The Piedmont Park Apartments is an excellent example of urban development in housing for the middle and lower middle class by one of Atlanta's first women architects, Leila Ross Wilburn. Ms. Wilburn was also one of the most prolific designers of housing for the middle income market. The homes and mansions of the wealthy along nearby Peachtree Street were still prevalent when the apartments were built in 1913. Ansley Park, northwest of Eleventh Street, was also a new suburb for the city's elite. Apartment houses proliferated in the wake of these developments as evidenced by the construction of the Palmer House Apartments on Peachtree Place in 1907, the Virginian Apartments at Fifteenth and Peachtree Streets in 1911, and a growing number of others built in the area during the second decade of this century.
All this development along the northern blocks of Peachtree Street and Piedmont Avenue was greatly aided and accelerated by two factors. One was the extension of streetcar lines by 1900 to Fourteenth Street along both the major traffic arteries of Peachtree and Piedmont. The second factor was the emergence of the old Cotton States Exposition grounds into a park and recreation site called Piedmont Park. Thus the Piedmont Park Apartments forms an early link with three major urban movements in the first years of the twentieth century: suburbanization for both the wealthy and the middle class, development of transportation systems to serve and promote suburbanization, and the growth of urban parks and recreation areas.
Overlooking one of Atlanta's most important municipal parks, the Piedmont Park Apartments is associated with its neighbor by more than just a shared name. Spread out below the northeast side of the apartments is the clear, open parkland bordering Tenth Street. This land, a hundred years ago, was the site of two major events, the 1887 International Exposition and the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition. Both expositions were products of an urban boosterism which opened the way for a real estate boom in the surrounding area, a major expansion of Atlanta to the north, and the creation of a vital segment of the municipal park system.
In 1887, a group of rich Atlantans with an interest in horses formed the Gentlemen's Driving Club on 189.43 acres just north of the city limits, and east of the huge land lot owned by George Washington Collier. An English landscaper created seven miles of "drives" through the dense woods and the club created a bicycle racetrack. These businessmen, however, could not seem to separate business and pleasure, and thus they formed the Piedmont Exposition Co. to hold the large 1887 Exposition on the club acreage.
The success of this fair prompted the Piedmont Exposition Co. to buy most of the acreage which was to become Piedmont Park from the Gentlemen's Driving Club. Several more fairs were held on the land until plans began for the major 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition. At this early date (1894), the owners offered to sell the land to the city of Atlanta for $165,000.00, but Mayor John Goodwin refused.
The park, therefore, remained in private hands for ten more years and outside Atlanta City limits. During this time, the park was the site of major and minor recreational activities and a magnet for growth. Access was guaranteed by streetcar lines running out both Peachtree and Piedmont. State fairs were held in Piedmont Park and celebrations on July 4th and Labor Day. Owners opened a special section for African-Americans including a "comfort station." At this time, most city parks were much more strictly segregated. Meanwhile the land between the park and the central business district began to grow as a residential area, undoubtedly aided by the increase in streetcar lines and the attraction of the park and its recreational facilities.
1904 was a watershed year for Piedmont Park and its western neighbors. George Washington Collier died in 1903 and his undeveloped land (202 acres) west of the park and north of the city was sold for $300,000.00 and subdivided. The main developer was Edwin Ansley, who created the Ansley Park subdivision along guidelines set by Frederick Law Olmsted. Thus the streets were a curving maze with large open spaces or "mini-parks." These 25 acres of parks were deeded to the city in 1912.
The other major event of 1904 was the renewed offer by the Piedmont Exposition Co. to sell Piedmont Park to the city -- this time for $160,000. Mayor Evan Howell favored the purchase but only if annexation included those developed areas adjacent to the park. This would add approximately $35,000.00-$40,000.00 in tax revenues annually and provide justification for the park's purchase price. In the end, Atlanta paid $98,000.00 and, "Thus, the city acquired an improved tract of land, complete with roads, sewers and drains, water facilities, fair buildings, and a baseball field."
By 1913, the site of the Piedmont Park Apartments would seem to have been a prime candidate for development. It is true that Eleventh Street was only developed from Peachtree to Piedmont and that was paved only with rubble. Water ran only to Piedmont Avenue as late as 1918, although sewerage went all the way to the park. Perhaps due to this lack of development and services, the section of Eleventh Street from Piedmont Avenue to the park became the site for the decidedly middle class Piedmont Park Apartments instead of luxury apartments. Building costs for the approximately twenty-six unit apartment building were $67,000.00.
On January 29, 1913 Calvin Shelverton applied for a building permit to construct the Piedmont Park Apartments. Shelverton first appears in the Atlanta City Directory of 1907 as a buyer for A. S. Byers & Company which advertised the manufacture of "all kinds of high-grade wooden boxes, and dealers in hardwood and poplar lumber." Calvin was apparently assisted in his employment, given the fact that his father, Norman Shelverton, was a salesman for Byers' concern which operated from the Empire Building (now the Citizens & Southern Building on Broad Street). By 1909 Calvin Shelverton had ventured into business alone. The city directory advertised the Calvin Shelverton Lumber Company as operating from the fifth floor of the Fourth National Bank Building and dealing in wholesale lumber. When the Piedmont Park Apartments were constructed, Shelverton listed his occupation as a contractor and by early 1920s, Shelverton Lumber Company gave way to the Shelverton Construction Company. The 1923 Directory lists Calvin Shelverton as president, F. F. LaRoche as vice president, and Abbie Turner as secretary and treasurer. Throughout the twenties, Shelverton and his wife, Dorothy, lived in apartment number six in the Piedmont Park Apartments. In 1931, C. F. Nonnemaker associated himself with the lumber company. Perhaps as a result of the economic conditions, Shelverton served as a draftsman and listed his occupation as such in the city directories of 1932 and 1933. Calvin Shelverton died in 1938.
