Tag Archives: neighborhood

a neighborhood re-written

I learned something new about history along the Beltline the other day!

The old Bellwood Quarry property was purchased by the City of Atlanta in 2006 for the future 300 acre Westside Reservoir Park which will connect to the Beltline in its northwest segment. The park will incorporate the abandoned Bellwood Quarry which will serve as a reservoir for Atlanta’s water supply. When filled, the quarry will be deeeeeeeeep (so don’t fall in!) able to contain 30 days-worth of back-up water supply for the city. This is a thorough WABE report on the future Westside Reservoir Park.

WestsidePark-overlay notes

The property (outlined above) appears to be a shoe-in for a park, comprised of great expanses of field and forest besides the quarry itself. But all of that property is not all undeveloped land or at least it wasn’t always. I learned the other day that, in fact, a whole neighborhood had been built, lived in, and demolished–not once, but TWICE–where woods now stand on the northern portion of the future park, enter…


Perry-Rockdale crop Atlanta_Base_Map 1940

The neighborhood of Rockdale Park has disappeared purposely from Atlanta’s maps two times in the 20th century, as Joe Hurley told us in a session of the 2015 Atlanta Studies Symposium. “Rockdale” does appear in the list of Westside neighborhoods on beltline.org though all that appears today is 21st century development north of the future park. Physical evidence of this area before the turn of the millennium has been all but wiped out. This too is about where the google-able information stops but Mr. Hurley’s tale of urban housing fails picks up.

It started to make sense when I discovered how closely Rockdale Park was linked with one of Atlanta’s infamous housing projects, Perry Homes. In fact, it appears that the original Rockdale Park neighborhood (a grid of streets and early 20th century houses) covered the ground from the Bellwood Quarry north to the railroad line and Inman Yards. In the 1939-40 real estate map of Atlanta above, you can see the neighborhood clearly laid out both north and south of Johnson Road which today (it’s route redrawn a little) makes the northern border of the future Westside Reservoir Park. 1949 aerials of Atlanta clearly show what may have been American small houses, but I’m just guessing. It is likely too that the residents of this neighborhood were mostly blue collar, associated either with the quarrying to the south of or the enormous Inman Yards.

Inman Yard Atlanta, c. 1917, Atlanta History Center

Inman Yard Atlanta, c. 1917, Atlanta History Center

In 1960, the area between the railroad and Proctor Creek was majority African-American (see this “Percent Non-White” map) and was already part of the urban housing–“projects”–experiments going on across mid-century America. In 1959 the first Perry Homes housing project was built just north of Johnson Road, after a fire, the “homes” were rebuilt in the mid-1970s and this so-called “residential brownfield,” “a region [of Atlanta] that for nearly 50 years has been synonymous with crime and violence and blight” (AHA press) was eventually torn down by 2000 when the mixed use development, West Highland, was begun to transform the area. Heck, Marta wouldn’t even go there–although a Perry Homes spur was proposed, the line (now the Edgewood-Bankhead short train) would only be built as far as the Bankhead Highway.

Mr. Hurley showed us that the Rockdale Park neighborhood was razed, and while the northern portion became Perry Homes, the lower portion was never redeveloped to it’s full potential. Some but not all of the proposed buildings of a housing project on the South side of Johnson Road were built, and within short decades, also demolished. Nothing stands there now except the scraped earth of the most recent development, and forest with no trespassing signs shrouding any evidence of the earlier neighborhood called Rockdale Park.

Current googlemap of the northern Westside Reservoir Park overlaying the 1939-40 map of Rockdale Park neighborhood.

Current googlemap of the northern Westside Reservoir Park overlaying the 1939-40 map of Rockdale Park neighborhood.

While Rockdale Park has been mostly forgotten for decades, the creation of the Westside Reservoir Park offers a great opportunity to bring its memory, history, and the lessons of the neighborhood’s demise back into the public consciousness and the story of Atlanta.

