Virginia-Highland Historic District
The Virginia-Highland Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2016, The Gombach Group.
The Virginia-Highland Historic District is a historic, highly intact, early 20th century suburban neighborhood located northeast of downtown Atlanta in Fulton County, Georgia. The district's development began with the introduction of streetcar lines in the area and continued to grow with the introduction of the automobile.
The Virginia-Highland Historic District is a large, primarily residential area that developed northeast of downtown Atlanta between 1889 and 1955 with the majority of the development taking place from 1905 through 1936. Virginia-Highland was originally developed as a white, middle-class residential neighborhood that incorporated the major planning characteristics of American suburban development in the early 20th century. The district encompasses over 600 acres of residential development and includes a small historic commercial area, the 1923 Samuel Inman School, several churches, and neighborhood parks. Predominate architectural styles in the district are Craftsman, English Vernacular Revival, and Colonial Revival. Predominant house types in the district are bungalow, English cottage, and American Foursquare. A number of buildings were designed by Atlanta architects including A. Ten Eyck Brown, Geoffrey Lloyd Preacher, Owens James Southwell, and Leila Ross Wilburn. The district also has a number of historic apartment buildings constructed between 1917 and 1935. The historic commercial resources in the district are concentrated along Highland Avenue and consist of 1920s one- and two-story brick buildings. Landscape features in the district consist of mostly native species of mature hardwoods and shrubs in private yards and Orme Park (1926), a picturesque park along a small stream, which also includes the historic Elkmont Street Bridge.
The Virginia-Highland Historic District is comprised of several subdivisions platted over a 23-year time span by various real estate companies. In the 1890s, the first suburban development in the area was prompted by the Fulton County Street Railroad Company's Nine-Mile Circle trolley line (constructed in 1889), which traveled along North Boulevard (now Monroe Drive), across Virginia Avenue, down Highland Avenue (now North Highland Avenue and hereafter referred to by its historic name Highland Avenue) to Ponce de Leon Avenue. Prominent Atlanta real estate developer, George W. Adair developed the first platted subdivision in the area in 1904. Between 1904 and 1927 at least 17 additional plats were recorded with Fulton County.
The district sits at a higher elevation than much of the surrounding area. The terrain throughout the district is gently sloping with pockets of wooded areas. Informally landscaped, grassed lawns with hardwood trees, shrubs, and perennial and annual plantings characterize the residential landscaping. During the 1930s, a local civic group planted dogwood trees, which still line many of the streets.
Numerous real-estate investors subdivided the Virginia-Highland area during the early 20th century, and the effect on the street layout is evident. Roads such as Drewry Street and Highland Terrace jog to the south at Barnett Street, the border between two developments. Evidence of various developments is also apparent in the abrupt shift from the curvilinear street plan of North Boulevard Park in the northwest portion of the district and area surrounding Orme Park to the grid pattern at the southern end of the district. There are also few gently curving streets such as Rosedale Road and North Virginia Avenue on the eastern side of the district. The platting of the district was also affected by natural terrain and the transportation infrastructure. In the area developed by the North Boulevard Park Corporation, the northwestern corner of the district, there is a combination of curvilinear street systems following the topography and the somewhat linear and regular layout of the pre-existing roads and trolley lines. The curvilinear street system, especially in North Boulevard Park and Orme Park, creates a semi-rural, leisurely atmosphere within the boundaries of the district. The grid system employed in much of the rest of the neighborhood is a direct response to the trolleys. Before the widespread use of automobiles, real estate values were determined by the proximity to the trolley line, thus it was advantageous to minimize the distance from the trolleys, which was best done with a grid pattern of streets. The trolley's legacy on the street layout is also evident in the gracefully curving intersections of Virginia Avenue and Boulevard (now Monroe Drive) and of Virginia and Highland avenues because the trolleys needed large turning radii to negotiate the corners. Also, the oldest homes in the neighborhood are found along the trolley lines.
The Virginia-Highland Historic District today is a rather densely developed urban neighborhood of houses and apartment buildings as well as several commercial nodes. Historically, the area was open farmland north of the city and was considered spacious to the first residents of Virginia-Highland who came from the more densely populated downtown Atlanta. The majority of the houses are on modest lots, which were originally platted in regular 50 feet by 125 to 200 feet dimensions, shifting in shape slightly to accommodate the curvilinear road layout. Most houses are setback from the street 25 feet with garages and/or sheds at the rear of the lot. Originally a system of alleyways serviced these garages and sheds. Although some alleys are still navigable, most have been absorbed by surrounding property owners as they are no longer necessary for the delivery of firewood and coal.
