The Berkley Historic District encompasses only a small part of a larger neighborhood whose historic character has been mostly lost through urban renewal. Because of its location at the confluence of the eastern and southern branches of the Elizabeth River, Berkley has been a center for shipping and shipbuilding since the colonial period. From 1789 until the mid-nineteenth century, it was the Norfolk County seat, but the area beyond the waterfront village remained rural until immediately after the Civil War, when Lycurgus Berkley, a local landowner, subdivided his property and established the eponymous town. Norfolk annexed Berkley in 1906. Ferries and the South Main Street drawbridge knit the two halves of the city together until the opening of the Norfolk-Portsmouth Bridge-Tunnel in the early 1950s. As with many older Norfolk neighborhoods, Berkley went into slow decline after World War II as many of its religious institutions and retail establishments relocated to the suburbs.
This tour covers only the northern section of the neighborhood. The southern section, BellDiamond Manor, was successfully redeveloped on a suburban model in the late 1960s and 1970s; the eastern and oldest section was eradicated during the construction of I-464 during the 1980s.
Several of Berkley's most impressive public buildings line the northern side of Berkley Avenue. At the intersection of Dinwiddie Street is the Antioch Baptist Church (Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church) (1899–1900, James E. R. Carpenter with Charles J. Calrow; 1928–1929, annexes, attributed to Diehl and Land; 1982, renovation), a cruciform Gothic Revival design. The Tabernacle of God Holiness Church of Divine Healing (Berkley Avenue Baptist Church) (1885–1888, L. B. Volk; 1890, 1908–1909, additions), near the intersection of State Street and visible from I-464, is a
The residential section north of Berkley Avenue and east of South Main Street was developed primarily between 1890 and 1930 on the grounds of Riveredge, a Greek Revival house that was home to generations of the Hardy family, including, briefly, its most famous member, General Douglas MacArthur. Riveredge fell into disrepair in the early twentieth century, burned in 1949, and was demolished two years later. One of Norfolk's most curious landmarks, the Mary Hardy MacArthur Memorial (1951, Finlay F. Ferguson, Jr.), is near the northeast corner of South Main Street and Bellamy Avenue, not far from the erstwhile site of Riveredge: a small, walled garden dedicated to the general's mother and constructed of materials salvaged from the ruins of the house. Neighborhood residents still refer to this section of the neighborhood as Hardyfields, and it is characterized by modest Colonial Revival and Queen Anne houses, American Foursquares, and bungalows.