Meanwhile, I’m hoping Mr. Hurley will put more on the web soon as his studies progress!

more Mixed Use

(warning: this is a long one)

back in December, the word got around that the corner of the Reynoldstown neighborhood directly across the street from the Edgewood Shopping Center was ripe for development and someone was interested.

parcel-GIS-layered data flat
the affected property outlined on the current GIS map

the Physical Details:
20 residential lots comprise approximately 5.4 acres and contain 12 houses with 1 apparently vacant (1150 Wade St). Historic properties and their date of construction (according to Zillow.com, so take as estimates) are in orange, occupied properties in yellow. The oldest properties date 1920 though this one looks like it may be older and all new construction is from the 1990s and seems like they may be Habitat houses (though not the original owners). Judging by the GIS records most of these houses are rentals and some empty lots are owned by neighboring owners while others, like those lots in the southeast corner, are owned by an LLC.

1928 Atlanta City Map from Emory Library

parcel Pullen-aerial 1940 copy
1949 Aerial Atlas of Atlanta from GSU Special Collections.

You can tell by the above map from 1928 and aerial from around 1949, that the property has been in continuous use as single or two-family residential parcels since he 1920s. These houses once faced more homes across Moreland where Edgewood retail district now sits, although the majority of that parcel was an industrial brownfield.

from Edgewood Retail District

The buzz in December was oh-so-brief but the general consensus on the web seemed to be that this was super! residential and commercial development at an appropriate location, right next to Marta, TOD! and all that.

But I was appalled, in the name of development (yet another mixed-use multi-residential/commercial with plenty of parking complex) it’s ok to snatch up people’s homes, (historic homes), on lovely tree-filled lots??! also, I must admit, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the 1920s homes on Moreland Ave—particularly those sitting up above the street with a narrow staircase through their retaining wall, I can’t tell you how much I long to live in one…

On the other hand, proponents were right, proposals to build a high density residential development near a Marta station is positively, duh, brilliant. Despite my heartache at the loss of old houses and older trees, I can see the logic of a better transition from the single family neighborhood to the busy street and commercial hub, and as long as it’s done properly (without turning its back on the neighborhood or otherwise resulting in the deterioration of the next front line of single family properties) this could be perfect. Parking should not be centralized, neighborhood streets should not become congested (believe me, Rtown streets are too small to handle that, Wylie is bad enough), just, overall, it should be beneficial to and serve the existing community not just the young-up-and-coming it aims to attract. And of course, any development should position itself to take as much advantage of public transportation as possible. One person very soundly suggested a reworking of the MARTA entrance along Seaboard Ave. “When it was built,” they write, “there was no reason for [the entrance] to extend down the street toward Moreland but with this development in addition to the Edgewood development, there’s reason for MARTA riders to be coming and going in that direction.” Personally, after walking a quarter mile on elevated walkways in the opposite direction, the distance from where the Rtown entrance spits you out to Moreland is the only reason I don’t walk by the store on my way home. A long trek west just to go east is downright frustrating.

The thing is, it’s hard to believe any developer is going to do right by the community. My boyfriend welcomes the possibility of good restaurants right in our hood, but who’s to say there won’t just be more Willys’ and Subways (nothing wrong with that it’s just not what he has in mind)? and if there’s no improved access to the Marta station then residents and shoppers are just as unlikely to use public transit as they are now when accessing the Edgewood Retail District. And there are other concerns with affordable housing, will a flashy mixed use development like this speed the gentrification of Reynoldstown or will affordable housing be offered and neighborhood’s diversity maintained?

We might not have long to wonder.

The scoop:
An application (Z-13-53) was brought before the Zoning Review Board on February 20, 2014, to rezone the 20 contiguous parcels as Mixed Residential Commercial (MRC-3). Applicant: JW Homes, ℅ Jessica Hill Esq., 17 property owners were named in the application.

According to the Staff Report, the applicant included a conceptual site plan for a multifamily residential development comprising 285 units, 15,000 square feet of non-residential space and 467 parking spaces.

The Staff Report basically says what online commenters had indicated a few months ago:

    – that facilitating a mixed use development was suitable to this area and that “the zoning and site plan proposal are consistent with the recommendations of the Moreland Ave Corridor Study and goals and policy for the City for infill development near MARTA stations.”
    – the proposed development would have a positive influence on the quality of life and positive effect on adjacent properties, “filling an important gap in the urban fabric between the Edgewood Retail District and the MARTA Station.”
    – an MRC zoning for this area would allow for the best use of this site and much better use/opportunities than the current R-5 zoning allows for.

