Early Automobile Suburbs 1908 to 1945

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early automobile suburb streetscapes

The introduction of the Model-T automobile by Henry Ford in 1908 spurred the third stage of suburbanization. The rapid adoption of the mass-produced automobile by Americans led to the creation of the automobile-oriented suburb [†] of single-family houses on spacious lots that has become the quintessential American landscape of the twentieth century.
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Links to Automobile Suburbs appearing on Living Places

  1. 9th Street West Historic District, Huntington City, WV
  2. Adair Gardens Historic District, Knoxville City, TN
  3. Aldo Leopold Neighborhood Historic District, Albuquerque City, NM
  4. Allen M Ghost Historic District, Denver City, CO
  5. Allentown Historic District, Buffalo City, NY
  6. Annesdale Park Historic District, Memphis City, TN
  7. Ashland Place Historic District, Mobile City, AL
  8. Avondale East Historic District, Houston City, TX
  9. Avondale West Historic District, Houston City, TX
  10. Ballentine Place Historic District, Norfolk City, VA
  11. Barton Heights, Richmond City, VA
  12. Baynard Boulevard Historic District, Wilmington City, DE
  13. Bitting Historic District, Wichita City, KS
  14. Bloomingdale Historic District, City of Washington, DC
  15. Bloomsbury Historic District, Raleigh City, NC
  16. Bolton Hill Historic District, City of Baltimore, MD
  17. Boulevard Park Historic District, Sacramento City, CA
  18. Breezedale Historic District, Lawrence City, KS
  19. Broad Avenue Historic District, Altoona City, PA
  20. Brookwood Historic District, Wilmington City, NC
  21. Buckleys Addition Historic District, Tacoma City, WA
  22. Caldwell Residential Historic District, Caldwell City, ID
  23. Cameron Park, Raleigh City, NC
  24. Candler Park Historic District, Atlanta City, GA
  25. Capitol View Historic District, Atlanta City, GA
  26. Carolina Heights Historic District, Wilmington City, NC
  27. Carolina Place Historic District, Wilmington City, NC
  28. Cherokee Triangle Area Residential District, Louisville City, KY
  29. Chesterfield Highlands Historic District, Colonial Heights City, VA
  30. Chestnut Hill-Plateau Historic District, Richmond City, VA
  31. Cleveland Park Historic District, City of Washington, DC
  32. Clintonville, Columbus City, OH
  33. College Hill Historic District, Greensboro City, NC
  34. Colonial Place Historic District, Norfolk City, VA
  35. Converse Heights Historic District, Spartanburg City, SC
  36. Dilworth Historic District, Charlotte City, NC
  37. East Evergreen Historic District, Phoenix City, AZ
  38. Edgewood Historic District, Charleston City, WV
  39. Edgewood Historic District-Anstis Greene Estates Plats, Cranston City, RI
  40. Edgewood Historic District-Shaw Plat, Cranston City, RI
  41. Edgewood Park Historic District, New Orleans City, LA
  42. Elizabeth Historic District, Charlotte City, NC
  43. Ellis Street Graded School Historic District, Salisbury City, NC
  44. Emerson Avenue Addition Historic District, Indianapolis City, IN
  45. Emerson Heights Historic District, Indianapolis City, IN
  46. Enos Park, Springfield City, IL
  47. Euclid Heights Historic District, Cleveland Heights City, OH
  48. F Q Story Neighborhood Historic District, Phoenix City, AZ
  49. First Montrose Commons Historic District, Houston City, TX
  50. Fisher Park Historic District, Greensboro City, NC
  51. Forest Park Southeast District, St Louis City, MO
  52. Frys Spring Historic District, Charlottesville City, VA
  53. Fulton Heights Historic District, Salisbury City, NC
  54. Garvan-Carroll Historic District, East Hartford Town, CT
  55. Ginter Park Terrace, Richmond City, VA
  56. Glendale Park Historic District, Hammond City, IN
  57. Glenwood, Greensboro City, NC
  58. Grand Forks Riverside Neighborhood Historic District, Grand Forks City, ND
  59. Grand-Bates Suburb Historic District, St Louis City, MO
  60. Grandview Terrace Boulevard Historic District, Hartford City, CT
  61. Gravois-Jefferson Streetcar Suburb Historic District, St Louis City, MO
  62. Hamlin Park Historic District, Buffalo City, NY
  63. Harvard-Belmont Historic District, Seattle City, WA
  64. Hermitage Road Historic District, Richmond City, VA
  65. High and Locust Streets Historic District, Lockport City, NY
  66. Highland Park, Montgomery City, AL
  67. Highland Park Plaza Historic District, Richmond City, VA
  68. Hilltop Historic District, Lafayette City, IN
  69. Hyde Park Historic District, Austin City, TX
  70. Inglewood Historic District, Cleveland Heights City, OH
  71. Inman Park, Atlanta City, GA
  72. Irvington Historic District, Portland City, OR
