An Intown Insider’s Insights: Atlanta Neighborhood Preservation

July 22, 2013

I don’t know about you, but in our almost 40 years of living in intown Atlanta, I have been frequently disheartened by the city’s – and let’s face it, the metro area’s – dismal record of historic preservation.  In spite of the herculean efforts of the preservation community, we seem to lose as often as we win (which, now that I think about it, is certainly better than pre-1970s Atlanta when no one seems to have even known the word “preservation” existed.)  If the words “progress,” “development,” “opportunity,” “world-class,” or “investment” are attached to a project, the building or block or district is as good as gone.

 
However…drive a mile or so outside the city center, and you will be in a neighborhood.  If you keep going – in pretty much any direction – you will pass through multiple neighborhoods.  I’m sure Atlanta is not unique in having so many vibrant, active, vigilant and, well, pretty neighborhoods, but other cities don’t seem to talk about theirs as much as we do.  Maybe it’s because Atlanta’s downtown living has only just begun to be a realistic factor in our life-style choices, or maybe it’s because our geography allows residential development to occur in almost any direction, but our neighborhoods seem to have been in the forefront of keeping the character and sense of place alive in Atlanta.

I am most familiar with the east side of the city, both north and south.  I live in Inman Park, and our immediate neighbors, The Old Fourth Ward, Poncey Highlands, Candler Park, Cabbagetown, Edgewood and Reynoldstown feel like, well, maybe cousins.  Whereas, the folks who live in Inman Park with us are more like siblings, and the residents of farther-flung neighborhoods – Lake Claire, Druid Hills, Virginia Highland, Morningside, Midtown, Grant Park, Ormewood, East Atlanta, Kirkwood, East Lake, etc. –  are kind of like second cousins, once removed.  Analogy over-reach, but you get the idea:  we feel like family.

 

Our reaction when we meet someone else who “lives intown” (as we like to say,) is a sort of shared smugness.  We’re the lucky ones.  We somehow managed, intentionally or accidentally, to snag one of those premium spots with access all kinds of desirable things:  shops, restaurants, services, walking and biking paths, public transit, sidewalks and trees.  And, most valuable of all, neighbors.
But I have to admit that the original impetus for many of us who moved here early in the process was not neighborhood as much as it was the houses.  The old houses had substance.  They had history, and real architecture, and quirks, and nooks and crannies, and spaces with archaic names (Butler’s Pantry?  Music Room?  Parlour?) and a kind of glamour – in spite of grime, vermin & bugs, lack of paint, and having to endure the indignities of having been converted into boarding houses and cheap rentals.

 
So we bought the old houses, which just happened to be in old neighborhoods.  And in the process of restoring the houses, we seem to have also given those neighborhoods new life.  So much so, that now it isn’t so much the homes that attract new residents as where those homes are.   The preservation of Atlanta’s neighborhoods happened in the best way:  organically, market demand driven, house by house, block by block, meeting each challenge in its turn and working together to try to solve our problems.  (Contrast that with the wholesale urban renewal model, which is top-down-we-know-what’s-good-for-you:  knock ‘em all down and build stucco condos on what used to be a neighborhood.  I wonder what Buttermilk Bottom would have looked like now if it hadn’t been Great Society-ed.)

 
I guess my point is that while Atlanta has had preservation disappointments, we have also had the joy of watching the city’s neighborhoods thrive and flourish.  And yes, there have been architectural changes made in some of them that might not make the National Trust jump with joy, but that too is a part of the history of those particular communities, self-determined and market-judged.  But the important thing is the rehabilitation of each neighborhood, in its own way and at its own pace.  And what seems to be universal among them are the relationships built among the diverse ages, races, economic levels, backgrounds and occupations in all our neighborhoods which have not only preserved homes and communities, but also nourished a spirit of leadership, volunteerism and  cooperation in our population that should make us all proud.  And hopeful.

Written by Pat Westrick, who has 30 years of Atlanta real-estate experience and over 38 years of hands on preservation experience as a resident of Inman Park. 


LP Grant Mansion Up Date

July 3, 2013

Back porch view: the new lift is to the left of the brick stairs

The guided tours of the LP Grant Mansion during Phoenix Flies 2013 were enjoyed by many individuals, most of whom had never been in this 1856 home which serves as the Atlanta Preservation Center’s offices.  If you missed those opportunities there are tours scheduled this month, visit the calendarfor further details.  The more recent

The railing at the front porch steps is attractive and assists guests

restoration progress and enhancements to the house include front and rear exterior handrails; a chair lift and a completely ADA accessible restroom; reclaimed heart pine floor in the Drawing Room; carpeting in the Library and Bobby Jones Conference Room; and, for the business aspects of APC’s work, counter-height file cabinets and a new telephone system.  We are grateful for the donations which made these changes possible.

Only a small portion of the Orleans Street wall remains intact

Funds are still needed to replace the rear retaining wall on Orleans Street so that APC’s street appearance is safe for and attractive to our Grant Park neighbors and is compatible with the neighborhood’s regulations.  APC has on hand $16,200 towards the $41,000 needed complete the project. Gifts of any amount are welcome for this effort. For more information about this significant project, please contact us at info@PreserveAtlanta.com. To make a donation to this effort please click here and indicate that your donation is for the “DONATE: LP Grant Mansion Bldg Fd”

 


Preservation In A Battlefield

July 1, 2013

McPherson Monument, image courtesy of Stephanie Dowda

The Battle of Atlanta Commemoration Organization (B*ATL) is charged with preserving the story and sites of the Battle of Atlanta and connecting these to the past, present and future. You are invited by the Atlanta Preservation Center (APC) to join one of  B*ATL’s founder and its current Chairman, Henry Bryant, for a lecture on Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 3:00 pm about the dynamics of preserving the physical and cultural evidence for a battle that took place in a location that is now roads, homes, businesses, churches and parks. The presentation will highlight current efforts for the restoration by B*ATL of the McPherson and Walker Civil War Monuments in East Atlanta. It is noteworthy that Atlanta Public Monuments were added to APC’s Most Endangered Historic Places List in 2011.

Henry Bryant became a preservationist at a young age while growing up in Jacksonville,Florida, and earned a degree in Art Education and Design from Florida State University. Thirty-three years ago, he and his family became urban pioneers, moving to a 1906 Victorian cottage in East Atlanta. Mr. Bryant has always been interested in history and was hands-on during the restoration of the home. He has enjoyed the support of his wife Lynne Bryant, and his two children, now grown and living in Atlanta. Mr. Bryant is a founding member of the East Atlanta Community Association. and led many organizations focused on improving the community. Additionally, he has served as a tour guide and trainer with the APC, is Chair of the Atlanta Zoning Review Board, and is a graduate of Leadership Atlanta.

Shortly after arriving in East Atlanta, Mr. Bryant realized that he had moved onto the battlefield of the Battle of Atlanta. He was among those in the community who developed a tour of the battlefield 28 years ago, and ten years ago he was one of the founders of the B*ATL organization. Mr. Bryant is the current Chairman of B*ATL, which puts on the annual event of the same name to commemorate the Battle of Atlanta and is undertaking to restore the battlefield monuments.

This event is being offered free to the public as part of B*ATL’s annual events from July 13 -21, 2013. The APC is supporting B*ATL in 2013 with three free events: two guided tours of the LP Grant Mansion on Sunday, July 14 at 3:00 pm and Tuesday, July 16 at 11:30 am; and Preservation In A Battlefield on Sunday, July 14 at 3:00 pm.