The staff recommendation was to approve the rezoning conditional that the development be conceptually consistent with the site plan and elevations submitted by The Preston Partnership, LLC, with this application and in compliance with any regulations of the Beltline Overlay District in which the property is located.
While I look fondly at these houses hanging out on the busy avenue, with their long front yards full of mature hardwoods (a nice separation from the street), most people seem to see the 20 residential lots as blighted. Few can imagine living on Moreland. And so, though my heart aches at the thought of those houses being bulldozed and the trees being cut down, there is great promise for a more transit-oriented Atlanta here. Let’s hope it works out.

on Olmstedian curves

> they are all well and good for automobiles and park-like vistas, but for trying to get from point A to B, the Olmstedian curves of parks and parklike subdivisions only frustrate and delay! (:

I’ve been biking to work more and more lately thanks to the October Bike-to-Work challenge. My most bike-friendly route takes me straight through Piedmont Park followed by the neighborhood of Ansley Park which spits me out perfectly across the street from Rhodes Hall. This would be fine, but getting through these circulinear paths and streets puts me in straights almost every morning as, going against logic I turn away from my compass to get to my destination, lose my compass entirely, and throw my hands up to come out on the other side (hopefully) where ever that may be. No big deal, but when you’re commuting you usually aren’t out for a leisurely ride.

ansley park map 1911 tracks

Grading the wide streets of Ansley park, this is Peachtree Circle with Rhodes Hall in the background

Ironically, the neighborhood’s book, Ansley Park: 100 Years of Gracious Living calls Ansley park “a textbook example of ‘New Urbanism,’ …places where people can live, work and pla without getting in a car.” But Ansley Park’s parklike streets were actually designed FOR cars (or maybe cotton pickers?), and unless you’re jogging, it’s highly unlikely you’ll make it beyond your neighbor’s house without a car. The streets are large and unweildy, giant football fields of pavement rolling onward, this way and that until you don’t know up from down. It’s great for cars, you just sail through the streets, yielding here and there to an adjoining road, biking here is frustrating with the unnecessary number of hills, and pedestrians wishing to get anywhere have to sprint across the wide roads hoping a vehicle doesn’t suddenly appear. So ultimately, maybe my biggest complaint with Ansley Park is width of the streets even more so than the circular patterns they make.

I mean, biking here would certainly be enjoyable but it is not efficient.

Automobiles came to Atlanta in 1901 when bicycle dealer William B. Alexander introduced the first three motorized buggies and as a 1905 Atlanta Constitution article touted, Ansley Park was the first Atlanta suburb built with the automobile in mind: “In the very near future those who own homes in Ansley Park are going to sit on their verandas and see among their neighbors the best people in Atlanta and on the boulevards before their doors everybody who rides, drives, or ‘motors’ an automobile, for all roads must lead to these, the only driveways in Atlanta.” The prediction would come true, in 1910 there were 106 households, in 1920 there were 458, and in between there, in 1915, half of all Ansley Park households owned cars.

But this curvilinear, parklike idea urban planning really began before cars were even a dream. The Garden Suburb idea was part of the late 19th century urban reform aimed at providing remediation of the ills of the industrial city. Houses were set back against sweeping lawns, trees towered above curving streets (well, maybe not at first) and parks were set as gathering places for neighborly interactions. Ansley park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted’s chief surveyor, and is based on Olmsted’s plan 1869 plan for Riverside, Ill., one of the first planned suburban communities with this aesthetic. Even though the suburb is set within a larger urban context (and notably a part of it, not cut off like cul-de-sac subdivisions of later periods) the neighborhood still manages to secure its own little oasis.

Piedmont Park, the other bane of my commute, was designed by the Olmsted brothers (post-Frederick Law) based around an existing racetrack and the remains of the 1895 Cotton State Expo (which, following close behind the Chicago Columbian Exposition was also born of the City Beautiful Movement).

This morning I opted for a different route. I cut through just a corner of Piedmont (gosh I hope I can remember which path!), struggled up 12 St. road along the ridge of Peachtree St., the backbone of this city, for the next mile to work.

Traffic vs. Olmstedian curves? I’m leaning toward traffic right now.


