Georgia Trust’s tour of Southwest Atlanta helps us appreciate the history in our town

By Maria Saporta

Frances Westbrook of Brookhaven was having lunch Saturday in Adair Park – a southwest Atlanta community that she did not know before signing up for the Georgia Trust’s Southwest Atlanta Expedition.

“I thought it would an excellent opportunity to see this area, which I had never been to before,” said Westbrook, who has also been on the Atlanta BeltLine tour. “It’s really a superb opportunity to get to know another part of Atlanta.”

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Members of the Georgia Trust Southwest Atlanta Expedition take photos of the Morehouse College-Clark Atlanta Quadrangle (Photo by Maria Saporta)

More than 200 people visited the 20-plus sites on the Southwest Atlanta tour – which included houses, industrial buildings and some of the incredible academic institutions that have anchored the communities for more than 100 years.

The mission of the tour was twofold – to bring members of the Georgia Trust to an area they may have never seen before and focus the community’s attention on the need to preserve the history that exists without displacing the existing residents.

Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust, was even more pointed: If you are a land speculator, reconsider your motives or stay away.

“What we are seeing is a lot of people buying properties, sitting on them and then flipping them,” McDonald said in a brief interview during the self-guided tour.

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Melissa Jest and Mark McDonald before making their presentation (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“One of the reasons the Georgia Trust decided to hold this event is that many of the vacant properties have been bought by investors who have no plans to restore these houses but instead to sit back and wait for the BeltLine to be completed whereupon they may choose to double the price and sell to another party or investor,” McDonald said during the opening session. “This type of activity, we believe, is detrimental to these neighborhoods because it raises property values but does not advance the causes of neighborhood revitalization or historic preservation.”

Those actions end up making these beautiful – and still relatively affordable neighborhoods – become out of reach of the very people who have been living in the communities for decades.

McDonald and the Georgia Trust currently are in discussions to acquire three properties in the Southwest area, which they plan to restore and use as a model to show that renovation without displacement is possible.

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People gather to hear orientation about the Georgia Trust’s Southwest Atlanta tour (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“The Georgia Trust believes there is a better path, one that reinforces the cause of historic preservation, neighborhood revitalization, age, ethnic, and economic diversity and the cause of quality of life in these neighborhoods,” McDonald said. “Preservation should be more than saving historic buildings of a city. It should also be about the preservation of human resources.”

Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd who represents the area, called the communities “newly gentrified neighborhoods” – largely because of the development of the Southwest BeltLine Trail, which is supposed to open later this year.

She applauded the Georgia Trust for “exposing people to these historic communities.”

But one of the biggest dangers is that with redevelopment well on its way, the historic fabric in the communities will not be preserved and respected.

The Georgia Trust tour provided opportunities for people to better appreciate the amazing history that exists in this part of town.

One of the people who was part of the tour was Michael Holmes, who was available to talk about the Alfred Tup Holmes Golf Course off of Venetian Drive SW south of Cascade Road.

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People leave the morning presentation to go on the self-guided tour (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“My dad, granddad and uncle decided they wanted to play at the Bobby Jones Golf Course in 1951, and they were turned away,” Holmes said. “They engaged legal counsel, which ultimately engaged Thurgood Marshall. In November 1955 the U.S. Supreme Court decided that public parks should be integrated.”

As a result of that ruling Holmes’ family members decided to play golf at what is now the Chastain Golf Course on Christmas Eve, 1955. The avoided the Bobby Jones Golf Course because “they had heard there would be a problem, and they just wanted to play golf.”

The next day – on Christmas Day – the three went to Bobby Jones without any incident. Holmes proudly said that his family’s case before U.S. Supreme Court has been cited in 56 other Supreme Court cases.

That’s just one of the stories of Southwest Atlanta colorful past.

Melissa Jest, African American Programs Coordinator for the Georgia Historic Preservation Division, provided a presentation at the beginning of the tour to give those on a tour an idea of the rich history that exists in this part of town. Please read below.

