There’s a mansion on the hill … (updated)

Developers paid better than the corn / But this was not the place where they were born — John Gorka, “Houses in the Fields” (Jacks Crows, 1991)

After the fall of 2011, each time I passed through the intersection of Ansley Street and Greenwood Avenue in Decatur’s Oakhurst neighborhood, Neil Young’s song title immediately popped into my head, along with the lyrics from two tunes on John Gorka’s 1991 album, Jack’s Crows. On the hill overlooking the intersection is Liz and Rob Broadfoot’s 2,800-square-foot home. Its historically inspired projecting bays and exaggerated Craftsman details look out over Oakhurst’s smaller homes conveying an air of conspicuous consumption and privilege.

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Decatur Beacon Community update

The Decatur City Commission unanimously voted July 2, 2012, to allocate $1.3 million for consultants Rutledge Alcock Architects to prepare construction documents for redevelopment of the former Beacon and Trinity schools. The proposed project ultimately will cost $25 million.

Decatur Deputy City Manager Hugh Saxon’s June 28, 2012 staff report on allocating funds for the Beacon redevelopment project.

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Decatur to adversely affect historic African American school (updated)

[Ed. note: Read the latest update documenting this property’s demolition, Separate and unequal: Preserving Jim Crow (July 2013)]

The City of Decatur, Georgia, is on a fast-track to redevelop a historic African American school site. Plans include demolition of parts of the former Beacon Elementary School and Trinity High School to make way for new public facilities.

An isolated historical marker outside the former African American school describes Decatur’s Beacon Community. Photo by author, February 2012.

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Undelivered Georgia Senate historic preservation testimony

I was supposed to testify yesterday (March 21, 2012) before the Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee on an amendment that was to have been attached to a land use bill. The amendment would have added language to the bill eliminating historic district subdivision review from Georgia’s historic preservation commissions.

A bill with the same language had been defeated in February 2012 by a House Judiciary subcommittee. I had testified twice before that body in opposition to the bill, then known as HB 802. At yesterday’s hearing, the hearing began and the chairman called for testimony. The first person to speak in opposition was DeKalb County Dist. 2 Commissioner Jeff Rader. Rader prefaced his testimony by stating that he was there to speak against an amendment (historic preservation) that had yet to be attached to the bill.

The chairman interrupted Rader’s testimony and informed him that there were no plans to attach any additional language to the bill, which covered pre-existing covenants and zoning laws. At that point Rader left the witness table and no further testimony was taken. Since my testimony had been prepared and distributed to the committee members by Georgia Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, I didn’t want to let it go to waste. The un-delivered testimony is reprinted below. Continue reading

Decatur’s newest subdivision (updated)

Check back frequently for updates on additional teardowns and new construction progress at each of the properties.

Over the next few weeks, three houses on Ansley Street between Jefferson Place and Greenwood Avenue will be demolished to make way for three new homes. A fourth house, recently listed for sale, may join these 1940s homes as Decatur’s latest Oakhurst teardowns.

Street sign posted on Ansley Street advertising pre-teardown garage sale. Photo by author, March 3, 2012.

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Decatur teardown diary

Last October I watched and shot video as a builder demolished a 1,100-square foot house built in 1944 or 1945. It took less than eight hours for the small crew using a track loader to turn the one-story frame house into about seven bins of rubble that were carted away to a nearby landfill.

Over the subsequent four months I documented the transformation of the teardown site into a new 2,772 square-foot two-story single-family home that just went on the market for $589,000.

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Subdividing history

Last week I testified at a Georgia House of Representatives judiciary subcommittee hearing on a bill that would amend the state’s historic preservation law. HB 802, described as an act “to allow for subdivision of historic property,” was introduced by Rep. Doug McKillip (R-115th Dist.) of Athens. If enacted, the amendment would allow property owners in locally-designated historic districts to bypass historic preservation commissions with proposals to subdivide their properties.

The bill has received little media attention in Georgia. One exception is an Athens Banner-Herald article published in January.

I was asked by DeKalb County preservationists to testify in opposition to the bill. I joined Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation CEO Mark McDonald and current and former Druid Hills Civic Association presidents Robert Benfield and Bruce McGregor. Continue reading

Why historic preservation? (Updated)

Nearly thirty years of archaeology and historic preservation fieldwork have given me a memorable collection of quotations that I’ve scribbled in various notebooks. One that has stuck with me was posted above the bar in the Port Matilda Hotel in rural Centre County, Pennsylvania: “Language: use it right or you’ll be asked to leave.”

Another one is, “It’s old but it will never go historical.” That was how the fourth-generation owner of a 19th-century St. Mary’s County, Maryland, tobacco farm described her property as I surveyed it in the summer of 2004. I frequently draw on this quotation when I try to explain to people why seemingly ordinary — vernacular — buildings and landscapes are historically significant. Sometimes I’m successful, many times I’m not.

My new neighborhood: an anti-historic district sign from 2007. Photo by author, August 2011.

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Tearing Down History, Preservation (updated)

The City of Decatur Historic Preservation Commission presents its annual Decatur Design Awards to recognize contributions made to retain the historic character of the City. – City of Decatur Website


2011 City of Decatur Design Awards. Presentation excerpt posted at the City of Decatur Website.

What was the Decatur Historic Preservation Commission thinking? Earlier this year, the HPC gave a design award to a property owner and his architect for a type of project that is diametrically opposed to accepted historic preservation practice and theory. Continue reading