Techwood Homes Historic District/Centennial Place
National Register listed : 1976
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NOTE : All photographs below are of the recent (1996-present) Centennial Place. All housing units of the Techwood Homes Historic District were demolished except for some architecturally significant public buildings which add considerably to the overall charm of the development.
The Atlanta journal-Constitution 6/24/99
The Centennial Place Plan
ABOVE: Luckie Street with new YMCA (Architecture by Nix Mann and Associates, recently renamed Perkins & Will , 1382 Peachtree Street, NE Atlanta, GA 30309 404-873-2300). Centennial Place Elementary School, a restored building and 1996-1999 housing beyond. An excellent workable concept of mixing lower income with market rate housing so the poor do not become isolated with only other poor around them. "Keeping up with the Jones" has remarkably strong social power and practicality. This is a very quiet area with nice cars parked on the curbs.
Newspaper Article - ajc July 1, 1999
Centennial Place : New complex rising on public housing site mixes incomes, races and pleases residents
By Ismail Turay Jr. STAFF WRITER
Michele Sumpert is fed up with the dirty looks and assumptions people make when she tells them she lives at Centennial Place apartments.
"They automatically say: 'Didn't that used to be Techwood Homes?' and I have to explain to them that it used to be, but it's not the same," she said. One of the largest housing projects in the country, Techwood-Clark Howell Homes at North and Techwood avenues had its share of crime, drugs and killings. Before the 1996 Olympics, the tenants were relocated, and it was torn down.
A new complex is going up on the site under the Centennial Place name, and tenants of mixed income are moving in. A four-alarm fire last week destroyed 51 units that were being constructed as part of the fourth phase of an ambitious project to eventually develop 758 apartments and 75 to 100 townhouses. Rents run from about $500 to $1,500, but 60 percent of the units are available for less to lower-income families.
What was once a predominantly black housing project has also become a community of different race and ethnicities. It can best be described as a city within a larger city - Atlanta - that has also flourished in recent years. "[The Complex] is a community where people can get along and cross some barriers, such as race and ethnicity," said Mark Daddona, who moved in two years ago. "That's what attracted me here."
Centennial Place offers more than housing. The Workforce Enterprise Program, for example, trains residents for better jobs or helps with career development. There's also a computer training class, which had its first graduation last Friday at the Centennial Place Community Center. In place since the first residents moved in Jan. 10, 1997, leaders are beginning to see the results of their efforts.
The complex also has a planning committee that takes concerns to the property managers and is organizing a Centennial Community Consortium, mirroring suburban neighborhood associations. An Atlanta public school on the complex's 60-acre grounds has become a showplace that draws students from all over the city although Centennial Place children have first call on slots there. And the adjacent YMCA helps ease the burden for working parents by taking care of kids before and after school.
Despite last Wednesday's fire, which may have been started by an arsonist, residents said they feel very safe and the complex's security force does an excellent job. Located downtown in the shadows of Georgia Tech and Coca-Cola's headquarters, many residents said Centennial Place is the ideal community because it is minutes from their jobs and entertainment and shopping is nearby. They also said it is a great place to raise a family and they like that it is a mixed community racially and economically. "In my view, it's worth it," said Thomas Austin, who has been a resident for two years. "I have not had any problems with anyone. Everyone gets on everyone's nerves sometime, whether they are middle-class, upper-class or lower-class." "I feel a sense of community here. I think it's great," said Sumpert, who has been a resident since 1997. "There is nowhere else in Atlanta that I'd want to be right now. I think it's that nice."
Historical Information From National Register Nomination in 1976
Original Board of Trustees : Clark Howell, Sr., Herbert Porter, major John S. Cohen, Dr. M. L. Brittain Herbert Choate, Mayor James L. Key, and Sidney Tiller were assembled by Charles Palmer, a radical housing reformer and leading Atlanta businessman.
Original Architects: Burge and Stevens, Architects
Original Contractor: J.A Jones and Comany, Builder
Significant Dates : 1935-1936 - Construction of Buildings for the first federally funded public housing in the United States
Description of Architectural Classification : modified Georgian
Classical Materials: foundation: concrete; walls: brick; roof: asphalt
Historic Functions: Low income housing
Current Functions: 1996 to 2000 - Elegant public buildings retained and integrated with new construction. Housing units demolished and replaced with mixed income housing .
