August 1, 2012
Article By:Bob Kelley, author of Doraville, Images of America Bonnie Grey Flynt, President of Northwoods Area Neighborhood Association
A block east of the hustle and bustle of Buford Highway, a vibrant Doraville neighborhood is in the final stretch towards earning a great honor. By early 2013, Northwoods could join other Atlanta-area communities like Inman Park and Avondale Estates on the National Register of Historic Places.
Breaking ground in 1952, local contractor Walter L. Tally had a vision of what would become one of the first planned unit developments in Georgia, and which still retains its vitality six decades later.
But after a period of slow sales of the traditional ranch homes, he recruited 2 recently graduated Georgia Tech architects, Ernest Mastin and John Summer to offer variety. Mastin and Summer designed state of the art, modern homes that would eventually sell before they were even finished. Northwoods boasted 6 floor plans, mostly ranch style, and Better Homes and Gardens even featured a Northwoods home in one of its 1953 editions, with an affordable starting price of $10,000.
Originally envisioned as a housing community for General Motors executives due to its proximity to PDK and the GM facility, Northwoods became such a popular place to live that it grew to over 700 homes by the subdivision’s completion in 1962. Northwoods featured its own parks, tennis courts, shopping center, church, service station, professional building and school. John Portman, a fellow classmate of Mastin and Summer, and who would go on to achieve worldwide acclaim for his architectural work, was hired to design the two main schools in the neighborhood (currently known as Carey Reynolds Elementary and Sequoyah High School).
Some of those original home owners still live in Northwoods and, while many of the homes have been enlarged, renovated and modernized over time, some of them maintain their original hardwood floors, fireplaces and even built-in retro appliances.
Northwoods first appeared on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ radar as part of the DeKalb History Center’s DeKalb Single Family Residential Post War Development project in 2009. Richard Laub, Director of the Historic Preservation Program at Georgia State University suggested Northwoods as a preservation project for his graduate students. Enlisting the support of the Northwoods Area Neighborhood Association (NANA) members and other residents in the area, the university students worked diligently to survey the Northwoods district’s homes, buildings, schools, churches, and parks gathering historic blueprints and old photos via site visits, community meetings, and resident interviews. As the research grew, parcel communities adjoining Northwoods would become absorbed into the project including Gordon Hills, Gordon Heights, Fleetwood Hills and Sequoyah Woods.
Additionally, it was discovered during the project’s research that Northwoods is one of only three known surviving planned unit developments left in Georgia. The other two are nearby Embry Hills and Fair Oaks, a Savannah subdivision.
In April of 2012, the GSU students presented their findings to a large and enthusiastic group of Northwoods area residents at the Church of the New Covenant on Chestnut Drive. Doraville Mayor Donna Pittman attended the presentation, as did surprise guest Ernest Mastin. The nomination has multiple levels of approval to move through and authorities are optimistic that the nomination will be finalized in early 2013.
The Northwoods Area Neighborhood Association is proud to have helped facilitate this unique designation and will be commemorating the impending occasion by honoring Mr. Mastin, the GA State University class and the Dekalb History Center with a 1950′s-style cocktail reception in August, 2012. NANA is also donating the historic materials associated with the university research to the Doraville Library and will present them to Librarian Tammy Henry at the reception.
For more information about NANA, the history of the Northwoods District including vintage photos, and the process of its entry into the National Register of Historic places, you can visit NANA’s website at https://sites.google.com/site/