Story by Lori Johnston. Photos by Jenni Girtman.
Every time I drive or walk through Virginia-Highland, I remember the night I got engaged.
My future husband, Andy, proposed to me on the covered back patio of a former dessert shop that’s now home to Taco Cowboy. I don’t recall what I ate that night — probably something chocolate — but I hope to never forget saying “Yes!” and embracing him under the trees in the triangle near Virginia and North Highland avenues.
Virginia-Highland and the adjacent Morningside/Lenox Park always will have a role in our life story, just as residents frequently make their marks here for generations. For example, Virginia-Highland’s Dr. Leila Denmark was the nation’s oldest practicing physician and died in 2012 at 114 years old.
Morningside/Lenox Park began in 1820 as a farming community. A century later, in 1923, J.R. Smith and M.S. Rankin developed Morningside as an automobile suburb, while in 1931, architects Ivey & Crook began building homes in Lenox Park.
Virginia-Highland’s first home dates to 1823, when European settlers Richard and Martha Todd purchased property that had been ceded by Creek Indians. They lived four generations on Greenwood Avenue, first in a farm home and then after it burned, in a grand brick home that was replaced with condominiums in 1960, says longtime resident Lola Carlisle, author of “The Images of America: Virginia-Highland.”
In 1889, the Nine-Mile Circle trolley brought Atlantans to the neighborhood for picnics and weekend getaways, so wealthy individuals invested in the area. “People built country estates because they could take the trolley out there,” Carlisle says. “It didn’t take long for developers to realize the potential of the area.”
It was primarily developed between 1900 and 1930, first along the trolley lines and then as roads were improved and bridges were built. One of the oldest neighborhoods within Virginia-Highland is Atkins Park, which was plotted in 1912 and is an established historic district.
From the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, residents of both neighborhoods were linked by grassroots activism against a proposed freeway. Plans for I-485 would have cut through the communities, including an interchange on the current site of John Howell Park on Virginia Avenue. The decade-long fight ended in 1974 when Gov. George Busby told the Georgia Department of Transportation to stop plans for the highway. Sidney Marcus Park on Cumberland Road was named in 1983 to honor the late state representative and his role in the fight.
The neighborhoods continue to attract a wide variety of residents thanks to the diverse housing styles and wide range of shopping, dining and nightlife options. The convenient location allows many residents to walk or bike to their favorite stores, restaurants and the Atlanta BeltLine Eastside trail.
Virginia-Highland (remember, no “s”) is bounded by Morningside to the north, Druid Hills to the east, Poncey-Highland to the south and the BeltLine (up to Amsterdam) to the west. Within Virginia-Highland are nearly 20 subdivisions, including Atkins Park, Highland View and Orme Park.
Morningside/Lenox Park is bounded by Piedmont Avenue to the west, Morningside Nature Preserve to the north, Amsterdam Avenue to the south and Daniel Johnson Nature Preserve to the east.
Both neighborhoods are located in the 30606 area code, with 14,022 residents in Virginia-Highland and 9,856 residents in Morningside/Lenox Park, according to 2013 information from City-Data.com. Average home sale prices are $861,492 in Virginia-Highland and $841,673 in Morningside/Lenox Park, according to Trulia.com.
In the 1980s, the neighborhoods were among the first in Atlanta to experience urban awakening. Home styles are predominately Colonial revival, Craftsman, English vernacular revival, Mediterranean revival and Neoclassic revival. A mid-century modern restoration by architect Robert M. Cain won a 2017 American Institute of Architects Georgia Design Award. Newer teardown and infill homes are bringing modern homes and McMansions to the neighborhood, to the concern of some residents.
Residents are served by either Morningside Elementary School and Springdale Park (SPARK) Elementary, as well as Inman Park Middle School and Henry W. Grady High School. The Virginia-Highland Civic Association and Morningside Lenox Park Association provide ways for residents to volunteer to protect and create green spaces (North Highland Park is one of its newest parks), while joint groups include the Virginia-Highland Morningside Parent Association.