  73. Island Home Park Historic District, Knoxville City, TN
  74. Jefferson Street-Fountain Avenue Residential District, Paducah City, KY
  75. Johnson Place, High Point City, NC
  76. Johnson Street Historic District, High Point City, NC
  77. Laburnum Park Historic District, Richmond City, VA
  78. Ladds Addition Historic District, Portland City, OR
  79. Lafayette Residence Park Historic District, Norfolk City, VA
  80. Lakeview Avenue Historic District, Jamestown City, NY
  81. Lakewood Heights Historic District, Atlanta City, GA
  82. Lakewood Park Historic District, Durham City, NC
  83. Leinkauf Historic District, Mobile City, AL
  84. Lincoln Park Residential Historic District, Mankato City, MN
  85. Livingston Manor Historic District, Highland Park Boro, NJ
  86. Llyswen, Altoona City, PA
  87. Maiden Lane Historic District, Raleigh City, NC
  88. Manville Heights, Iowa City, IA
  89. Maple Avenue Historic District, Elmira City, NY
  90. Marine Villa Neighborhood Historic District, St Louis City, MO
  91. Melrose Heights-Oak Lawn-Fairview Historic District, Columbia City, SC
  92. Minne Lusa Residential Historic District, Omaha City, NE
  93. Missionary Ridge Historic District, Chattanooga City, TN
  94. Moreau Drive Historic District, Jefferson City, MO
  95. Morningside, Edina City, MN
  96. Mount Pleasant Historic District, City of Washington, DC
  97. Myers Park Historic District, Charlotte City, NC
  98. North Anderson Historic District, Anderson City, SC
  99. North University Park Historic District, Los Angeles City, CA
  100. Northwest York Historic District, York City, PA
  101. Norwood Avenue Historic District, Cranston City, RI
  102. Norwood Boulevard Historic District, Birmingham City, AL
  103. Oak Cliff, Dallas City, TX
  104. Oaklette Historic District, Chesapeake City, VA
  105. Owen Park Historic District, Tulsa City, OK
  106. Park Hills Historic District, Park Hills City, KY
  107. Park Place-Fairview Avenue Historic District, Wichita City, KS
  108. Parkview Historic District, St Louis City, MO
  109. Pasture Point Historic District, Hampton City, VA
  110. Perkins Addition Streetcar Suburb, Salt Lake City, UT
  111. Poinciana Flats, Cincinnati City, OH
  112. Powelton Village, Philadelphia City, PA
  113. Proximity Park Historic District, Asheville City, NC
  114. Quaker Hill Historic District, Waterford Town, CT
  115. Riverland Historic District, Roanoke City, VA
  116. Rivermont Historic District, Lynchburg City, VA
  117. Riverview Historic District, Norfolk City, VA
  118. Roosevelt Neighborhood, Phoenix City, AZ
  119. Rosedale Park Historic District, Detroit City, MI
  120. Roser Park Historic District, St Petersburg City, FL
  121. School Lane Hills Historic District, Lancaster Twp, PA
  122. Second and Third Avenue Historic District, Cedar Rapids City, IA
  123. Sheffield Residential Historic District, Sheffield City, AL
  124. Sisson-South Whitney Historic District, Hartford City, CT
  125. South Drummond Street Neighborhood Historic District, Vicksburg City, MS
  126. South Highlands of East Lake Historic District, Birmingham City, AL
  127. South Norfolk Historic District, Chesapeake City, VA
  128. Spring-Douglas Historic District, Elgin City, IL
  129. Springdale Historic District, York City, PA
  130. Springhill Historic District, Richmond City, VA
  131. Squier Park Historic District, Kansas City, MO
  132. St Cecilia Historic District, St Louis City, MO
  133. Summit Historic District, Providence City, RI
  134. Sunnyside-Central Terrace Historic District, Winston-Salem City, NC
  135. Sunset Park Historic District, Wilmington City, NC
  136. Thomas Square Streetcar Historic District, Savannah City, GA
  137. Tiffany Neighborhood District, St Louis City, MO
  138. Tower Grove East Historic District, St Louis City, MO
  139. Travis Heights-Fairview Park Historic District, Austin City, TX
  140. Upper Albany Historic District, Hartford City, CT
  141. Victoria Park, Los Angeles City, CA
  142. Virginia-Highland Historic District, Atlanta City, GA
  143. Wallingford-Meridian Streetcar Historic District, Seattle City, WA
  144. Washington Park Historic District, Winston-Salem City, NC
  145. Waughtown-Belview Historic District, Winston-Salem City, NC
  146. West End, Providence City, RI
  147. West End Historic District, Winston-Salem City, NC
  148. West Line Historic District, Austin City, TX
  149. West Ninth Streetcar Line Historic District, Des Moines City, IA
  150. West Raleigh Historic District, Raleigh City, NC
  151. Westbrook-Ardmore Historic District, Wilmington City, NC
  152. Westmoreland Place Historic District, Salt Lake City, UT
  153. Winona Historic District, Norfolk City, VA
  154. Woodland Heights Historic District, Richmond City, VA


