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L & J Gardens, a historic Black neighborhood in Virginia Beach, added to state register

The sign outside of the entrance to L & J Gardens, a historic Black neighborhood in Virginia Beach
Built just after World War II for Black professionals who faced segregation, L & J Gardens has been added to the Virginia Landmarks Register. (Photo: Paul Bibeau/WHRO)

Paul Bibeau/WHRO

VIRGINIA BEACH — Rebecca Saunders has lived in L & J Gardens for more than a decade, and she’s collected stories of life there.

“The backyards of the neighborhood were open without fences. So there was a lot of green space,” she said. “Kids had a safe place to play and everybody knew everybody.”

“The kids couldn't get away with anything,” she added, “because somebody’s parents would let their parents know immediately if they were out of line.”

Saunders is president of the neighborhood’s civic league. L & J Gardens recently joined the Virginia Landmarks Register, because of its unique role as a community built by and for Black people.

Walter Riddick, his sister, Elizabeth, and a small group of investors began creating the neighborhood in 1946, a year after World War II ended. They named it for their parents, Lizzie and John.

Along with other Black developers and builders, they created the neighborhood at Wesleyan Drive and Northampton Boulevard for a Black professional class who faced challenges finding housing during the years of segregation in Hampton Roads.

More than 1.5 million Black soldiers served in WWII. They returned to a country, like other veterans, and began settling down, buying homes and having families. 

But as the housing industry expanded after the war, federal regulation encouraged segregation.

L & J Gardens was one of several subdivisions that popped up In Princess Anne County in the post-war years, but it was the only neighborhood for Black middle-class people.

The  neighborhood  provided housing and supported the Black building industry as well. 

It was an important project for Black builders and architects – some of whom had been educated at the two Historically Black Universities in the area, Norfolk State University and Hampton University.

According to the registration documents, a Portsmouth-based builder named Herolin DeLoatch built many of the properties, and he created a ranch style home that was the most popular design in the neighborhood. 

The neighborhood housed attorneys, teachers, doctors, city council members and judges.

“When people talk about living here in L & J Gardens through the years, they are happy stories,” Saunders said. “Folks had a wonderful childhood growing up here… The neighborhood had parties and social gatherings.”

Saunders said the civic league and Virginia Beach staff pushed to get the neighborhood recognized by the state.  According to a city announcement, they will now try to get the neighborhood recognized by the federal government.

For Saunders, getting recognition is about preserving a link to the community’s past.

“Nothing lasts forever,” she said. “And without really having it distinguished as a historical place… It could get lost in the future, you know?”

To read the original story, visit WHRO.