Category Archives: not too shabby

on what it’s like living the dream

I was biking to work on the beltline the other day and thinking of my siblings, in faraway places like Mississippi and California and how they don’t even know about the cool stuff I experience everyday, things that I just take for granted, like this dang BELTLINE! So I pulled my phone from my back jacket pocket (bike gear, yeah, gotta say, the pocket in the back is nice) and carefully snapped a few pictures. I stopped for some of them.

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Seriously guys, this beltline is a big deal.

see City Hall East When I first heard of the Beltline, 3 or 4 years ago, it was just starting to become a reality. Though the eastside trail was still rocky (track ballast that’s called), and impossible to bike, it was regularly jogged by local residents. I eagerly read everything I could get my hands on about this idealistic trail that would connect a circle of intown Atlanta. I wrote a research paper (a short one mind you) and took lots of hikes mainly in search of graffiti-filled spaces just beyond the public’s eye, and I too dreamed of the day when my bike could take me from my home in East Atlanta to work in midtown, all the way west to the quarry, or, well, anywhere. Riding on a [paved] railroad bed is SO EASY, and riding across town on Atlanta’s hills and potholed streets is not.

In the intervening years I moved one neighborhood closer (to Reynoldstown) and the Eastside Trail was completed, connecting Inman Park directly with Piedmont Park. With a little not-too-difficult-at-all street riding on either end of my trip I now commute to work on the beltline.

The ride itself is lovely ESPECIALLY in the morning, by the time I’ve biked through my neighborhood, the infamous Krog Tunnel, past the developing Atlanta Stove Works complex to the beltline trailhead everything about the morning is great. Traffic is tight on the streets but as I turn right onto the beltline I am warmed up and can relax into the ride.

And while we’re talking about Awesome Atlanta, I get to ride past the 2nd most up and coming happening thing in this city and the world—Ponce City Market—and check on the progress. I see what’s happening in Piedmont Park, or along Peachtree and then I’m there, properly sweaty and breathing hard I duck into a bathroom de-helmetize my hair, change shirts, and reapply deodorant. Minor drawbacks to bike commuting.

It’s a dream come true, one of those awesome amazing ideas that actually happened—is happening, and is only getting better with every step forward.

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houses and community

I’ve been a little obsessed with houses lately.

A few weeks ago I stumbled on a nytimes article, Small Developers, Big Dreams and it really hit home with me—young people buying foreclosed properties at auction, rehabbing them on a budget (their own labor primarily) and renting/selling them. That same week I visited my cousin in San Antonio where I was introduced to Rehab Addict, the first HGTV show I’ve ever seen that really speaks to me. I was itching to begin rehabbing some houses, revitalizing a neighborhood, but why was this so important??

One reason of course is that I want to get my hands dirty, but aside from that:

Houses make up a neighborhood, a community. These 1920s bungalows, the late-19th century gable end cottages, the fancier Victorians, or even the American Small houses and ranch houses from the mid-20th century, their rhythm on the street gives our neighborhoods a sense of being, gives the residents a sense of place, they tell where this neighborhood came from, who was here and how it was developed. In them you might see the story of bygone days of prosperity or vice versa, the houses themselves remind us of what once was or what it could be again.

They are homes. People live there who have lived there for decades, who have seen the neighborhood traverse its course in this city. New residents live there who have not known the neighborhood before today but have a new, perhaps worldly, vision for this place they now call home.

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Long streets impractical for walking

bungalows with porches close to the street and sidewalks, creating a more open, walkable community

Porches, homes close to the street, and sidewalks, create a more open, walkable community

The architecture of the neighborhood often engenders the spirit of the community. The small lots and houses typical in lower and middle-income historic neighborhoods practically force neighborliness and promote foot traffic in the streets while the sweeping lawns of many ranch house neighborhoods were designed specifically to put distance between the house and the street cater to automobiles while the long winding streets go so far as to make walking downright impractical. More space between houses discourages neighborly interaction as do “closed front” houses. Think about garages front and center or houses with few windows on the street, this kind of architecture can be downright intimidating.

