21 Jul - 2018
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A Visit to Atlanta: Civil Rights History and a Unique Architectural Past

A visit to our daughter and son-in-law in Atlanta brings the pleasures of family, southern breakfasts, and an introduction to a new palette of architectural expressions. Exploring the eclectic mix of houses and funky gardens near Grant Park, we were delighted to meet a former neighbor from Montclair, drawn there by the similarities in diverse community, intimate town feeling, and range of historical styles.

Atlanta, like Montclair, was shaped by the expansion of the railroads in the 1880’s after the Civil War. Architects and builders could readily order stock catalogue building parts such as columns, window trim, porch rails, and many decorative details. There was an inventive appreciation of mix and match. Houses reflect the influence of Craftsman, Colonial Revival, Gothic Revival and Folk Victorian. Fancy cut shingles, elaborate spindle work, colorful transoms, and stained glass and plans adorn many homes. Typical housing plans show rooms linked in a row, with or without a hallway down one side, or rooms just bunched together. Southern houses also have vestiges of French colonial design—high ceilings, and rooms facing outwards towards wide open porches—originating in the mild climate of the French West Indies.  In Montclair, where the weather is (mostly) cooler, homes from this period more closely resemble the English colonial style with rooms facing inward, oriented around a chimney.

If you are visiting Atlanta, I recommend that you tour Martin Luther King’s birthplace and family home, and the nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he delivered his world-changing sermons. Hearing about Martin Luther King’s formative experiences reinforced my beliefs about how significantly people’s lives are shaped by their homes and neighborhoods. We heard how his family’s home, with welcoming guest rooms for out-of-town guests, served as a gathering place for sharing intellectual, religious, and social convictions.

 

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