Kalamazoo's Unique Neighborhoods
The Westwood Neighborhood is a mostly residential neighborhood with a strong commercial corridor along West Main Street, beginning at Arlington Street and moving westward toward Drake Road. Situated in the far western part of the city, portions of Westwood fall within the township and other parts within city authority. As population grew during the 19th century, expansion westward began to intensify in the 1920s as automobile transportation became more common, and residents sought to settle in the suburbs. By 1972, the opening of the new Kalamazoo Central High School building signaled the neighborhood’s establishment as a suburb. Three other Kalamazoo Public Schools have also called the neighborhood home, including King-Westwood Elementary, West Main Street Elementary (non-active) and the Peter Pan Elementary (non-active). Nearby shopping malls (West Main Mall, Maple Hill Mall), developed in the late 1960s and early ’70s, also likely contributed to an increased interest in the area.
An examination of the 1873 Kalamazoo County Atlas reveals several large land owners in Section 7 and 18, what is now the Westwood Neighborhood, several of whom have nearby streets named after them. Early settlers included Benjamin Drake, Sabin Nichols, John A. Kendall, Ransom Fletcher, Col. Frederick W. Curtenius and son Charles, Henry Montague, Leonidas Rood, Solomon S. Waterman, B. F. Taylor, and Tertius Strong. Many of the pioneers who resided in Grand Prairie were buried in the nearby cemetery. The topographical makeup of the area consisted of both dry prairie and woodlands, making parts of the land ideal for farming. The Grand Prairie School was the area’s first school, established around 1856. Twenty years later, the Alamo Avenue School was built on the northwest corner of Alamo Avenue and Nichols Road. As the neighborhood advanced throughout the 20th century, the addition of houses of worship were sprinkled among the residential lots.
Westwood’s streets and lots began to take shape in the 20th century, mostly evolving from the eastward portion of the neighborhood toward Drake Road. It wouldn’t be until around 1915, when many of the large land owners began to sell their land to developers. Some of the larger additions platted east of Nichols Road and their registration dates include: Fletcher Park (1917), Pinehurst (1923), Westwood (1939), Prospect Park (1901), Lennox Park (1907), Taylor Park (1910), Jenk’s Plat (1910), Hillsdale Park (1924), Summit Park (1901), Kendall’s Addition (1920), Knollwood Plat (1927), Huntington Manor No.2 (1955), and Prairieview Park (1945).
The more western portion of the neighborhood’s platting took place after World War II, when the construction industry recovered from the impact of the Great Depression and World War II. Additions west of Nichols Rd. include: Indian Village (1946, 1952, 1955), Grand Prairie Village (1950), Veldmoor Plat (1959), Skyline (1958), Grand Prairie Estates (1960-1974, West Gate (1961), Orchard Park (1947, 1961), Westlawn Plat (1951-1965), and Green Acres (1956-1966). Racially restrictive covenants embedded within real property documents and a hostility toward black home buyers and renters led the neighborhood to develop with very little racial diversity. It would not be until the 1980s and 1990s, when Westwood would begin to reflect a greater mixture of racial groups. Today, Westwood is approximately 70% white, 17% black, and 5% Hispanic.
Home architecture styles reflect the periods in which they were built– a blend of Craftsman, Cape Cod, Usonian, Colonial Revival, Ranch, and Contemporary. Three Spanish Revival homes, located on the south side of West Main Street near Fletcher Avenue, add a unique contrast to surrounding architecture, while across the street, a modernist Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home blends seamlessly into the leafy landscape with its flat roof and cantilevered balcony.
Article written by Ryan Gage, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, August 2023