Lexington Neighborhoods: Everything Old is New Again
BY JOHN RICE
There are two types of old neighborhoods: the kind that were always desirable. Think Chevy Chase. Then there are those that worked their way up. Think, in varying degrees, Kenwick, The Meadows, Meadowthorpe, and Southland.
Chevy Chase is rare. It has never ever gone through any type of normal cycle where there has been a decline in desirability. It has the perfect combination of location and character.
Most older neighborhoods have experienced at least one or more cycles of decline. They may have started out as middle class neighborhoods when new. Often the owners moved away to newer, more modern suburban neighborhoods in the 1950s through the 1970s. These types of neighborhoods became more and more affordable to subsequent buyers since their spot on the preferred neighborhood hierarchy dropped. Some eventually stabilized. Some keep sliding all the way to the very bottom.
Kenwick is the perfect example of one that refused to linger as a stable “C Grade” neighborhood. It worked its way up to “B Grade,” then “A Grade,” and is now a legit “A+ Grade” neighborhood. My family moved to Kenwick in the mid- 1980s. It was just a blue collar, working class neighborhood. My parents chose it because they loved the nearby Chevy Chase, but couldn’t afford it at the time. It offered 80 percent of the location and style for 30 percent of the price. Over the years I have watched Kenwick go from being the affordable second choice to standing proudly on its own two feet. People today choose Kenwick because they love it, not because it is all they can afford. (More than one Kenwick property is currently listed at $500k+.)
The modern equivalent of Kenwick is The Meadows. The Meadows saw a pretty rapid decline in the 70s as most of the new schools, shopping and dining moved towards the south end of town. What was once a solid neighborhood built in the 1950s for returning vets and first time buyers saw a lot of neglect. Many houses became cheap rentals. The foreclosure crisis hit it hard about 15 years ago. With very few affordable older neighborhoods left, it has become a good way to get into an older house and get the old neighborhood vibe for cheap. I don’t really know where future generations will go to fulfill their desire for an older house in an older neighborhood. There aren’t many left. With all the tiny 1000 square foot generic spec homes of the 60s and 70s aging, maybe we will see neighborhoods such as Woodhill, Rookwood, Cardinal Valley, and Idle Hour become the trendy spot for affordable older homes. It’s the same formula after all.
Sometimes new development around an older neighborhood helps it become more desirable. Meadowthorpe is a prime example of this. When new, it was on the very edge of town. It was probably originally viewed like Masterson Station was in the early days. When Masterson Station was new, people referred to it as “all the way out there in the middle of nowhere.” Few people were even aware of Meadowthorpe when I moved here in the 1980s. It was just some random, cool, neighborhood on a forgotten end of town — a diamond in the rough. Back then, being close to downtown wasn’t as cool as it is now. There was no Distillery District. There wasn’t even that shopping center with Kroger. I think what really helped Meadowthorpe was Masterson Station. Sure, the Distillery District and its proximity to downtown contributed, but the continuing development of Masterson Station anchored that side of town as west Lexington, instead of feeling like a midway stop on the way to Midway.
Southland is a good example of how a nice, middle of the road neighborhood becomes trendy. It already had a good location on the south end of town between everything out Nicholasville Road and UK. It has always had a good school district. It has always been a nice choice for affordable homes. It seemed like a logical place for people to live and fix up their houses. More and more people started buying and renovating their houses just as many of the longtime owners were leaving. Prices have, consequently, shot up in recent years. Today it is common to see extremely nice renovated homes selling for over $500k.
So, if you’ve made it this far, you can see that most old neighborhoods typically become more desirable in these ways:
- They already were really desirable: Chevy Chase.
- They declined enough to become super affordable and were rejuvenated: Kenwick and The Meadows.
- New development and/or changes in the areas: Meadowthorpe.
- They were always nice, but became even nicer and more desirable for a variety of reasons: Southland.
John Rice is a Lexington Realtor who blogs at The Lexpert.
This article appears on pages 18 of the real estate section of the April 2023 issue of Ace. To subscribe to digital delivery of Ace Magazine’s monthly print edition, click here.