Before the age of the automobile, neighborhoods were generally built on this principle, houses and their occupants were oriented to their street and their community, this is the problem with a lot of infill development today, big new houses outsize their older neighbors, when you get enough of the big new infill, the historic houses are isolated and undesirable. Do you want that cute little bungalow that is now wedged in the shadows of 2 monstrosities that take up the maximum amount of space on their lot? not really.

This is why I am so enamored with the idea of fixing up historic houses of this sort in neighborhoods that need the love, and why, apparently, a few other people are too. While many developers see these old houses as tear-downs and an opportunity to put up some max-square-foot house that gentrifiers will pay a pretty penny for in this ideal location (historic neighborhoods are also better situated for transportation and, in Atlanta’s case, the absolutely hopping beltline), the more preservation or sustainable or community-minded of us see the potential in a home that is already there, because it is more than just one house, it’s about a whole street, a community.


kitsch, preservation and good food

We’d just flown in from a hot and sunny Caribbean island, we’d been floating in saltwater at noon and drinking rum punches, but were plunged into an already dark, cold and VERY windy Atlanta at 6:30 pm. Following our fellow beach-clad passengers off the plane we made a pit stop to layer up, shorts to pants, a cardigan, a fleece, and beachy scarves tucked tight in all the crevasses to keep the wind out. That is really irrelevant to what happened next except to say that it seemed like a good night to try the much-anticipated Sobban. While the rest of Atlanta was huddled at home on this Tuesday night, we’d slip in for some warming vittles before the kitchen closed at 9.

Sobban is the new venture of Heirloom BBQ chefs and owners, a Korean / Southern diner. This would normally have no relevance on this blog here but moments after we walked in the door (we did have to wait a few minutes for a table) I asked where the restroom was (I’d been holding it cause we were in a hungry hurry) and the hostess bubbled up with an apology masked by the enthusiasm of telling us that this was an old Arby’s and so the bathroom was outside on the back of the building.

Sobban, Clairmont Rd, Decatur, GA

Sobban, Clairmont Rd, Decatur, GA

the first Arby's, according to and from papaarbys.com

the first Arby’s, according to and from papaarbys.com

I personally don’t remember Arby’s looking like this, but that’s because this is one of the MOST HISTORIC ARBY’S, c.1969, and close to the 50-year historic mark. From their first franchise in 1965 to 1975, this building was Arbys’ standard, designed by W. C. Riedel. According to one informed commenter here, “the Raffel Brothers (R-Bs, get it?) wanted a building free of chrome and neon that would attract a more discriminating clientele.” So they built in the shape of Conestoga wagon, with rustic stone pillars and a tile floor with images of steers supposed to be drawing the conestoga wagon—there was so much symbolism in these early designs!

As with most fast food structures, it has changed hands many times over the years but escaped demolition. There is a lot of this in Atlanta, famously on Buford Highway, a corridor where a lack of development/demolition has allowed for immigrant entrepreneurism. The Arby’s on Clairmont was, most recently, a pizza joint, then Kitsch’n 155, and now Sobban. I unearthed a blog post by Lee Bey of wbez Chicago about Kitsch’n 155, he chronicles the rehab by the excited owners at that time:
the biggest revelation was finding and restoring an original lighted, curved ceiling hiding above a dropped-ceiling added after Arby’s vacated the building. The find makes all the difference.

In Lee Bey’s photos you can also see the linoleum floor that had replaced the original square-tile mosaic. Back to our excited hostess: they had just pulled up the linoleum and discovered that the original tile floor was still there!

original Arby's floor at Sobban, Decatur

original Arby’s floor at Sobban, Decatur

I would say that despite changes over the years and missing the iconic Arby’s hat sign (long gone) it still retains most of it’s historic integrity.

yes, I just used the words “historic integrity” in relation to a fast food building.

now, how will these mid-century chains fare in National Register nominations? historic districts? will we consider them significant enough to require preservation or will it be left to a passionate few to preserve them in the name of kitsch?