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At the program, Mark McDonald confers with Melissa Jest and wife – Carmie McDonald – in the middle (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Here is her presentation in full:

Georgia Trust SW Expedition

Opening overview
 by Melissa Jest, African American Programs Coordinator, Georgia Historic Preservation division

Being a Georgia native, I thought I knew Atlanta – the state capitol with its gold dome, the maze of highways and its own transportation vocabulary (Spaghetti Junction , OTP, etc.) and way too many streets named Peachtree….

But as a new staff coordinator for the Georgia Historic Preservation Division, I too have the opportunity to explore in Atlanta’s neighborhoods and districts that have inspired captains of industry, and have nurtured the champions for justice – both of whom have shape and been shaped by the city.

It is an honor to be here in the Clark-Atlanta University Center where many of those champions of justice organized and revived themselves to fight the battle for civil rights, and equality under the law.

It was here at Atlanta University Center, just across the promenade in Harkness Hall that students from the six historically black colleges here organized the Atlanta Sit-In movement in 1960.

Morehouse students Lonnie King and the late Julian Bond formed COAHR – the Committee on the Appeal for Human Rights – in the basement of Harkness Hall which led students in the nonviolent sit-ins at retail lunch counters, movie theaters and at the Georgia capitol. Later, COAHR moved its meeting headquarters to Rush Memorial Congregational Church located less than a block up on Brawley Drive –thanks to pastor and local civil rights leader Joseph E. Boone.

This movement grew from 50 demonstrators – including A.D. King and Martin Luther King Jr. – arrested for sitting in at the Magnolia room restaurant at Rich’s Department store in Atlanta to more than 2,000 students protesting 16 segregated lunch counters.

Their courage and hunger for justice opened the doors and minds Atlanta’s white citizen in preparation for a crucial change in American life that was well overdue. To them I say thank you!

And thanks to the Georgia Trust for its committed leadership in the promotion and preservation of Georgia’s history and for inviting me to quickly share some known and little known stories on these historic neighborhoods you will visit today:

West End

This popular section of Atlanta began as a well-worn crossroad used by the Creek and Cherokee natives of Georgia. The White Hall settlement began in the early 1830s and grow after the forced removal of Georgia’s Creek/Cherokee tribes was completed in 1838. During the Civil War Confederates built fortifications along White Hall Street to protect those avenues leading to Atlanta. White Hall Street still exists as part of the east boundary of the West End.

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Exterior of the exterior of the Masonic Lodge on Metropolitan (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Starting in 1855, developer George Washington Adair began buying property here. And for all of you who can hear the Pet Shop boys’ 1984 hit playing in your mind, don’t feel badly. Adair wanted to bring to mind TO London England’s famous theater district – that’s why he changed the name from White Hall to West End in 1868.

Adair’s Atlanta Street Railway Company brought the first horse drawn trolley down White Hall Street in 1871. The West End developed boomed during the late Victorian area, so the historic neighborhood offers a diverse collection of Victorian house styles including Queen Anne and Folk Victorian, Colonial and NeoClassical Revival and – my favorite – the Craftsman Style.

The construction of the original portion of the Eastlake Victorian house now the Hammonds House at Peeples and Oaks Street in 1859 marked the beginning of the West End’s period of significance as per the National Register. And the Hammonds House, also marks an important preservation effort when A black medical doctor and art collector Otis Thrash Hammonds rescued the Eastlake Victorian house from ruin in 1979.

As the railroad industry expanded, and with the influence of the Atlanta University Center due north of the West End, its conversion from an all-white neighborhood to one of Atlanta’s most diverse communities was inevitable. but there was push back.

The Empire Real Estate board representing Atlanta’s black realtors and developers entered into an agreement in 1952 to respect the color line if white leaders would stop the violence against blacks who had begun to move into the North Ashby Street area.

However, the relocation of West Hunter Street Baptist Church led by Rev. Ralph David Abernathy to the West End ushered the historic neighborhood into the modern era as an integrated neighborhood.

Adair Park

Historians describe Adair Park as a classic bungalow suburb built close to the street car line beginning in 1892 with the construction of the Gillette Mansion, an ornate Queen Victorian on Stewart Ave, now Metropolitan Parkway. But like the West End, the Adair Park neighborhood dates to the early 1800’s when land speculators received land grant after the government removed Native Americans in this part of Georgia.