Residents during the years 1915 to 1960 were generally middle class. There were some professionals in the early years such as dentist B. E. Hall, veterinarian H. W. Burkland, accounting company president T. C. Dunlap, and lawyer J. B. Stewart. Most tenants, however, were white collar clerks, railroad agents, salesmen, bank tellers, and others with similar occupations. There were the usual scattering of widows and working women. In the 1960s and 1970s, occupancy remained high with few vacancies, but the number of working women increased dramatically. In the 1970 City Directory, twenty-six of the twenty-seven tenants were female.
Between the late 1970s and 1991, there again seems to have been a change in residents. By 1980, there were five vacancies, few carryover tenants (from 1975) and most of the residents were men. This trend continued into the 1980s. Atlanta city building permits show no permits for renovations at 266 Eleventh Street.
This three-story building is constructed of 12" load-bearing brick walls laid in garden wall bond. The ground plan measures 65 1/2' x 192' and is situated atop a slight rise on the north side of Eleventh Street and is positioned immediately west of Piedmont Park. The principal, south facade facing Eleventh Street contains four prominent three-story porches which flank the central entrance door. The porches, supported by square brick piers, include a landing on each of the three levels. Four porches project from the north elevation and a corner porch is provided on the southeast corner of the building. Each apartment was provided with a porch; all of which now have been screened. The porches at ground level contain a solid brick dado; the second and third-story porches contain a wooden balustrade. All eight of the projecting porch pavilions contain a glazed-tile hipped roof. The main body of the building contains a glazed-tile, shed roof which is supported by deep open brackets. This shed adjoins with the porch roofs. A variety of windows are positioned between the porches including paired 9/1 windows, 12/1 windows, and triple 6/1 windows all of which are double-hung sashes and wooden framed.
LEILA ROSS WILBURN (1885-1967)
Leila Ross Wilburn moved to Atlanta with her family from her native Macon. She attended Agnes Scott Institute in Decatur between 1902 and 1904 and received private lessons in architectural drawing. Agnes Scott provided no formal training in the subject. In 1906 and 1907, Wilburn received an apprenticeship with Atlanta architect B. R. Padgett. In 1909, with little formal education, Wilburn opened her architectural office in the Peters Building.
Ms. Wilburn was successful in providing mail order house plans and devoted a 55-year career almost primarily to the "pattern book" practice. She published her first pattern book entitled Southern Homes and Bungalows in 1914. Among her tenets was the efficiency of her designs. Built-in cupboards, folding ironing boards, and Murphy beds which could fold into their own storage closet were among her design offerings and marketing tactics. Between 1900 and 1920, Wilburn was aware of the nationwide boom in urban apartment construction. She designed 30 apartment complexes in Atlanta during those years including the Rosslyn on Ponce de Leon. The apartments ranged in size from four to twenty-two units. Also during the first two decades of this century, Wilburn designed twenty-four duplexes. Other plan books followed her first 1914 publication which offers a complete set of plans (reversed if desired), and a set of specifications for prices ranging from $15 to $40. A specific list of lumber and millwork could be purchased to supplement the plans and specifications for an additional $5.
As the bungalow was eventually replaced by shallower roof lines, smaller scale, and less characteristic materials, and the Ranch home emerged, Wilburn's practice also evolved. She published the pattern book Ranch and Colonial Homes in the mid-1950s. The Leila Ross Wilburn Papers at the Atlanta Historical Society document over three-hundred sets of house plans drawn by Ms. Wilburn, and contain several plan books, and numerous photographic negatives. Wilburn was the twenty-ninth architect registered among 188 when the state of Georgia required licensing for architectural practice in 1920. While none of her designs can be singled out, her method of design merits attention. Few pattern book architects can be documented as clearly as Leila Ross Wilburn. She is the only known woman who chose this method of practice.
The Piedmont Park Apartments present a simple but seemingly unchanged facade along Eleventh Street. This continuity in appearance and use is important, but even more so is the story of the building as an early home for the middle and lower middle class suburbanites following the trends set by the wealthy and upper middle classes. In more recent decades, its history demonstrates the growth and independence of women in the work force.
During their early years, the apartments were connected with a major Atlanta architect who answered the needs of the middle class in individual and multi-family housing. In addition, the Piedmont Park Apartments are directly connected to urbanization trends of great significance. These include transportation networks, municipal parks, and the apartment house's role in suburbanization.
Atlanta City Building Permits.
Atlanta City Directories, 1915-1991.
Atlanta's Lasting Landmarks, Atlanta Urban Design Commission, 1987.
D'Avina, Gail Anne. Atlanta Municipal Parks, 1882-1917: Urban Reform, Urban Boosterism in a New South City. Atlanta: Emory University, 1988. (Ph D. dissertation at the Atlanta Historical Society.)
Garrett, Franklin. "A Short History of Land Lots 105 and 106 of the 17th District of Fulton County, Georgia," Atlanta Historical Journal, Vol. XXVII #2, 39-54.
Garrett, Franklin. Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1982.
Leila Ross Wilburn Collection, Atlanta History Center.