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To see more about the history of the remaining Arby’s structures go here.

<http://arbys.com/company-history>Arby’s company history.


resuscitating the Rhodes Theatre for the weekend

Normally I write about somewhere I’ve been to recently maybe for some event but this post is about an event upcoming and about a place that features in daily life here at Rhodes Hall.

goATL and Living Walls at the Rhodes Theatre

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Preservationists may be unaware of the cool inter-city urban performance art hijinks that are taking place next door to us this weekend at the Old Rhodes Theatre on the south side of Rhodes Hall, in the only remaining building of the Rhodes Center. We don’t often associate ourselves with the happening art scene (or they with us, hello) even though both the arts and us historic preservationists (and bikers, alt transit proponents, urban explorers, planners, foodies and farmers, etc) share a common goal of revitalizing our streets, our neighborhoods, and buildings. Preservationists support the Beltline yes, and Ponce City Market (good job guys) but when it comes to festivals like Streets Alive or art events like Living Walls, communication fails to connect these 2 entities. There may even be strife between them if, for instance, a historic building is painted by a revered graffiti artist. Peachtree’s Streets Alive this summer stopped just short of Rhodes Hall, and this weekend a Living Walls event is happening RIGHT NEXT DOOR with the expressed purpose (according to this CL article) of not just having public performance art but of “resuscitating a beloved Atlanta landmark” the Rhodes Theatre, a remnant of the 1930s shopping center that once surrounded Rhodes Hall.

“Perhaps most intriguing of all, gloATL and Living Wills will finish their fall Traveling Show right on Atlanta’s doorstep. When they’re not on the road, the busy groups are in the process of resuscitating a beloved Atlanta landmark, the Rhodes Theatre just off Peachtree Street near Rhodes Hall. The historic theatre, closed and empty since 1985, will be reopened for a weekend of performances, November 8-10.”

Many questions arise namely, huh? no one said anything to us about “resuscitating” our neighbor, is this for real or just a flippant use of language for an article, hopeful? has anyone actually made steps? talked to the owner? My assumption is that there are no true plans for revitalization of this building but it is exciting that the owner is letting it be used for community events like this in the interim.

Honestly, last we heard there was going to be a giant tower to forever overshadow us and block our incredible view of midtown. Just waiting on the economy.

photo-31The Rhodes Center was sold in 1985 to developer Scott Hudgins, the Theatre closed in December of 1985. The matching Rhodes Center building on the north side of Rhodes Hall was later developed for office space (Equifax building) and while the south side building with the theatre was gutted, it has not been demolished, yet. Anyway, I just went across the street to take a few pictures and the theatre was open! With images of 1980s mod carpet and panelling on the lobby walls, I peered into the darkness, of course it was empty. The gutted building has a dirt floor surrounded by a concrete pad. J and J were sweeping and painting what floor remains, the plan they say is to install grass in the center for a sort of indoor outdoor stage for gloATL performers.

The above image from the GSU archives looks down the street between Rhodes Hall and the Theatre when it was still operating (and Rhodes Hall served as home of the State Archives). The best history of the Rhodes Theatre (and mental image of Atlanta in the 1940s) I’ve ever seen was written by Tommy Jones here.

Lastly, word is there are NO plans for Living Walls to paint anything (except for the floor). So ardent preservationists can be relieved.

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Serenbe—

FIRST IMPRESSION

it has taken me a surprisingly long time to get down to Serenbe. V too, the two of us kept saying let’s go! and never going, goodness knows why, it’s barely 40 minutes from our houses! So on Saturday, just days before she moves to the Netherlands, her, J, me and N went to visit this little dream community in the country.

the MAP

A New York Time article in 2009 touted Serenbe as “the new south” really, a sort of new new new south, but in essence it seems pretty true. new development with a little green, or a lot of green consciousness thrown in, southern home-cookin’, organic farming, farm animals and woods—and all this with your shirt tucked in. By living here you are doing good!