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A view inside the Potter house within the Adair Park community (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Atlanta capitalist and machinist Anthony Murphy acquired land in what is the north portion of Adair Park. Reports dating 1884 noted that African Americans gathered and used a pond near his property for baptisms.

Murphy gained fame for his role in the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862. Murphy sold this property here to Coca Cola founder Asa Candler who built Candler Warehouses and rail distribution center which still stand/ known as the Metropolitan business and arts complex.

The Candler Warehouses in Adair Park is also said to have contributed to the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917 (a 100 years ago in May), a horrendous fire that tore through the Old Fourth Ward up toward Piedmont Park, destroying 85 percent of the buildings and displacing the working class black and whites who has settled around the railroads and related factories…

All affected families faced the hard job of finding new housing after the fire but this would now be harder for African Americans as city officials used the upheaval of the Great Fire to more easily implement its race-based zoning and local Jim Crow ordinances passed a few years before.

Adair’s residential development picked up momentum in the late 1890s to 1900 with the extension of the electric street car. The streets of Lowndes, Gillette, Lillian, Bonnie Brae, Pearce began to fill the Gable Ells and New South cottages like those on the east side of Tift Street . The steps leading up from the sidewalk give some added grandeur to these charming homes.

Fannie Rollerson Georgia Trust

Fannie Rollerson greets two women who stepped in from another Century to visit her house in Adair Park – as her grand-daughter Moni looks on (Photo by Maria Saporta)

The sons of George Washington Adair continued his work in South Adair park, via the Atlanta Real Estate Co. founded in 1883. George W. Jr and Forrest Adair developed this part of Adair park between 1910 and 1928 with uniformed lots, mostly bungalow house types, and a street grid. The second Adair Park rests on Tift Avenue between Lillian and Gillette Avenues.

Adair Park 1 begins at Catherine Street, which local historians say is one of two streets that commemorates an African American couple who had endured slavery and continued to work for the Adairs into the early 1900s. The other street is Elbert Street just south of Pearce Street.

Capital View Manor

The history of Capitol View Manor is tied to Clark Atlanta University as the homes you will see today were built on land formerly owned by the early supporter of Clark University. The Freeman’s Aid Society purchased 450 acres after the Civil War as part of its plan to establish Clark College to helped new freedmen and women elevate themselves through agricultural and technical education.

Manford Manor

The Manford Manor in Capitol View Manor community (Photo by Maria Saporta)

To provide an endowment for the new Clark-Atlanta University in the 1920s, the Society sold Land Lot 88 for $121,000 to investors led by Joseph E Boston. Boston and partners were also officers of the Georgia Savings Bank & Trust.

In the early 1920s, business was booming in Atlanta. Commercial buildings were going up downtown and venture capitalists were coming to find their fortune.

The first homes of Capitol View Manor were built in 1926. The new development set out to differentiate from the Capitol View which stood right across Stewart Ave in order to attract the White collar managers moving here with the various new Atlanta based companies.

The single-family, one to one-and-a-half story homes were designed with brick veneers in the English Vernacular Revival style featuring steeply pitched front gables and entry ways, and prominent front chimneys. Curved streets with planted tree lawns and paved driveways sets Capitol View Manor a part as a middle class automobile subdivision amongst older neighborhoods with traditional street grids built along the streetcar lines.

The 1929 stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression stunted the growth on Capital View Manor. Of the 300 lots on the plat map, less than 60 homes had been built by then. In response, Atlanta realtor Paul Maddox devised the strategy where new “single family” homes were designed with inconspicuous exterior side entrances and connecting interior doors that provided temporary leasable space and additional revenue for struggling home owners. Maddox’s idea drew national attention. As you visit the 500 block of Shannon Drive look out of side entrances and other hints for this inventive homes.

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The interior of the Masonic Lodge #640 along Metropolitan Parkway in Capitol View (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

In 1930, Capitol View Manor’s primary investor – Joseph E. Boston – died and by 1933 the investment group defaulted on the loan – the remaining $70,000 – owed to Clark and its present and future students. In a sale on the courthouse steps, the Georgia Savings Bank and Trust – of which the defaulted investors were officers –bought the property $10,000 leaving Clark Atlanta $61,000 short and its endowment unrealized at that time.

