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«The Ranch House in DeKalb County The “Ranch House Initiative” was explains, the “mid-century house has mid- developed by the DeKalb History ...»

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April 2010

By Rebecca Crawford

The Ranch House in

DeKalb County

The “Ranch House Initiative” was explains, the “mid-century house has mid-

developed by the DeKalb History Center and century stories to tell.”

Commissioner Jeff Rader in an effort to We looked at a variety of ranch

understand the ranch house boom that developments throughout the county and

occurred in nearly every part of DeKalb profiled four notable neighborhoods. They County beginning in the 1940s. included subdivisions filled with high style Perhaps the ever present ranch house modern houses designed by prominent might seem like an odd research project. Why architects (Briarpark Court), to developments focus on something as humble and ordinary as composed of the simpler but widespread a ranch house? Simply stated, houses make up traditional red brick ranches. Two of the more than 75% of our built environment, and neighborhoods were large planned they are key in understanding social and communities (Northwoods and Belvedere cultural phenomena. By studying the single- Park), while the last shows how family farms family home, it is possible to take an up-close were slowly sold off and developed, piece by and personal view of the family that lives piece (Sargent Hills).

Times of DeKalb inside as well as the surrounding community. This study has shown how the ranch Although it might seem that the ranch house is an important part of the history and is unpretentious in character, by examining development of DeKalb County.

both the interior and exterior we can gather a great deal of information about mid- century America and specifically DeKalb County. As architectural historian Richard Cloues A typical ranch house in DeKalb County, this one is in Belvedere Park Times of DeKalb Page 2 The Rise of the Federal Housing Administration and Post War America Historically, the United States government maintained a hands-off approach when it came to homeownership, leaving matters to the private market. However, the dire consequences of the Great Depression of 1929 forced Washington to intervene. By 1933, 1,000 homes were being foreclosed upon every day. The government, under the leadership of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, created the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, an agency which worked to refinance short-term mortgages and replaced them with long-term mortgages. The success of this program led to the development of the 1934 National Housing Act.

Under the 1934 National Housing Act, Congress established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The FHA worked to produce government-insured private, long-term mortgages, and millions of Americans took advantage of this opportunity and purchased their first homes. With FHA backed loans, potential buyers could borrow 90% of the appraised value of the home, with the obligation to make only a 10% down payment. With the length of the loan extended, buyers now had 25 to 30 year mortgages, substantially lowering down payments. By facilitating homeownership, the FHA was a major catalyst in the rejuvenation of the American housing market. The favorable financing terms provided by these new, long term mortgages often made it cheaper to purchase a home than to rent. In 1939, the government introduced a personal income tax deduction for mortgage interest, providing additional incentives to homeownership. FHA loans were not only an asset for buyers; they also provided substantial assistance to developers who were approved for long term loans.

FHA loans dramatically expanded the role of the builder. Instead of constructing houses as independent entities, builders now found it cheaper to purchase a large piece of land, make improvements and then cover it with tract housing. The demand for “tract” developments exploded in the wake of World War II, and the new breed of builder came to be known as an “operative builder,” “merchant builder,” or “community builder.” In order for developers and builders to receive the assistance provided in the FHA programs, they needed to comply with certain regulatory criteria which included minimum lot size, the house’s distance from the street, and curvilinear street design. The FHA loans favored new, singlefamily home construction in suburban areas. Land use covenants, instituted by builders as a means of maintaining property values, were another factor influencing post-World War II subdivision design. Covenants, which are private contracts between the developer and subsequent buyers, regulated land use and typically imposed norms on subdivision property maintenance, architectural design and, sometimes, racial exclusion. Zoning controls also shaped the development of the suburbs, most of which were zoned solely for residential use.

In the years after World War II, the United States experienced unprecedented growth in productivity, Special Issue

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Development in DeKalb County At the turn of the century, DeKalb remained a rural county with less than 10,000 residents. While most of DeKalb’s residents were farmers, the new century brought a burgeoning industrial power to the county. Granite mining became a lucrative business, and quarries were established on Stone Mountain and Arabia Mountain. The success of the mining industry, however, had a brief life: the Great Depression nearly crushed DeKalb’s granite quarrying industry. In its wake, only one company remained in business—Davidson Mineral Properties. Textile mills were also appearing throughout the county as they were in other parts of the state. In 1901, George Washington Scott, a prominent backer of Agnes Scott College, opened the Georgia Duck and Cordage Mill in Avondale and Scottdale Mill.

Agnes Scott College was established in DeKalb in 1889, and several other institutions for higher learning were then founded in DeKalb during the 20th century. In 1915, Asa and Warren Candler donated parts of their land in Druid Hills to create DeKalb County’s largest university— Emory. Oglethorpe University, which had been chartered in 1835 but closed its doors in 1872, reemerged with a new location in DeKalb County.

As Atlanta continued its rapid growth, the rural expanse of DeKalb County provided a haven for city residents who wanted to retreat from the crowded metropolis. In 1924, entrepreneur George Francis Willis purchased an area of DeKalb known as Ingleside and began developing one of the first planned communities in the county. It would have homes, a tennis court, lake, clubhouse, dairy, playgrounds, and a swimming pool. Having recently visited the birthplace of William Shakespeare, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Willis decided to pattern his new development on the buildings he saw in England. Willis named the community Avondale Estates, and proclaimed that all residences and commercial buildings were to be constructed in the Tudor style. Avondale Estates can be viewed as a precursor to the aggressive suburban development which would emerge later in DeKalb.