The 23rd Virginia-Highland Tour of Homes on Dec. 2-3 (vahitourofhomes.org), a neighborhood fundraiser, includes a renovated Colonial Revival, English country home and bungalow , as well as B. Mifflin Hood Brick Co., a BeltLine-facing residence and art gallery added in 2017 to the National Register of Historic Places.
NEIGHBOR PROFILE: Paul G. Durick and Jon F. Pennycuff
Be prepared to take notes when you ask Paul G. Durick and Jon F. Pennycuff for their favorite paintings. Their list is extensive, since their renovated 1925 Cape Dutch home — on this year’s home tour — is filled with about 50 paintings by artists from Atlanta; Cape Town, South Africa; Greenville, S.C.; and New Orleans, where they met 15 years ago.
They show the same enthusiasm when they talk about their favorite local restaurant recommendations, and are quick to rattle off the likes of La Tavola Trattoria, Whiskey Bird, Mali and Morningside Kitchen.
The Emory doctors moved into the home in 2014, drawn to its gables and its location near Piedmont Park so that neighbors and friends could just stop by, even unannounced, while walking to or returning from the park.
“What I love about it is it has these grand gables, but ultimately the architecture is all centered around communal and family areas,” Pennycuff says. Thanks to their love of frequent entertaining, they removed one of the three bedrooms to create more room in the living areas and kitchen, which now has a 9-foot island.
Durick, an internal medicine hospitalist, and Pennycuff, an OB-GYN, appreciate the traces of previous occupants, including one who carved a figure of a man into a piece of granite in the basement. “It’s a community with history, and every person has left a mark on the neighborhood,” Pennycuff says.
FIVE DEFINING FEATURES
North Highland Avenue
The main thoroughfare is lined with boutiques, restaurants, bakeries and bars, including Atkins Park Tavern, which holds the city’s oldest continuously operating liquor license. The street has attracted such Atlanta newcomers as Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit out of Charleston and Chattanooga’s Revel Pastry Co., which is part of Cacao Cafe. In Morningside, it includes beloved Alon’s Bakery and Market, buzzy new restaurants like Whiskey Bird and the year-round Saturday Morningside Farmers Market. Founded in 1995, it is the first and only farmers market in Atlanta that requires all produce to be certified organic.
virginiahighland.com, morningsidemarket.com, alons.com, eatwhiskeybird.com, calliesbiscuits.com, cacaoatlanta.com
Fire Station No. 19
This landmark is the city’s oldest continually operating fire station, dating to 1925. Residents helped save it from being replaced in 2016, and a fundraising effort has raised over $100,000 to contribute to design services for needed renovations.
1063 N. Highland Ave. www.vhfirecompany.com
Developer George Adair built the Mediterranean mansion on Rupley Drive circa 1895, and it was later divided into apartments. His gardens and front yard were eventually sold and developed as residential sites and the commercial area where Murphy’s, a favorite brunch spot, is located.
964 Rupley Drive.
Morningside Nature Preserve
This hidden 33-acre haven features walking, running and hiking trails along South Fork Peachtree Creek, as well as a suspension bridge. Bring your pooch to visit the sandy creek bank called “dog beach.”
1941 Wellbourne Drive.
The renovated, wooded 6.6-acre park features an old stone pedestrian bridge over Clear Creek, a playground, rain garden, granite wall seating and wheelchair-accessible sidewalks.
Brookridge Drive. vahi.org/parks/orme
Find sweet gifts for babies — or the kids in all of us — at BlaBla Kids. Its whimsical dolls (from sheep to mermaids to yetis), pillows, blankets and rattles are handmade by knitters in Peru. In 2001, Susan Pritchett and Florence Wetterwald founded BlaBla Kids, which opened in Virginia-Highland in 2006 and draws crowds during events such as an annual September sample sale.
1189 Virginia Ave. 404-875-6496. blablakids.com
Atlanta’s Relay bike share program now is in Virginia-Highland. You can pick up or drop off bikes in front of Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade shop at 1056 St. Charles Ave. that offers free community space for seminars, craft workshops and shopping parties for a special cause. relaybikeshare.com