Some Thoughts on Teardowns and New Construction

VHLogo_color_horiz_letterheadSpurred by a recent wave of teardowns and new construction, there has been a lively debate over the last couple of weeks about historic preservation and the building characteristics that help define the neighborhood. While Virginia-Highland is a collection of smaller subdivisions built over a span of several decades, some local architects and residents identified and summarized many common and key architectural features during the community’s 2009 study of historic preservation guidelines. The students and faculty of the Heritage Preservation Program at Georgia State University summarized them in a reference document that may be viewed at  Scroll down to the section titled “Design Reference For Renovation.”

Its level of detail is fascinating; it formalized and summarized for me a wealth of personal observations formed over years of long strolls, porch conversations, neighbor interaction, and study. But I also think a shorter summary might be useful. To that end, here is my own list of five key do’s and don’ts that go to the heart of what makes some renovated houses fit in nicely and leave others looking like they belong on a 1-acre lot.  Many people will find these points painfully obvious; some may disagree with them. I’ll be glad to hear your thoughts.

  1. The Golden Rule:  Build to the neighborhood scale. Find an architect who will work very hard not to plunge the neighbors into perpetual shade or make them feel they are living in the shadow of a castle. A common contributing factor to the feel of excessive height are basements that are above ground enough that they feel more like a first floor. In this vein, if you’re adding a second floor next to a house that already has one, try to line up the bedrooms windows so that they don’t face one another.
  2. Modify the existing roofline as little as possible, especially in front. There are numerous examples in this neighborhood of homes with greatly expanded capacity that do not dwarf their neighbors or appear grossly out of scale when viewed from the street.
  3. Don’t put garages on the front of the house. They stand out like a sore suburban thumb, and exiting your car directly into the house reduces interaction with your neighbors.
  4. Matching the existing front setbacks on your street will help any house fit into its setting.  While this may require an extra administrative step, the variance process was created to consider exactly this sort of challenge.
  5. Be thoughtful about your choice of exterior building materials; use the predominant historic ones on your block.

A final wish list item is mentioned separately because it’s not historically specific; it’s relevant to all remodeling and new construction, independent of the factors listed above. Capturing and reusing your stormwater is a practical and civic-minded act that ensures that your development will not cause stormwater issues for your neighbors and it will provide a return on your investment sooner than you think. Most of northeast Atlanta (including Virginia-Highland) has combined sewers – the stormwater on the street goes into the same underground pipes as our wastewater. In big storms, it’s a big problem, one we pay for every day with astronomical water rates that are primarily linked to the cost of treating stormwater. Addressing this issue benefits both your neighbors and your wallet.

You can write me at

Lola Carlisle

Vice President, Virginia-Highland Civic Association


Calling All Virginia-Highland History Buffs!

virginia-highland in the early 20th century

The Virginia-Highland Civic Association Preservation & History Committee formed nearly two years ago and has made great progress.  We’re inviting all lovers of history to play an important role: join our committee for starters, and  become the History Champion of your subdivision.

Virginia-Highland is actually made up of many subdivisions and was primarily developed from the early 1900’s through the late 40’s. The number of named subdivisions varies depending on which history you look at. The  disparity is often a product of incomplete developments being absorbed (or expanding) into larger subdivisions.

The map shown below gives a rough idea of the key historic subdivisions and the approximate dates of their development. We’d love for our Subdivision History Champions to help us uncover as much history as we can, subdivision by subdivision.  We’ve learned a lot, but there is much more to know.

We can advise you on the process, scanning specs and best places to look for historic information. The type of history you collect could depend on your own personal curiosity and where it leads you. Oral histories, images, and documents are productive starting points, as are identifying and protecting landmarks, and investigating subdivsion historic designation. The Preservation & History Committee can advise you in all these processes.

The primary subdivisons noted on the map shown below are:

1.      Todd / Liddell Estate – 1904, 1932

2.      Oak Grove / North Highalnd – 1907

3.      Highland View – 1911

4.      Atkins Park – 1912

5.      Realty Mortgage Development – 1913

6.      Adair Park – 1916

7.      Virginia Avenue Subdivision (Collection) – 1916

8.      Virginia Hills – 1921

9.      North Boulevard Park – 1916

10.   Rosewood Park – 1922

11.   F.A. Ames Property / Virginia Highlands – 1922

12.   Kelly – 1924

13.   Cheshire Estate – 1928

14.   Brookridge Park Subdivision – 1935

Click on the map image above to view a larger version.

To learn more about our committee and see a little of the history we’ve been working on, visit the committee’s page at vahi.org

Reach out to us directly at We’d love to get you involved!


30 Additional Historic Plat Maps Added

Houses once stood on the land that is now John Howell Park, and the Inman School's trailers and playing fields. This plat mapped out the land lots for those houses.

About a year ago, we posted 22 historic plat maps of various subdivisions that are now part of Virginia-Highland — these are the maps on which surveyors originally plotted how the land was subdivided into the lots that, for the most part, still exist today. To explore the maps, you can start by viewing the map of Virginia-Highland (“Map of Maps”), then select your specific area, then click through all available maps for that sector.