Serenbe was begun as an idealistic and hopefully realistic answer to the ever increasing suburbanization of the huge metro Atlanta area. From a 2004 article in USA Today:

As the nation’s metro areas expand ever outward, the forests and farmlands at their edges are rapidly disappearing. From 1982 to 2001, the amount of developed land in the USA increased by 45% to 106 million acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Brookings Institution, a research organization in Washington. and About 70% of residential and commercial construction is still occurring in woodlands and rural areas instead of areas that are being redeveloped.

At the same time, homebuyers increasingly are expressing a desire to live in a way that protects the natural landscape, and developers are responding. One of the fastest-growing segments of the housing industry is conservation subdivisions, which usually have compact lots clustered together and open space that is shared by all homeowners. These developments are designed to accommodate the maximum number of homes while protecting much of the adjacent farmland and natural resources.

Steve and Marie Nygren saw this happening and took it to heart. They did some really revolutionary work in their community, getting neighbors together to discuss what they wanted for their community in the future. Something done less in rural than in urban areas, but definitely needed in both.

Serenbe’s beginnings in the 1990s were, if not humble, at least somewhat organic: wealthy Atlantans bought land which became their home, then a B&B just in time for the ’96 Olympics, (she being the daughter of Mary Mac’s co-owner presumably meant good food was in the equation at an early date), more guest houses were added and eventually, in the early 2000s, this experiment in suburban planning.

If there is all this good, why was my first impression that, pleasant a place as it was, it felt all wrong??

Serenbe_residencesSerenbe feels manufactured, like a movie set, everything, EVERYTHING feels fake. Even at the farmhouse (which has some historicity buried in the walls that haven’t been removed)—I had a vague feeling of walking into a set, were we all participants in a play? Later on I would feel that the shop proprietors must receive a paycheck from “Serenbe, Inc.” like working a store at Disneyland, probably managers, not business owners (note: I don’t actually know for sure how this works but I’ve seen that the details of most establishments are in the plans long before they exist).

We didn’t take any pictures until we were about to leave, and I realized we needed to document. The manufactured-picturesque landscape had not been inspiring, CREATED to be photogenic, like Miss America on stage, it didn’t need me to capture it’s beauty. In the end I took a picture of the map, which saysit all, because ultimately Serenbe is just one big plan, a stage, and we’re not talking Shakespeare here.

There are other communities like this in history, Sunnyside Gardens, Radburn, and Atlanta’s own East Lake Commons. I’ve been trying to figure out what they have that’s different, accessibility, interaction with their surroundings, even if shops are part of the community its commercial space that’s not dictated by the creator but by an entrepreneur. Idealism is tough, and perfection comes in many forms.

Maybe it simply hasn’t grown into itself. The economy downturn occurred shortly after liftoff which may account for the lack of residents? maybe they were just all inside their fab [environmentally friendly] climate controlled houses on this rainy day, maybe they were… I have doubts, this community has nothing for the average homebuyer, and the more I think of it the more it frustrates me, with all the talk of affordable housing in the community the only thing one woman who works in the village was able to afford was a 900 sq. ft loft space WITHOUT A KITCHEN, without a KITCHEN?? I used to live in a 600 sq. ft brooklyn apt WITH a kitchen and that was roomy.

But still, all the businesses cater to tourists, there was nothing real about them. I mean, what town actually needs 5 boutique shops with local or handmade-by-African-women-and-children-in-need scarves, coasters, vases and jewelry? and that’s about it for general retail. You can also go to the Bosch showroom which may be the most useful commercial space, or MAYBE the General Store where you’d run for one or 2 ingredients if you lived/stayed at Serenbe but impractical for actual grocery shopping, plus, you’d deplete their supplies in one go. I assume residents grocery shop at Whole Foods in Atlanta, because goodness knows they wouldn’t be caught at Bradley’s Big Buy or DJ Grocers in Palmetto.

