In my new series on, Historic Neighborhoods You Should Know about, I thought I would begin with one that was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. You may recognize the names of some of the past residents. Many have streets named after them now, such as Abernathy, Russell, and King. Wandering through the streets of Collier Heights, you may think you have just come across another “suburb”. Though it sits inside what we now refer to as ITP (inside the perimeter). You can distinctly see how the housing stock has changed from the 1930’s bungalows to ranches and split-levels. At first glance it may appear that land became scarce closer to Downtown and builders just moved outward to construct sprawling ranch homes on larger lots. It does not look much different than say Sagamore Hills or the outskirts of East Atlanta Village. Looks can be deceiving.
photo courtesy Georgia State University archives
It is true that land closer in became scarce and lots needed to be larger for this type of mid-century housing stock, yet this neighborhood comprising of 45 individual, interwoven subdivisions had a much heavier reason for forming. After World War II there was a general shortage in housing for returning GI’s. If you were African American, this was an even bigger problem. Prior to fair-housing laws, whites literally would not sell to African Americans. There were silent lines of demarcation. If a black family did move in to what was considered a “white” neighborhood, they were shunned or even violently threatened. Who would want to raise their children in that environment? Sometimes doing research for my historic posts makes my head spin. There were actual laws passed between 1913 and 1931 that outlawed blacks from living in certain areas. Lenders such as the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans’ Administration cited lending to blacks in predominantly white neighborhoods would lower property values and disallowed it. Are you ready for this one? The National Association of Real Estate Boards had a clause in the Code of Ethics, (no I am not making this up) that it was a violation to mix “inharmonious races and classes”. Though these were eventually found to be unconstitutional and in 1948 the Supreme Court outlawed racially restrictive covenants that did not mean it changed in actual reality. Have you ever wondered why Atlanta street names change so much? How you are driving down Boulevard and then all of a sudden, it’s called Monroe? This was one of those “gentlemen’s agreements” as a line of demarcation. Boulevard was the black side and Monroe was the white.
Map courtesy Wikimedia Commons
In the late 1940’s three major African American owned financial institutions, Mutual Federal Savings and Loan Association, Citizens Trust Bank, and the Atlanta Life Insurance Company along with a group of Atlanta Businessmen began quietly purchasing land. Soon they owned more than 200 acres of property which is now near the northwest corner of I20 and I285. Between 1952 and the late 1960’s not only were homes built, but schools, churches and communities where they could feel safe from the racial slurs and violence that plagued much of the rest of the city during the Civil Rights movement.
Another key feature of many of these homes which makes them distinctly different, is the Recreation Room. Yes, other Atlanta homes may have had a “rumpus room” or bar in the basement, but not like these. Some homes had areas that were like descending into a lounge in New York City. Or large enough to host dances and weddings. Again, remember the time. Most Atlanta Country Clubs and Restaurants would not allow blacks to even meet there. Black Atlantans had to meet and entertain at home.
Photo courtesy Players Club
Herman J Russell’s home came on the market in August of 2015. From the street, it looks like a large, well-kept ranch, maybe 3,500 square feet. What you can’t see from outside is the enormous basement level that is literally built down the hill, including the indoor pool that makes up the actual 8,761 square foot residence. It sold in June of 2016 for $450,000. This was a rare opportunity. These homes tend to stay in families for decades. In the early 2000’s a survey was done and nearly 95% of the homes at that time were still owned by the original residents.
Photo courtesy FMLS/Engel and Volkers Buckhead Atlanta
If you would like to learn more about the history of Collier Heights, I have to give a shout out to one of my favorite local Atlanta podcasts- Archive Atlanta. There are also fantastic links that will take you down the rabbit hole and give you a glimpse of life in West Atlanta in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
There are currently some renovation opportunities in the neighborhood. If you are a lover of mid-century homes and want to own a piece of history, give us a call. 404-978-2273. Most homes at the time of this article range from the low $100’s to renovations in the mid to upper $200’s.