the neighborhood is that it’s nestled between two major roads and yet provides a little safe haven for all these homes in this perfect little neighborhood,” said Johnson. “When you’re sitting on someone’s front porch in Westerwood you don’t know you’re downtown.”

Visitors on Saturday seemed to linger around the sunlit outdoor spaces of the homes. One man sighed at the sight of a plush chaise lounge on the screened patio of the Mediterranean Revival, “I could move in tomorrow.”

Westerwood was built before the automobile redefined what it meant to be American and drove us all out into the suburbs. The cozy community of Westerwood is therefore a reminder of what we left behind when we stretched out into the urban sprawl. It’s a quiet heirloom from a not so distant past.

By featuring Westerwood in this year’s tour of historic homes, PGI not only furthered the visitors’ appreciation for history and architecture, but also reminded them of what it once meant to be a neighborhood, and that a sense of community can still exist among neighbors. !