Now, the VHCA Preservation and History committee has provided an additional 30 historic plat maps which we have posted. The most enjoyable thing (for history and map geeks, anyway) is to explore from the overall VaHi map. However, if you want to know specifically which maps were added, here is a list:


Voice – Summer 2009

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– Summerfest
– Neighborhood preservation committee update
– Planning for 2009 Tour of Homes
– Historic Fourth Ward Park under construction
– President’s Corner: fundraising for new park
– News from MES and Inman
– SPARK gets name and principal
– Join New Highland Park Conservancy
– New businesses: Glamour Paws, D.B.A. Barbeque, Silverstein, Thomas & Carter
– VHCA wants you!
– Rufus Henry Stansell (1929-2009) neighborhood folk artist
– Col. Mustard reviews Belly General Store
– History of Virginia Highland Part III


Voice – Winter 2007-8

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– Phase II Streetscape plans finalized
– President’s Corner
– 2007 Tour of Homes recap
– Area homes included on tour of kitchens
– Zipcar comes to VaHi
– VaHi Safety Team report
– Neighborhood preservation initiative gains steam
– Trees Atlanta visits VaHi
– The Bus Stop: school news
– Col. Mustard reviews La Tavola
– Intown cycling: family style
– Orme Park master plan takes shape, by Jack White


Voice – Summer 1991

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– A VaHi Summerfest you won’t want to miss, by Nan Hunter
– Block watch, a success story, by Joyce Gross
– Letter to the editor from Anne Taylor Hendry in defense of services for the homeless on Ponce
– Ponce Task Force survey results
– Grady students speak out – poems and essays by Grady 9th and 10th graders
– Rep Rap by Fulton County commissioner Nancy Boxill: demolishing the Highland library, settling the Presidential Parkway, property reappraisal
– John Howell Park plans approved
– Who says it’s a piece of junk? Many of our contemporary icons are threatened. By Steve Jagger
– Neighbor profile: The VOICE staff. Jett and Beth Marks, Kala Marks, Kathy Couch, Nan Hunter, Sarah Tomaka, Jeni and Rob Evans, Mickey Lawson, Terry Tuley
– Helpful hints for the Highland homeowner: fire safety, by Virginia Temple
– First annual VHCA/Summerfest “Sweat” 5K Run and Family Run – 1 mile
– Recycling: why not add your stuff to the curbside pick-up brigade?, by Nan Hunter
– Liquor store at Ponce and Barnett closes
– Host a student from France! By Carol Sleeth


Voice – Winter 1990

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– Neighbor profile: Foot patrolman Officer Chris Clark, by Beth Marks
– Ponce de Leon task force to speak at December meeting
– Historic preservation presentation update, by Burn Sears
– Front porch living, by Yvette Weatherly
– Holiday entertaining like a pro, by Shelley Pedersen, director of catering at Murphy’s
– Historic designation – what is means to you
– John Howell Park update (by Jerry Bright) and events (by the L.A.M.P. project)
– Historic designation survey form
– Outline of City zoning preservation ordinance
– Council of Intown Neighborhoods and Schools (CINS), by Barbara Van Dyke
– Grady students to author VOICE articles
– Morningside Elementary volunteers
– Inman needs tutors too
– Recycling, it’s habit forming, by Nan Hunter
– The road that was almost built (Georgia 400/I-485), by Warren Pritchard with Charles Longley
– Building permits, by Steve Jagger
– Ponce de Leon Task Force gains momentum in reaching for a consensus
– Interview with Chief Eldrin Bell, by V. Evans
– Personal safety (reprinted from ProTech Security Systems newsletter)


Voice – Summer 1990

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– Meet with the Police about forming a PAC (Partnership against Crime)
– Neighbor profile: Joyce Gross, VHCAA head of public safety
– The VOICE says fight crime
– VOICE mission statement
– Summerfest 1990
– Preservation update, by Nina Gentry
– Council of Intown Neighbors and Schools (CINS), by Barbara Van Dyke
– Ponce de Leon taskforce, by Susan Carroll
– VaHi’s annual St. Patrick’s Day 5K Road Race
– The Voice wants to announce the results of your efforts to thwart crime (streets with neighborhood watches)
-Things are picking up: the sequel (recycling), by Nan Hunter
– VaHi color: Mark Draper and Mother’s Tire Company, by Warren Pritchard
– The YWCA comes to VaHi
– What VaHi merchants are doing to deter crime


Voice – Spring 1990

– Preservationists Karin Huebner (Urban Design Atlanta) and Ann Farrisee (Atlanta Preservation Center) to speak March 7th
– Profile of Nyna Gentry, chairman VHCA Preservation Committee and St. Charles Greenwood rep
– The VOICE says “Preservation”
– VaHi: Atlanta’s bungalow neighborhood, by Tim Crimmins
– More of everything at the new VaHi library, by Kathy Couch
– Support your neighborhood schools – CINS, by Barbara Van Dyke
– John Howell Park, by Jerry Bright: sidewalk replacement
– VaHi’s annual St. Patrick’s Day 5K Road Race
– Things are picking up (recycling), by Nan Hunter
– Volleyball, heads up!
– A letter from Rep. Jim Martin (on privacy, abortion, state budget)
– No parking? By Burn Sears
– Crime stats for VaHi (beat 610)

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Voice – Winter 1989

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– Adair Ave. residents led by Nan Hunter help raise awareness of recycling
– Voice starts publishing again after two year hiatus
– Council of Intown neighborhoods and schools (CINS), by Barbara Van Dyke
– First annual VaHi Christmas 5K run
– Update on John Howell Park: parkland dedicated, within City parks system, plan being developed
– Preserving VaHi’s character; possible historic district designation
– Wanted: nosy neighbors: neighborhood watch, SCGNA enters into PAC with police Zone
– Report from Highland View neighborhood watch


Voice – May 1973

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  • May 8 meeting
  • VHCA’s first birthday party to be held in June
  • Working together with Morningside to fight I-485
  • Home Improvements Committee
  • Planned neighborhood garage sale and art fair
  • Zoning help from GA Tech
  • Banners for restored homes
  • 1973 Tour of Homes
  • Groundbreaking for “Virginia Park 485”
  • Zoning committee
  • Enforcement of housing codes