Model towns

The town center of Avondale Estates, Georgia, within walking distance from where I now live, resembles Princeton, New Jersey’s main downtown block, where I grew up. That synchronicity is slightly disconcerting. You can go home again, at least aesthetically.

Both used a Tudor revival style for their visual reference, although sprawling directly across Nassau Street and the main business center during my childhood, Princeton University had a Collegiate Gothic inspired architectural model, mixed with its earlier High Victorian Gothic style. (Alexander Hall is a stunning example) It’s no wonder I love old buildings.

Avondale is unique to the Southeast as its only planned city and is on the National Registrar of Historic Places. One man, George Francis Willis, decided that the area just east of Decatur, GA needed a more Shakespearean flavor. In 1924 he developed the town.

Avondale Estates, GA

Princeton, NJ (photo courtesy Pieter en Marianne)

82 Library Place. Woodrow Wilson’s house. Wilson lived first in the Steadman house at 72 Library Place. In 1895, Wilson commissioned New York architect Edward S. Child to design his Tudor Revival house at 82 Library Place.

Alexander Hall, now renamed as Richardson Hall, Princeton University campus.

I moved to the South in the mid 1970’s during an era that wasn’t especially predisposed to saving historic structures. Most of the lovely old antebellum mansions lining Peachtree street had already been or were in the process of being razed in favor of condominiums and bauhaus type office buildings and apartment complexes. I witnessed some of the destruction of property that could have been retrofitted for other uses.

Leyden House. Image from

Dougherty-Hopkins residence, built in 1890, demolished 1931. Corner of Peachtree and Baker Streets.

Peachtree St today, courtesy GA Photos.

While Avondale’s Historic Preservation Commission has certainly protected most of the buildings and homes, there is ongoing pressure from developers and economic constraints. People don’t want to maintain their 85 yr old windows or have only one bathroom and developers see profits in building multi-density housing on acre lots, in what was once part of the Scottdale Steel Mill community. The city needs revenue and loosening up ordinances is one way to lure money to the area.

More similarities: we have the Waffle House Museum, Princeton has the same PJ’s Pancake house that was there in the early 1960’s. My dad would accompany us to church just to get pancakes… after he’d snoozed through the sermon.

An unwelcome parallel is the wintry weather we’ve been getting down here. Another storm forecast for this week and if it’s anything like the last one, it will feel like harsh northeastern winters of the 1960’s and not the South I’d hoped to ride out in my golden years.

Looking down Rockbridge Rd., Avondale Estates, January 10, 2011

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4 Responses to Model towns

  1. Ali Hossaini says:

    What a charming shot of Avondale Estates! The Tudor buildings compare favorably to a row you might see in England or in the community of Forest Hills in Queens, where the solid rows of homes are accompanied by large shade trees and a very walkable urban design. It’s a good argument for urban planning.

  2. V says:

    The style became popular during the 1920’s and 1930’s in the US. While Avondale proper is walkable (with sidewalks), my part of unincorporated Avondale was originally a mill community.

    A stretch of sidewalk was put in during the 2004 boom, but never extended throughout the entire neighborhood. Good urban planning always requires thoughtful funding.

  3. Wow, the architectural parallel is striking — but such a same that those Victorians on Peachtree street are gone – gorgeous!

  4. Victoria says:

    I know Michelle – especially since we lose craftsmanship that won’t be replaced. It’s why I try to help with historic preservation.

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