Between 1910, when Ford began producing the Model-T on a massive scale, and 1930, automobile registrations in the United States increased from 458,000 to nearly 22 million. Automobile sales grew astronomically: 2,274,000 cars in 1922, more than 3,000,000 annually from 1923 to 1926, and nearly four and a half million in 1929 before the stock market crashed. According to Federal Highway Administration statistics, 8,000 automobiles were in operation in 1900, one-half a million in 1910, nine-and-a-quarter million in 1920, and nearly 27 million in 1930. [1]

The rise of private automobile ownership stimulated an intense period of suburban expansion between 1918 and the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. As a result of the increased mobility offered by the automobile, suburban development began to fill in the star-shaped city created by the radial streetcar lines. Development on the periphery became more dispersed as workers were able to commute longer distances to work, as businesses moved away from the center city, and as factories, warehouses, and distribution centers were able to locate outside the railroad corridors due to the increased use of rubber-tired trucks. [2]

The popularity of the automobile brought with it the need for a new transportation infrastructure that included the construction and improvement of roads and highways, development of traffic controls, building of bridges and tunnels, and widening and reconstruction of downtown streets. One of the most unheralded structures that facilitated the growth of the suburbs was the perfected mechanical road. Automobiles required smooth, hard surfaces, and before 1900, even in cities, most roads were unpaved. Asphalt, introduced in the 1890s, became the common road surface by 1916. [3]

Beginning in the 1890s, the City Beautiful movement spurred advances in city planning and urban design. Transportation planning, as well as the improvement of streets, was recognized as central to the coordinated growth of urban areas. In cities such as Kansas City, Denver, and Memphis, the collaboration of planners, landscape architects, architects, and local political leaders, forged a rich legacy of parkways and boulevards that linked new residential suburbs with the center city. Highly influential were the writings of Charles Mulford Robinson, a journalist and advocate for Denver's park and parkway system. These included Improvement of Towns and Cities (1901), Width and Arrangement of Streets (1911), and City Planning, with Special Reference to the Planning of Streets and Lots (1916).

Proposed in 1906 and built between 1916 and 1924, the Bronx River Parkway was one of the first modern parkways designed for automobiles. Sixteen miles in length, the parkway connected suburban communities in Westchester County with downtown New York. The parkway followed the Bronx River through a reservation initially established to reclaim what had become a polluted and unsightly watershed. Featuring a right-of-way ranging from 300 to 1,800 feet, the parkway was extensively planted with trees and shrubs, provided scenic river views, and achieved the illusion of being totally separated from adjoining development. The alignment featured graceful curves and gently followed the undulating topography to give motorists, many of whom were daily commuters, a pleasurable driving experience. [4]

Metropolitan areas expanded as streets, parkways, and boulevards extended outward, opening up new land for subdivision. As new radial arterials were built, suburban development became decentralized, creating fringes of increasingly low densities. With commuters no longer needing to live within walking distance of the streetcar line, residential suburbs could be built at lower densities to form self-contained neighborhoods that afforded more privacy, larger yards, and a parklike setting. Neighborhood improvements typically included paved roads, curbs and gutters, sidewalks, and driveways, as well as connections to municipal water systems and other public utilities. [5]

Concerns over pedestrian safety emerged as automobile use increased, and by the late 1920s, subdivision designers and housing reformers alike were examining ways to separate neighborhood traffic from arterial traffic and to design neighborhoods that remained safe, quiet, and free of speeding traffic. The "Radburn Idea," first introduced by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright in their 1928 design for a "Town for the Motor Age," called for separate circulation systems to serve pedestrians and automobiles. Published a year later in the regional plan for metropolitan New York City, Clarence Perry's Neighborhood Unit Formula called for a hierarchy of streets of varying widths to control automobile traffic.