While Capitol View Manor did not have racial covenants on the outset, later developers offered such restriction to ease fears of the black infiltration into the compact near-all white neighborhood. Developer Roy d. Warren agreed to racial covenants against renting, leasing or selling to persons of African descent to win residents support for his Hillside Homes development on Erin Avenue and later along Hillside Drive. These covenants stood until Jan 1, 1975. According to local historians, Willis Curtis, a cook for a Manor family was the only black resident of the Capital View Manor subdivision, occupying a small outbuilding on Manford Avenue.

Adams Park

An idyllic rustic landscape designed with strong vistas, and painstaking craftsmanship included superlative recreational amenities including an 18-hole golf course, a fishing lake, a swimming pool, and an equestrian area – Adams park is significant not only for its aesthetics but for its role in the national movements in city planning/development, in recreation and in other social movements of the day.

Lifecycle Building Center

The interior of the Lifecycle Building Center on Murphy Avenue (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Adams Park brought work and government investment to Southwest Atlanta during the Great Depression. Landscape designer William L. Monroe used design principles similar to those used by the National Park Service and many federal public works project.

Fulton County government invested in Adams Park in order to attract a middle and upper class population and to spur construction of new suburban neighborhoods in the Cascade Heights area of Atlanta. But the County’s plan to use millions of public dollars to create parks and golf courses to benefits only a small segment of the population drew fire. So did Fulton County Commissioner Charles R. Adams for whom the park was named as he was found to have had financial interest in the real estate companies that would build and sell many of the new homes in the Cascade Heights area.

The federal Works Progress Administration (known as WPA) partially funded the construction of Adams Park and most importantly, provided much needed work for men unemployed during the Depression. And it is the skilled craftsmanship of those laborers who built the stone culverts, bridges, retaining wall, clubhouse buildings and more – that you see when you visit here. The contribution of skill and sweat by our forefathers – black and white – makes Adams Park all the more beautiful and significant.

B Complex

Georgia Trust tour included the B Complex Artist Cooperative on Murphy Avenue (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

This diversity did not extend to the neighborhoods in Cascade Heights, which surrounded Adams Park. Cascade, as the SW sector is called, included smaller all-white neighborhoods including Adams Park, Beecher Hills, Peyton Forest, Mangum Manor and West Manor. As Atlanta grew and progressed so did its black population which had already begun to seek equal access to all that Atlanta had to offer.

In 1953 Alfred Holmes sought to desegregate the park’s golf course through the courts. With the help of a young NAACP attorney named Thurgood Marshall, and an order from the U.S. Supreme Court, Holmes and other black golfers gained access the Adams’ course and others citywide two years later.

The integration of the surrounding neighborhoods was a much harder fight.

When Dr. Clinton Warner, a Morehouse graduate, bought a house in Peyton Forest, white residents demanded that Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen stop this intrusion. So, Allen ordered physical barricades be built at Peyton Road and Harlan Road. These barricades were called Atlanta’s Berlin Wall. The barrier constructed by nearly-all black work crews, remained up until March 1, 1963 when they were found unconstitutional. By the late 1960s, Cascade neighborhoods became popular addresses from Atlanta notables such as Hank Aaron, Andrew Young, and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Note to readers: Melissa Jest said she would be happy to answer questions or receive feedback on her history. You can reach her by phone:  (770) 389-7870 or by email at  [email protected].

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

4 replies
  1. Traci says:

    It’s important to note that before it was the Hammonds House, the home was owned by the Bigham siblings for many decades. Madge Bigham, the author of several children’s books, operated the first kindergarten in the West End from this house. Madge was also a good friend and neighbor of Joel Chandler Harris. She never married and died in the 1950s. She is buried at Westview Cemetery. Sadly, Madge has been forgotten, but I hope some day her story will be revived and shared.Report

    Reply
  2. Danny Boozer says:

    Maria Saporta never ceases to amaze with her insightful and fascinating reporting. And Traci, where could I go to learn more about Madge Bigham?Report

    Reply

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