Historic Living… Washington Park

I believe that Washington Park is one of the most significant neighborhoods in all of Atlanta. It has a lot going for it. Close access to Downtown and Midtown. A large centrally located park with a natatorium and tennis facilities. It is located both on the PATH trail system and the Atlanta Beltline. It is a mix of many styles of historic homes from the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s with newer construction with garages. These are all fantastic but it is how Washington Park came to be that is what makes it so significant.

By 1918 the Great War had ended. In Atlanta, the civil war was now over 50 years past. Yet, people of color in Atlanta had very few rights. What is now Joseph P Lowry Boulevard was called Ashby St, named after Brigadier General Turner Ashby, who fought in the Confederate army in the Battle of Atlanta. This street had become the “Color Line” on the west side. This meant if you were black you lived east of this street, to downtown. This included the historically black colleges that are now the Atlanta University Center. If you were white you lived west of Ashby St. At this time there were no city parks that allowed black people in. They were banned.

Heman Perry moved to Atlanta from Houston, TX in 1908. He was smart, educated and black. When he arrived, he realized that most services that were available to whites in Atlanta were not available to blacks. Atlanta had a growing black middle class. He began starting businesses to serve the community, starting with the Standard Life Insurance Company in 1913. Heman purchased land in a rural area west of downtown, along with three other white developers. This land was west of the “color line”. Heman would not back down when the other developers said he could not build on his land. During this time, the City of Atlanta was looking at developing a park for black Atlantans. Heman’s land was adjacent to a plot the city had. When the park was designated “black” the white developers sold out to Heman and what began as the Washington Heights development expanded to Washington Park.

Dream Home, Circa 1922. Photo courtesy the Atlanta Preservation Center

Heman Perry not only began to develop and build, he also designed a home specifically for Black Atlantans. It was known as the Dream Home and the design spread across the southeast. He looked at what was important to his clientele. Cooking had always been a part of the culture, and this home had a larger kitchen than most homes marketed to the middle class at the time. He hired black architects, which the white firms refused to employ (or even certify). He hired black builders and black real estate agents. The Ashby Street school, which had been built to serve the white community was designated for black students after the neighborhood was developed.

Today Washington Park is diverse with a very active neighborhood association. The homes here range in styles you would find in other Atlanta neighborhoods, such as Druid Hills, Virginia Highland or Morningside. It has lovely curving streets and sidewalks. 100 years ago, it broke a barrier. History is important, so we don’t make the same mistakes again. The “color line” is gone. We are all in this together. Homes range in price from the low $100K’s for an unrenovated 2 bedroom 1 bath to the high $300K’s for a renovated 4 bedroom, at the time of publishing. Give us a call if you think you’d like to make Washington Park home. 404-978-2273

 

Washington Park today. Photos courtesy of Michelle Mechem

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