In 1916 the United States Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act, authorizing expenditure of Federal funds for up to 50 percent of the cost of State road projects within the Federal aid network. During the 1920s, most States established highway departments, and the total miles of surfaced highway in the Nation doubled. [6]

During the "golden age of highway building" from 1921 to 1936, more than 420,000 miles of roads were built in the United States. The increase in intercity highways and roads connecting farms with markets made new land available for suburbanization. Advances in highway engineering, including the development of divided highways, bridges and tunnels, and cloverleaves, made automobile travel faster and safer. [7]

Suburban areas continued to grow faster than central cities, and the planning of metropolitan highway systems gained increasing attention. High speed roads extending outward from central cities appeared in major metropolitan areas: Lakeshore Drive to Chicago's northern suburbs opened in 1933; and, in 1936, the Grand Central Parkway was added to the already extensive system of roads on Long Island built under Robert Moses's direction. In 1940, the opening of the Arroyo Seco Freeway in Los Angeles heralded a new age of freeway construction connecting city and suburb. [8]

The Futurama exhibit sponsored by General Motors Corporation at the 1939 New York World's Fair presented one of the most influential and memorable visions for the future of highway engineering, and with it suburban life. Designed by Norman Bel Geddes, the exhibit featured a huge diorama of the American landscape overlaid with an intricate network of high-speed, multi-lane, limited-access highways joining country and city. Called "magic motorways," the highways featured total separation of grades and graduated speeds. A ring highway surrounded the city interconnecting with radial freeways that guided suburban commuters to the center city where exit ramps eventually led to underground garages.[9]

In its 1938 report, Toll Roads and Free Roads, the Bureau of Public Roads called for a master plan for highway development, a series of upgraded interregional roads, and the construction of express highways into and through cities to relieve urban traffic congestion. The report also outlined the routes for six transcontinental highways and debated the feasibility of using tolls to support highway construction. [10]

The emergency of World War II intervened, and Federal highway spending was limited to the improvement of roads directly serving military installations or defense industries. In 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed a seven-member Interregional Highway Committee to work with Public Roads administrator Thomas H. MacDonald on recommendations for national highway planning following the war. The committee's recommendations for an extensive 32,000-mile national network of expressways resulted in the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944. The act authorized a National System of Interstate Highways, which included metropolitan expressways designed to relieve traffic congestion and serve as a framework for urban redevelopment. [11]

Since Congress did not appropriate additional funds for the system's construction until the mid-1950s, State highway departments were forced to rely on other sources, including public bonds, toll revenues, and the usual matching Federal funds earmarked for the improvement of the Federal aid highway network. [12]

From the end of World War I until 1945, increasing automobile ownership accelerated suburbanization and significantly expanded the amount of land available for residential development. This trend further stimulated the design and construction of a new infrastructure of roads, highways, bridges, and tunnels, laying the groundwork for highway systems that would transform metropolitan areas after World War II.


  1. Tarr and Konvitz, 210; Mel Scott, American City Planning Since 1890 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 186; Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics: Summary to 1985, as quoted in Knox, 107.
  2. Peter G. Rowe, Making a Middle Landscape (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991), 4; Jackson, 181.
  3. Tarr and Konvitz, 211.
  4. Edward Relph, Modern Urban Landscape (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 77; Rowe, Making a Middle Landscape, 186-91; Christopher Tunnard and Boris Pushkarev, Man-Made America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), 160-62.
  5. Tarr and Konvitz, 210.
  6. Larry R. Ford, Cities and Buildings (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 233.
  7. Bruce E. Seely, Building the American Highway System (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987), 67; Tunnard and Pushkarev, 162-67.
  8. Tunnard and Pushkarev, 162-65.
  9. Rowe, 193; Tom Lewis, Divided Highways (New York: Viking Penguin, 1997; reprinted New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 41-44.
  10. Lewis, 54-55.
  11. Mark H. Rose, Interstate, rev. ed. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990), 19,26.
  12. Rose, 26; Rowe, 194.

Adapted from: Linda Flint McClelland, Historian and Sarah Dillard Pope, Historian, National Park Service; David L. Ames, University of Delaware, Historic Residential Suburbs in the United States, 1830-1960, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.