But that brings us around to the inherent anti-environmentality of a secluded subdivision that is not supporting itself (despite dreams). At least you only use a little gas to get around in the village, maybe none if you use your golf cart. On fun days you might pull out a bike, but we didn’t see any of those in action.

It was weird, I mean REALLY WEIRD. I’m hoping a second trip on a sunnier day will yield better results, and a chance to visit the farm (which I suspect is cool no matter what), some real people, and a chance to really enjoy my favorite part: the in-ground trampoline in the park!!

Now I better go see how N’s cookie-making is going (they’re for V, but maybe we’ll get some?).


H-M house revisited

You remember the H-M house? Less than 2 years ago this property was for sale, 7+ acres with a house set well back from the road. A long lawn, a creek through the woods, and an old sorghum mill to boot. Not to mention the perfect-sized house with it’s few outbuildings and a trailer which K tried very hard to sell on craigslist but we ultimately had to pay to get removed from the property. (No one has a mother-in-law THAT bad.)

H-M exterior1 2-23-12 H-M interior 2-23-12
before

Besides it being in the Ga Trust’s Revolving Fund, I was absorbed with H-M house at school as well, where the Historic Structure Report done by a GSU class a few years previous was my guide for the Valley View HSR my class was currently working on. I wanted to live there. I wrote then that if I had me a farmer I would move there right away, hell, I could BE that farmer if I wanted but I’d be out of money by the time I stepped foot in the house (and Mom would wonder had I abandoned Sunshine?). In the end, an awesome couple from Decatur stepped up to fulfill all our dreams for this perfect little piece of property.

They came to the Trust in 2012 with plans above and beyond what we normally see or expect from our purchasers. Not only did they have a rehab plan to stabilize the house, they were going to put in french drains, a wood shingle roof (not required we cautioned but totally awesomely historically accurate), and leave the wide bare boards on the interior untouched. But perhaps most to their advantage they brought colorful drawings to dazzle our eyes. Designers of all ilks know this is a sure way to almost anyone’s heart, heck, it’s how I got though school, by laying out every project down to a simple term paper, to perfection (the term paper’s probably didn’t need the attention but i wasn’t going to use size 12 Times), and these guys, one of em being a landscape designer, knew how to please in the same way.

front porchTurns out those landscape plans and drawings and dreams they drew for us in words and maps were true! They moved in earlier this spring and by my visit at mid-summer, even the formal garden with a central fountain has been laid out and is just awaiting plantings. They have chickens in a cute little coop, plans to turn the corncrib/outbuilding into an open air dining pavilion, a relaxing open front porch that was once enclosed, and oh! the interior! As one of their daughters put so perfectly, “it looks like the furniture is just growing out of the walls.” those beautiful wide boards give way to plain style antique wardrobes, dressers and beds. Ladderback chairs appropriate to the home’s farm history are scattered throughout and yet it’s comfortable. Of COURSE it’s comfortable. The 1200 sq ft home is easily cooled and heated now that it’s insulated.

Newly painted and repaired, one hardly recognizes the blue-tarped H-M house of old (it was probably never painted but the Trust does encourage painting wood siding despite historical inaccuracy for some properties because it protects the material). The H-M house has been reincarnated in all the glory it deserves, chickens in the yard, happy dogs, a garden and cocktails, with and without parties. And it has even retained one of its most unique “character defining features”—it still leans! the house is stable but all those angled interior doors and walls still list to one side—I guess there is hope for Sunshine too!

(They even have a BLOG)

ta dah!

(I feel like, at the end of this I should say Come find your dream home in The Georgia Trust’s Revolving Fund and start making your dreams come true today!)


