In the early years of Elmwood Park there were only a handful of structures. Many homes rented out rooms to boarders, so it was not atypical to have not only a family but also one or two boarders in a single-family home. After the Second World War, young couples moved out of the city to the newer suburbs encircling Columbia. Many of the large homes on Park, Lincoln, and Gadsden Streets were converted into low-income, multi-family housing. Many of the occupants who settled in Elmwood Park in the 1920s were quickly aging out of the ability to maintain their large residences. During the twenty-five years after the Second World War, the Elmwood Park neighborhood slowly transformed into a blighted area.
In the early 1970s, the South Carolina Highway Department considered extending Assembly Street from Elmwood Avenue to River Drive. This new road would divide and devastate the neighborhood. Many owners sold their homes to the State, while others were acquired through eminent domain.
In 1974, the Congress recognized that urban blight was a national problem and passed the Housing and Community Act. In South Carolina, Columbia was allocated $6,000,000 over three years to spend on community development. Elmwood Park was a targeted neighborhood. Twenty long-term residents and thirty-four new residents received grants. If a homeowner brought his home up code and lived in the residence for at least three years, the City would provide a matching renovation grant. In the 1980s, additional programs were offered to revitalize downtown neighborhoods, including the Community Development Block Grant, Operation Paintbrush, a Weatherization Program, and the Homestead Program.
Several residents formed the Elmwood Park Neighborhood Association in 1977 to revitalize the neighborhood at a grassroots level. The Association pushed for enforcement of the City’s building and maintenance codes, rezoning of single-family homes, and greater police protection. They sought to improve the sidewalks and streets within the neighborhood, and to improve the civic buildings in the neighborhood.
During the early 1980s, the State began the demolition of their previously-obtained properties to make way for the proposed Northeast Freeway. In an effort to frustrate the destruction of their community, the Association held its first Tour of Homes and Gardens on 20 March 1982 to showcase the renovation potential of the residences in the Elmwood Park neighborhood. Due to neighborhood opposition and a lack of construction funding, the freeway extension was cancelled and the SC Department of Transportation returned the right-of-way to the City of Columbia.
During the 1982 inaugural tour, four neighbors opened the doors of their newly-restored residences and, over the next thirty-two years, we welcomed neighbors near and far into our homes and gardens. The money raised from these Tours was reinvested into our neighborhood – the Association renovated Roy Lynch Park and installed signage and historic street lamps throughout the neighborhood.
In 1988, Elmwood Park was classified by the City of Columbia as an Architectural Conservation District. This designation allows the City to ensure that any redevelopment is consistent with the historic character and architecture of our neighborhood. In 1991, Elmwood Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, allowing homeowners to seek tax credits to renovate their historic structures.
Over the past forty years, Elmwood Park has grown into a vibrant downtown community while retaining the architectural character of the early twentieth century. In 2013, we were named the Neighborhood of the Year for Physical Revitalization and Beautification by Neighborhoods USA, and were honored to be one of three finalists for that year’s National Neighborhood of the Year. The neighborhood celebrated its centenary in 2005 and our neighborhood association celebrated its Ruby jubilee in 2017.