I’ve had these photos sitting on my desktop for a while and I thought I should share. They show the corner of Kirkwood and Flat Shoals in 1979 and again in 2006, notice the houses in the background (essentially the same) and the way Park Grounds appropriated the Gulf sign for their own. This is where we meet up with M, H, and Manny occasionally in the attached dog park to play with Bella.

Gulf Station 1979

Gulf Station 2006

So, while, we’re on it, a good little history I found on my new neighborhood, this tightly packed historic community (a National Register Historic District btw):

(from reynoldstown.net)
“One of the first African-American neighborhoods to develop in Atlanta, Reynoldstown originally began as an area to which former slaves migrated after the Civil War. The Georgia railroad (now the CSX rail line), which ran along the northern section of the neighborhood, became an attractive source of employment for the many displaced freed slaves who migrated to the city in search of work. There was also a sawmill and a ready supply of water and timber for the families who wished to build homes here.

Reynoldstown began to form in the 1860s, at the T-shaped intersection of the Central to Georgia Railroad (CSX) and the Atlanta and West Point Railroad (now the greatly beloved Beltline) on Wylie Street. The streets nearest this area–Chester, Selman, Oliver (now Kenyon), and Wylie–were the very first ones to be settled and were known as Tin Cup alley and, later, the Slide because of the muddy conditions there. Some of the oldest houses in Reynoldstown can still be found here.

By 1870, the area had become a vibrant community and was known by its present name, Reynoldstown. Reynoldstown was named in honor of Madison Reynolds, a prominent and successful landowner in the area who for many years operated a store on Wylie Street. Madison and his wife Sarah Reynolds had seven children and originally came to this area from Covington. His son, Isaiah P. Reynolds, graduated from Clark College (now Clark University) and, after inheriting his father’s fortune, continued his father’s legacy in the area. He dealt in real estate, served as an advocate in civil disputes, and erected a two-story brick store which still stands at 912 Wylie Street, at the corner of Wylie and Kenyon Streets.

In the 1880’s, the Atlanta Street Railroad Company extended its trolley system through Reynoldstown, shortening the half-hour walk to the city. The tracks ran down Wylie and played a significant role in bringing white middle-class families into the area after the turn of the century. From 1905 to 1930 the district east of Flat Shoals developed as a series of white subdivisions. Asa Candler, the original Coca-Cola magnate,developed the first of these, a hundred-lot tract stretching from Flat Shoals to Walthall, bounded by Wylie and Kirkwood to the north and South.

In 1909, Reynoldstown became officially annexed to the city of Atlanta. By that time there were four main streets – Wylie, Oliver (now Kenyon), Clark and Flat Shoals Avenue. The intersection of Wylie and Oliver was the hub of the neighborhood. Wylie was the first street to be paved and was for years the only paved street, making it what is still a major thoroughfare of the neighborhood.

More than a few of the houses in Reynoldstown were built around the turn of the century and retain their original architectural features. The custom of the time was to build the homes close together, as cars were not such a heavily relied upon mode of transport and sprawling yards were not yet the style. Reynoldstown retains this original structure and as a result attracts many who desire a walkable community with a rich history and architecturally interesting homes. This and the Atlanta Beltline that runs through it make Reynoldstown a haven for New Urbanists and older Reynoldstown families alike.”

Today the neighborhood is a mix of old and new as empty lots gain infill 2-stories in a variety of traditional and modern styles that loom over the historic one-story houses. Just this past spring we watched 4 houses get constructed in our backyard (also a recent addition). ok, really, it’s not a terrible mix. The yards are small and house-yard-sidewalk connection often so cramped that everyone walks in the middle of the streets where one can also only park on one side lest you get reamed for blocking traffic. keep that in mind. At least today most every property has off street parking, either a driveway or alley access. It’s small in acreage but the number of streets is astounding, even N, who’d been a resident for 10 years didn’t know whole corners of his neighborhood even existed. it’s neat (:

a Druid Hills weekend

Max and I finally got to go for a walk Saturday morning. Once we’d gotten around all the other folks out walking we were able to enjoy the day, sunny, fall, sycamore leaves littered the sidewalks, orangey and brown on Oxford Rd against the green of an embankment, the yellow brick of another Italianate house, or perhaps the red-brown brick of an English Vernacular one. No matter, the air was lovely as the leaf-blowers stopped to let us pass. Until then, Max and I had been going on our daily constitutional out in the “back 40” as S calls the long narrow ramble of their lot. He wants to plant it in corn he says, something he can look out over. I don’t know who’s going to break it to him that farming probably ain’t something an Atlanta dentist should try his hand at, not so close to the Druid Hills Country Club anyhow. What would they say?!

