Historic Living… Mid-Century Modern, the Connector and White Flight 1950 – 1970

If you really want to trace how Atlanta grew as a city, simply look at the housing styles in the neighborhoods. Early in my career I sold a home in the East Atlanta Village neighborhood that was built in the 1930’s. The home had two driveways; one on each side of the house. The one to the left had a two car detached garage. When we received the survey back, I looked at the left driveway and in large letters it said East Side Avenue. I called the surveyor to make sure I understood. Yes, he said, the driveway was technically an Atlanta city street. What the what? I walked one block to the east and sure enough, East Side Avenue was a cross street. I walked one block to the west and there it was again. I was representing the buyers and called the listing agent in a slight panic.

The listing agent apologized and said, “oh no, I forgot to send you this easement.” Across my then fax machine, I received a hand written document from the City of Atlanta granting an easement to “raise cattle,” dated at the time of the home’s construction. I looked north and sure enough the next home was a brick ranch. So for 20+ years the land to the north was farm land and then sold to a developer in the 1950’s who built the style of home in demand- ranch houses.

Atlanta was growing in the 1950’s and with that came the need for better highways. What was once the crossing of the railroads, was now the center of the new Eisenhower Interstate System. 3 interstate highways were to come through Downtown. (I75/I85/I20). Originally the crossing of the three were to take place west of Midtown. In a controversial move, the system was moved East cutting the black business district of Sweet Auburn in two. The once prestigious neighborhood of Washington-Rawson was literally wiped from the map to make way for the I-20 interchange. What had been a wealthy neighborhood in the early 1900’s that included many prominent Jewish families, including the founder of the Standard Club Isaac Schoen, and the former Governor Joseph E Brown, had fallen into disrepair by the 1950’s. Then Governor Ivan Allen Jr said he hoped the interstate would bring the black and white neighborhoods of Atlanta together, but in reality built yet another wall between them. Historic neighborhoods along the new I20 route such as West End and Grant Park were also divided.

*photo courtesy of Curbed

The Civil Rights Movement began to sweep Atlanta and uncovered more unseemly practices in the real estate industry. Discriminatory practices such as Mortgage Blacklisting and Steering, that are now illegal under HUD guidelines were the norm. Black citizens were being denied mortgages and agents were steering them away from predominantly white neighborhoods. The desegregation of public schools took place in 1961, which included the busing of children between neighborhoods. This began the era of what is termed “White Flight.” Many white families left the city and further spurred the creation of the suburbs. As laws were put in place to counter discrimination, many Black Atlantans purchased their first home. The make-up of Atlanta had changed once again.

*photo courtesy of the AJC.com

What is now considered well inside the Perimeter, were the suburbs of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Neighborhoods such as Sagamore Hills and Briarcliff Woods had much larger lots and more energy efficient designs with lower ceiling heights. The now super trendy Mid-Century Modern or California Ranch style also sprang up in neighborhoods such as Northcrest and Huntley Hills.

Next month we will delve into how the Brady Bunch era translated in our southern city.





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