DAR/Craigie House

Well, it’s officially been released now so I can jump on the story of the recent sale of the DAR/Craigie House. The Craigie House on Piedmont Ave in Atlanta has been the home of the Georgia chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution for a century or more. In recent years it has fallen into pretty serious disrepair though, by the sound of things the DAR has NEVER had the money to properly finish it to begin with! So it goes. Anyway, it’s in a right state now as you can see, and after a run-in or two with the wrong kind of developers, the house was still on the market for a “preservation-minded” buyer. When folks noticed the SOLD sign in the yard on Monday spirits were high and the lines were buzzing as various news outlets including us, tried to uncover the scoop.

The scoop.

DAR Craigie House

Now, as I searched for information regarding the historic preservation protections on the building (none, alas, it’s not even on the NR except as a contributing property in the Ansley Park NR district, also not protected), I uncovered the real history of the building which is pretty interesting. **

“Craigie House,” it turns out, is actually sort of a misnomer. That’s the real name of the house on Piedmont Ave, but to its namesake—the home of Longfellow and first headquarters of George Washington in the War for American Independence—it bears no resemblance. The resemblance is all in the story:

The original Craigie House, built in 1759, was used by General George Washington as his headquarters in 1775-76 and was the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from 1837-82. In 1895, the State of Massachusetts erected an exact replica of this historic home for its building at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta on land that is now part of Piedmont Park. *

The Atlanta Chapter of the DAR had been founded only 4 years earlier, in 1891, shortly following the founding of the National organization and the Chicago chapter which was the first. The Georgia Magazine article goes on to say that,

Of course, the members of the four-year-old Atlanta Chapter DAR played an important part in the social affairs of the Exposition. Many brilliant receptions were given and according to a history of the chapter appearing in 1921, “These social affairs given by the Atlanta Chapter have never been surpassed by any entertainments of the Atlanta Daughters.” *

Massachusetts then, trying to decide how to dispose of their temporary home at the Atlanta World’s Fair, decided that that the donation of the Massachusetts exposition building would be “a fitting and proper recognition of the courteous and untiring efforts of the ladies of Atlanta for the hospitable welcome accorded to the people of Massachusetts.” The house, however, was still in Piedmont Park, and though near, it was not an easy transition to the lot on Piedmont Ave which the DAR would soon acquire through another donation.

Plan of the 1895 Cotton States Exposition/World's Fair in what is now Piedmont Park. pink highlights location of Massachusetts Craigie House replica and the lot on Piedmont that the DAR sought to have their meeting house.

Plan of the 1895 Cotton States Exposition/World’s Fair in what is now Piedmont Park. pink highlights location of Massachusetts Craigie House replica and the lot on Piedmont that the DAR sought to have their meeting house.

The fundraising began but the building fund did not grow fast enough. In 1909, the Craigie House in Piedmont Park was sold for $400, and demolished (the city had recently condemned many of the remaining exposition buildings). However, the DAR salvaged windows, doors, “and some bricks and boards,” which were moved to the lot on Piedmont Ave. It is possible that some of these materials were used in the construction of the new chapter house which would bear the same historic name.

Ultimately, the idea of reconstructing the Craigie House by the same floorplan was abandoned as well due to it’s unsuitability as a meeting place (also, i don’t think it would’ve fit on their 30 ft frontage lot). Thomas Morgan, a noted Atlanta architect whose wife served as the DAR Regent from 1906-07, likely designed the current building, a very classical American design. On June 14, 1911, the two-story red brick Chapter House with four white columns supporting a full-height portico “was thrown open to the public.”

There you have it, “How the Craigie House got its name.” Finally, I should say that all this about the DAR is particularly timely and relevant to me as I JUST mailed off my notarized signature form to complete my application to the DAR (Dancing Rabbit Chapter)! (my ancestor apparently sold bacon to the troops)

* from Georgia Magazine, “Diamond Jubilee Inspires Gifts for Historic Craigie House, Home of Atlanta Chapter DAR,” February-March 1966.

** My primary source was an excellent post by tomitronics.