Perhaps the greatest influence on the rapid growth of DeKalb County came from the legendary leadership of George Scott Candler. From 1939 to 1954, Scott Candler was the sole Commissioner of Roads and Revenues, and from 1954 to 1959 he served as the director of the Georgia Department of Commerce.

Scott Candler was born in Decatur in 1887.

He attended the Donald Fraser School for Boys in Decatur and later attended Davison College. Candler completed his studies at the Atlanta Law School in 1912. Scott Candler, Sr.

He was also born into a political family and Special Issue

Page 5

would carry on that legacy. His father, Charles Murphy Candler, was chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission. The senior Candler proposed, in 1887, that DeKalb establish a Commission of Roads and Revenues, a position his son would later hold. Scott Candler’s grandfather, Milton Anthony Candler, served as a Congressman from Georgia’s 5th District.

After maintaining a law practice for many years, Candler entered public service as the Commissioner of Roads and Revenues and nearly all of the governing power of the county was in his hands. During Road Construction in DeKalb County Candler’s tenure as commissioner, DeKalb emerged as Georgia’s second largest county, in part because Candler had prepared the county to absorb the population spillover from Atlanta. The county changed from rural to municipal as he brought his constituents many services which had generally only been available in large cities; he created a county-wide water and sewer system, fire and police protection, and parks and recreation services. As if that were not enough, Candler oversaw the construction of hundreds of miles of new roads, as well as the county airport. The abundance of municipal services was a huge draw for potential residents. From The Home Builder’s Plan Service, “Designs for Better Living” DeKalb’s amenities appealed to many soldiers who returned to the area following World War II. New industrial plants sprang up throughout the county. The General Motors plant, which opened in 1948, provided thousands of jobs for veterans. The $7 million Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac plant was built on 386 acres in Doraville. The new facility featured cutting edge technology, efficient labor methods, and an assembly line that could handle 550 cars at a time. All of these changes set the stage for the development of Northwoods, one of the large developments included in this report.

Times of DeKalb

Page 6

The Evolution of the Ranch Elsewhere in the U.S. during the early part of the th 20 century several groundbreaking architects began experimenting with designing single-story homes in a naturalistic setting: Cliff May, Charles and Henry Greene (of Greene and Greene), and Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright, who is perhaps remembered as the most prominent among them, described his designs as “organic architecture;” he strongly believed that the built environment should be innately linked with nature. Wright’s “Usonian” houses exemplified the long, low, and horizontal characteristics that would become the hallmark design features of the ranch house. Cliff May and Charles and Henry Greene also designed houses that were harmonious with nature and on a horizontal plane, and inspired by the hacienda of the southwest. The work of these architects caught the attention of design magazines, which amplified the growing interest in the ranch house.

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Defining Characteristics of the Georgia Ranch House Between 1940—1960, over 175,000 ranch houses were built in Georgia, due in part to the development of the FHA, the popularity of the automobile and the expansion of the highway system. While some Georgia ranches represent sophisticated, architect-designed residences, most were built with middle class sensibilities in mind.

There are several regional adaptations to the traditional ranch that are commonly found in Georgia. Many architects and plan book designers often added classical or colonial elements to their ranch designs in an effort to appeal to Georgians’ more traditional and conservative tastes. Most ranches in the state are red brick, although some houses were outfitted with a granite façade or have granite foundations - another regional element. Other unique characteristics of the Georgia ranches include stonemasonry as a contrast to the red brick and faux-vine metal porch posts. Historian Richard Cloues theorizes that these posts may be a variation on Cliff May’s climbing vines on his California designs.

Awnings provided shade and jalousie windows gave the necessary ventilation needed for Georgia’s hot climate.

Screened porches are another regional trait found in ranches of the southeast.

Doraville and Northwoods For hundreds of years, Native Americans occupied the area known as Doraville. In 1821, the area would be forever changed when Creek Indian Chiefs agreed to cede a large tract of their land, spanning from the Chattahoochee to the Ocmulgee River, to the United States. Almost immediately, white settlers began to stream into the area. Many came from the Carolinas and Virginia, as well as other parts of Georgia. The white population grew yet again with the forced removal of the Cherokees in 1838.

Most of these early pioneers acquired their land during the Georgia land lotteries. The Doraville area had vast agricultural potential due to its location on the Peachtree Ridge and close proximity to Nancy Creek, and these natural resources were the primary reason settlers flocked to the area. Abundant amounts of water and timber were a draw for the pioneers, many of whom sought to establish their own mills and family farms. The Hightower and Peachtree Trails, which had long ago been created by the Native Americans, provided convenient and efficient transportation routes for farmers and merchants.

Although there are conflicting accounts of how Doraville came to be named, perhaps the most popular explanation is that the town was named for Dora Jack, whose father was an official for the Atlanta and Charlotte Air Line Railroad (which eventually became the Southern Railroad). In an effort by church leaders to control two saloons that had opened in the area, Doraville was incorporated by the General Assembly on December 15, 1871. The railroad depot (where the MARTA station is currently located) was the center of town, and the boundary-lines extended from the Special Issue

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depot to one-half mile in every direction.

According to the 1900 census, Doraville was home to about 114 people: there were 25 families and 23 dwellings. At the turn of the century, downtown consisted of a jail, three stores, a corn mill, a barbershop (open only on Saturdays), a post office, a doctor’s office, and a church. The main road was New Peachtree Road, formerly called Main Street, and it stretched from downtown Atlanta’s Five Points through Doraville and on to Pinckneyville.

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