The Virginia-Highland Historic District comprises numerous subdivisions platted over approximately 23 years. The first suburban settlement was spurred by the Nine-Mile Circle trolley, which ran up North Boulevard (now Monroe Drive), across Virginia Avenue, and down Highland Avenue to Ponce de Leon Avenue. The first subdivision was platted in 1904 by George W. Adair. Between 1904 and 1927, at least 17 additional subdivision plats were recorded. The Virginia-Highland Historic District is significant in Atlanta as a large residential neighborhood that developed northeast of downtown between 1889 and 1955 with the majority of development occurring between 1905 and 1936. The Virginia-Highland Historic District is significant as a white, middle-class residential neighborhood in Atlanta that incorporated major planning characteristics of American suburban development in the early 20th century. The district encompasses over 600 acres of highly intact, historic resources, which includes houses, small commercial areas, apartment buildings, community landmark buildings, and neighborhood parks. The district is significant for its predominant early 20th century architectural styles such as Craftsman, English Vernacular Revival, and Colonial Revival, and for its early 20th century house types such as bungalow, English cottage, and American Foursquare. Atlanta's leading architects designed a number of buildings within the district. The district is significant for its landscape features commonly found in early 20th-century suburban landscapes such as informally planted mature hardwoods, shrubs, and ornamental plants in individual yards and small neighborhood parks.
The Virginia-Highland Historic District is overwhelming comprised of Craftsman-style Bungalows, the most common architectural type and style in Georgia during the early 20th century. As a middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood, Virginia-Highland is characterized by excellent examples of Craftsman-style bungalows throughout the district, particularly in the North Boulevard Park and Orme Park subdivisions. Representative of bungalows in the district are the Craftsman-style bungalows lining both sides of Park Drive and Orme Circle. Other good representative examples of bungalows in the district are the two clipped-gable-roof bungalows on Elmwood Drive. Craftsman-style details on these houses are clipped-gable front porticos, Craftsman-style grouped windows, exposed rafters, knee braces, and Doric columns. Other popular architectural styles in the district include English Vernacular Revival, Colonial Revival, Mediterranean Revival, and Neoclassical Revival. Common house types in the district include bungalow, English cottage, English house, New South cottage, New South house, Georgian cottage, Georgian house, American Foursquare, and American Small House.
Another popular early 20th-century style found in the district is English Vernacular Revival. The style is seen in the district in one- and one-and-a-half-story English cottages and two-story English houses. A row of excellent examples of English Vernacular Revival-style English cottages is located in the northeast corner of the district on Lanier Boulevard. The one-and-a-half-story cottages have multiple-gable roofs, tracery- and Craftsman-style windows, arched front entrances, and decorative half-timbering. Other excellent examples of English Vernacular Revival-style English cottages are located on Stillwood Drive. The three brick English cottages feature brick, stone, and stucco details, projecting gables, arched entrances, grouped windows, and side porches. An excellent example of an English Vernacular Revival-style English house is located in the Orme Park portion of the neighborhood at the corner of Elkmont and Crestridge Drive. The two-story, brick house features multiple projecting gables, decorative half-timbering in the gables, grouped multi-paned windows, wide overhanging eaves with knee braces, and a sleeping porch on each floor. Another excellent example of an English Revival-style English house is located at the corner of North Virginia and Los Angeles avenues. The asymmetrical, stucco-veneered house has a slate roof and grouped windows. The front entrance of the house is off-set to the inside corner of the L-shaped house next to the brick-and-stone chimney. A good example of the Colonial Revival style is seen in the two-story, New South house located at 816 St. Charles Avenue. The wood-frame house features a hip roof, projecting front gable with pediment and fan-shaped vent, a wrap porch with square posts and balustrade, wide eaves with modillions, and a front entrance with a transom and side lights. Another good example is the two-story, brick, Georgian-plan house located on Rosedale Road. The house has a one-story front portico with square brick posts and a pediment with gable returns, paired and single nine-over-one sash windows, and a porte cochere supported by brick posts.
The Virginia-Highland Historic District is an excellent collection of commercial buildings that represent businesses that catered to the neighborhood's residents. The district is an excellent and extremely intact example of Atlanta's early 20th-century suburban neighborhoods built for middle- to upper-middle-class white residents, which began as a Streetcar Suburb and developed into an Automobile Suburb.