Druid Hills is a fine old (for Atlanta) neighborhood. Planned by the Olmstead Brothers, the neighborhood is “a picturesque scheme of streets, parkways, and elevated building sites preserving the profusion of trees and shrubbery” (from The Old In New Atlanta), appropriate to Mr Olmstead’s philosophy of urban planning. Joel Hurt, of Inman Park development fame in the 1890s, is primarily responsible for the development of this upscale neighborhood which, soon after the sale of the acreage in 1908 became home to such luminaries as Asa Candler (the Candler Mansion on Ponce) and was filled with other outstanding homes still there today. Most are imposingly solid Colonial Revival and Italianate homes. Today Druid Hills is a National Register Historic District (map) and a local historic district which means that K and S have to succomb to a Historic Pres Commission (HPC) when planning their additions and renovations.

Druid Hills 2

So, for my 4 night stay there, I had grand ideas to bike around those luxurious neighborhood streets with P (there are 2 P’s—well, 3 if you count P—which is a little confusing) and we eventually got to do just that on Sunday. Zipping back and forth along N. Decatur Rd. we took in the first breath of fall, and the first drops of rain in weeks. Druid Hills is also the home of the Druid Hills Golf Club established in 1912 and THE Club to be a part of in NE Atlanta and Decatur and Emory University which is at the end of the W’s street. P introduced me to Emory Village, a tiny hub of eateries and fake yogurt now anchored by a roundabout at one corner of Emory campus. So yeah, good day.

on Eastwood-Eastland Manor

first of all, what a name!
This subdivision was carved out of unincorporated DeKalb county in the 50s. Cloverdale Dr (the entrance to this subdivision we call home) is not listed in the directory for DeKalb co. until 1953. In 1955/56 it has been relegated to the Suburban Atlanta directory which was, i think, begun that year. Crestwood Dr and Edgemore Dr also appear in 1953, but both only with lower house numbers than our’s or B’s. Not until somewhere from 1958-60 are both our house and B’s are listed and with colored owners (this was still documented at the time). So it would seem that the first inhabitants of Eastwood-Eastland Manor were African-American. VERY interesting as the neighborhood is only—in the last 6-8 years—bringing in the young folk (many white) who are first-time homebuyers. That was the extent of my research one day at the Kenan Research Library.

One interesting thing to note here is that both B and Viv think their houses were built in 51/52, that’s what the tax assessor has on record. I have heard that there can be some discrepancy in tax assessor offices and actual dates (although usually i’d think they’d lean toward a more recent date on the house rather than an older one). Unfortunately i only had the city directories to compare dates with as I was unable to unearth ANY building permits for our neighborhood in the microfilm. I find it unlikely that the directory would be a full 7 or 8 years off and suspect the houses as being built in 56/57 maybe.

This past week, however, I have been photographing and observing the neighborhood from a architectural history/city planning point of view for a school project. Similar to what B and I used to do walking the dogs last spring, i’ve now been documenting and cogitating the various house-styles (traditional american small, ranch, and split level) and neighborhood features (most prominently, the brick-encased mailbox). The neighborhood has enough variety that makes me suspect each home was built by an individual, however, pairs of nearly identical houses are so common i’m not sure a developer wasn’t involved. Perhaps a little of both was happening.

Despite being a textbook 50s suburb with by-the-book houses, there was a definite attempt at variety. The sandstone door-surround is popular as are other mixed material facades: stone, siding, and brick, yellow brick or red brick, granite chunk chimneys or flat sandstone “bricks”. The picture window is popular and front porches are rarely seen except on recent remodels. It should also be noted that there is a particular sameness to streets. On Edgewood we only have ranches, also on the long end of Cloverdale, while closer in and on Crestview what i think are traditional American smalls are most prominent. Some of this could be based on the division of lots, the smalls are on narrower longer lots, while our ranch house sits on a wider lot and slightly less deep.

Since the ranch house has now gained historical significance in it’s crossing of the 50-year mark, we can cherish these neighborhoods and the culture they were conceived in.