The period of significance begins 1889 with the introduction of the Nine-Mile Circle trolley line and the beginning of residential development in the area and ends with 1955, the end of the historic period, to include the continuous development of the neighborhood after World War II. Physical evidence of the Nine-Mile Circle trolley line is clearly evident today at the intersections of Virginia Avenue and Boulevard (now Monroe Drive) and Virginia and Highland avenues.
With the development of streetcar lines in Atlanta, the rural nature of Virginia-Highland changed dramatically. In 1889, the Fulton County Street Railroad Company began construction of the second electric street railway system in Atlanta (and also the second in the state), which was known as the "Nine-Mile Circle" trolley line. The Fulton County Street Railroad Company received its charter from the Georgia Legislature in 1883 and was incorporated by James W. English, Jr., and William D. Luckie. The Nine-Mile Circle trolley line traveled from Atlanta's central business district to the undeveloped farming area northeast of the city, which was later to become the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. The route started at Broad and Marietta streets in downtown and ran to Peachtree Street and then out Houston Street (now John Wesley Dobbs Avenue) to Highland Avenue and then onto Virginia Avenue. From Virginia Avenue, the cars continued to Boulevard (now Monroe Drive) back to Highland Avenue and then returned to downtown. At locations where the trolley had to change direction, wide turn-arounds were built. The result was graceful curves at Virginia and Highland avenues and at Boulevard (Monroe Drive) and Virginia Avenue. Early in its history, much of the land covered by the Nine-Mile Circle was sparsely populated and the woods became a popular weekend picnic destination. On weekends, the streetcars were so crowded that men and boys had to hang off the sides of the cars. However, this was soon to change and the land would become valuable suburban real estate.
With the Nine-Mile Circle in place, the land in the Virginia-Highland area of the city became less isolated and more valuable. It was no longer practical to use the land for agricultural purposes. Real-estate developers bought up farmland in the area and subdivided it for residential and limited commercial uses. George W. Adair, one of Atlanta's most prominent real-estate developers, was one for the first to build a home along the new route. He built his Mediterranean Revival-style house at 946 Rupley Street. The trolley proved to have the greatest impact on Atlanta's real-estate development outside of the central city. To Atlanta residents, the lots along Ponce de Leon, Highland, and Virginia avenues seemed spacious compared to the cramped conditions of downtown. The trolley system allowed residential development to move further and further from the central city.
The trolley continued in the nine-mile loop until around 1912 when the Virginia Avenue portion of the track was abandoned. The line remained in use only as a service track to the trolley car repair barns (demolished), which were located at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Boulevard (now Monroe Drive). Two separate lines formed from the Nine-Mile Circle, the Forrest Avenue line, which traveled on Boulevard (now Monroe Drive) and the Highland Avenue line (later the Noble line), which eventually traveled to Noble Drive in Johnson Estates. Both of these lines dramatically influenced the development of the Virginia-Highland district.
By 1904, the rural character of the district had changed. Significant development had taken place in the southern portions of the district, including St. Charles, Greenwood, and Highland avenues. There was also limited development along Drewry Street, Highland View, and in George Adair's development along Rupley Avenue. Significantly, there were enough children living in the area to warrant the construction of a school, the Highland Park School, at St. Charles and Highland avenues (no longer extant).
The Virginia-Highland area was outside the city limits until 1909 when the city of Atlanta expanded the city limits north to Highland Terrace at the north end of the historic district and east into the Druid Hills neighborhood (National Register listed on October 25, 1979). The addition of city services further reduced the rural nature of the district. The Atlanta public school system purchased the Highland Park School from the Fulton County Board of Education and incorporated the school into the city schools. Because only a small portion of the neighborhood was not annexed by the city, arrangements were made for the children still living outside of the city limits to continue to attend the Highland Park School.
As the population in the neighborhood continued to grow, the Highland Park School was no longer adequate. The school entered into an agreement with homeowners to lease several houses at Greenwood Avenue and Frederica Street to accommodate the additional students, and another school called Greenwood School was built (no longer extant).
About 30 large houses dotted the area along Highland, Virginia, St. Charles, and Greenwood avenues by 1910. By 1917, the number of houses had more than doubled. Members of Atlanta's professional class owned many of these homes. Highland Avenue, now primarily a commercial thoroughfare, was dotted with both houses and commercial buildings. Businesses located along Highland Avenue were primarily intended to serve the neighborhood and included a pharmacy, grocery, and cleaners. By the mid-1920s, several of the large houses along Highland Avenue were replaced by commercial buildings.
After 1917, land continued to increase in value, and apartment buildings began to appear among the single-family houses. In 1917, the garden-style Colonnade Court Apartments located at St. Charles and Highland avenues was built. The apartment building was financed by prominent Atlantan Dr. Lucian Lamar Knight and designed by local architects and contractors Benjamin R. Padgett and Sons. The Colonnade along with other apartment buildings, including the St. Charles and Wilsonian apartments, constructed in the district at the time, housed middle-class white residents such as salesmen, insurance agents, bookkeepers, and shopkeepers.
Between 1917 and 1937, residential development increased substantially along Ponce de Leon, St. Charles, Greenwood, and Bonaventure avenues and Barnett and Frederica streets. According to the Atlanta city directories there were two apartment buildings in the district in 1923, by 1927 there were six apartment buildings, and by 1937 there were over 23 apartment buildings in the southern portions of the district. During this time, Atlanta was in the midst of a population boom, increasing from 154,000 in 1910 to nearly 200,000 in 1920. The growing industrial and commercial corridor of Ponce de Leon Avenue also increased the need for multi-family dwellings. In 1926, Sears and Roebuck opened its large mail order and warehouse operations on Ponce de Leon Avenue, joining the Ford Assembly Plant, which opened in 1915 (both buildings outside of the district). Both companies employed a large number of residents in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. The 1932 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows a miniature golf course at the southwest corner of St. Charles and Highland avenues (no longer extant), a recreational facility well suited to a middle-class neighborhood. By 1924, the density of the neighborhood had dramatically increased. Asa Candler, Jr., an Atlanta real-estate developer, and son of the founder of Coca Cola, opened the Briarcliff Hotel or "750" (National Register listed September 9, 1982). The Briarcliff Hotel is a nine-story, H-shaped, luxury apartment building at the corner of North Highland and Ponce de Leon avenues. Candler's real estate development company occupied the top floor. The luxury apartment building catered to residents who wanted an alternative to the single-family home.
While the southern portion of the neighborhood was taking on a distinctly high-density feel, the northern section of the district has a more pastoral, suburban atmosphere. The first large-scale development in the northern portion of the district began in 1914 when the North Boulevard Park Corporation purchased 64 acres of undeveloped land east of Piedmont Park with plans to subdivide it and create a middle-class suburb. In 1915, the city of Atlanta annexed the area purchased by the North Boulevard Park Corporation, ensuring city services to the area. The completion of the beautiful Park Drive Bridge in 1916 (located in the Piedmont Park Historic District listed in the National Register on May 13, 1976), a venture of the city of Atlanta and the Southern Railroad Company, added to the allure of the neighborhood, linking the newly established North Boulevard Park with the nearby fashionable neighborhoods of Ansley Park (National Register listed on April 20, 1979) and the late 19th to early 20th century development known as Midtown (National Register listed on February 12, 1999).
The 1916 plat map of North Boulevard Park shows the center of the neighborhood to be Park Drive and Boulevard (now Monroe Drive). The boundaries of this development originally extended west to Piedmont Park, east to Virginia Avenue, south to 10th Street and north to Orme Circle. After a three year lull in development due to the American involvement in World War I, the area was re-advertised for development in 1919. Lots sold for an average of $45 per square foot. By 1921, the developers had sold nearly all of the lots and over half of the lots had houses built on them. The development of the neighborhood was so successful it was expanded to include Orme Circle, Crestridge and Cooledge avenues, and Brookridge and Elkmont drives. The development was called Orme Park and the expansion nearly doubled the size of the neighborhood, making North Boulevard Park by far the largest single real-estate development in the district. The expanded development of North Boulevard Park coincided with the city's 1922 annexation of the remainder of the Virginia-Highland district.
After its rapid growth in the 1920s, the neighborhood entered a long period of stability. By 1936, virtually all of the land in the Virginia-Highland district was developed and built, with only a small number of infill houses constructed during the post-World War II housing boom. The largest area of post-World War II development was in the previously undeveloped area that is now Drewry Street and Ponce de Leon Terrace. The trolley, which was the impetus for the neighborhood, ceased to run by the 1940's. However, by this time, most residents no longer relied on the trolley as their major means of transportation. In the 1930s, a Pure Oil gas station was built on the corner of Highland Avenue and Drewry Street. In the late 1980s, the trolley barns located on Virginia Avenue were demolished.
† Gretchen A. Brock, National Register Coordinator, Historic Preservation Division, Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Emily Kleine, consultant, Urban Palimpsest, Virginia-Highland Historic District, Fulton County, GA, nomination document, 2005, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.