Developmental history/historic context :
The Techwood Home District is historically significant in that it was the first federally funded public housing in the United States to reach the actual construction stage and represents the federal and local government's first attempts, in a social/humanitarian way to eradicate slum housing on a grand scale. In addition, this district is significant in terms of its planning, which is readily seen in the architectural design of its low-income housing units; in its unusually high-quality engineering which has provided tenants with sound, fireproof buildings for over forty years; and in its community planning and landscape architecture which provides what is easily definable as a unique community with a well-designed "linear village" layout whose chief characteristic is found in its sense of space created by select siting and landscaping.
ABOVE: Luckie Street with restored building in foreground and the housing concept of Centennial Place under construction beyond.
Designed under a program that aimed to improve building standards for the common types of residence in which the bulk of the urban population is housed and to make mortgage money available on terms devised to eliminate the speculative waste heretofore customary in slum-clearance and public housing program of the federal government.
Replacing about thirteen blocks of ore of the worst slum areas of Atlanta, this twenty-five acre federal housing project was built between the years 1934 and 1935. Erected by the J. A. Jones Construction Company of Charlotte, North Carolina at a cost of $2,108,337, of which the land alone cost .49 cents a square foot, the project was designed by the architectural firm of Burge and Stevens to accommodate some 604 families.
LEFT: New housing totally replacing 1935 Techwood housing on Techwood Drive looking south. A quiet residential community with nice cars parked on the curbs, this area has a long waiting list of tenants.
Burge and Stevens were not the only local group to be involved in the conception and planning of Techwood Homes, however. Others like Clark Howell, Sr., Herbert Porter, major John S. Cohen, Dr. M. L. Brittain Herbert Choate, Mayor James L. Key, and Sidney Tiller were assembled by Charles Palmer, a radical housing reformer and leading Atlanta businessman, to serve as the board of trustees for Techwood Incorporated. The purpose of this body, besides raising additional funds for the project's construction, was largely motivated by the then head of the Public Works Administration who felt that if "local people had some economic stake and the major legal responsibility for the project, they might act more judiciously. Moreover Ickes was philosophically opposed to people making fortunes from the poverty of others.
Complying with the stipulations embodied in the George-Healy Act, the Housing Divisions tenant selection was restricted to families of limited income who at the time were occupying substandard housing. No applicant was accepted who's income exceeded 5 times the rent charged per living unit. As reported in 1935, the average incomes of the tenants ranged from 1,080.00 to 1,920.00 a year and of 80 occupations represented by tenants the most numerous were clerks, followed by service men, office workers, salesmen, small business operators, and others; as was the custom until 1968, blacks did not reside in Techwood, but instead were furnished with housing in University Homes (Edwards and Sayward, Architects: William C. Pauley, Landscape Architect) a few blocks southeast of Techwood in what is now the Atlanta University Center Historic District. This second housing complex, at the urgings of Charles Palmer and John Hope, then President of Atlanta University, was planned as a part of the first federally-funded public housing project. University Homes, as original conceived, was to replace another notorious Atlanta slum known as Beaver's Slide.
In constructing the housing development, some 30 percent of the initial expenditure for labor and materials was a subsidy and the rents obtained from leasing the various dwelling units within the complex were used to liquidate the total cost of the project. The rents for the various units ranged from $16.40 for a well-planned three-room apartment to $27.8 for a six-room row-house. The land on which the project was developed was originally acquired by a limited dividend corporation, which later transferred the title to the property to the federal government.
As the first project to go into construction under the direction of the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration (PWA), Techwood served as an experiment and proving ground in both planning and in the writing of specifications. Living standards for tenants as set up by the Housing Division required that ample light and air be supplied to each living unit and this was achieved in Techwood by providing adequate cross-ventilation in each apartment and by the actual arrangement of the structure on the site which provided ample lawn space between buildings This is one of the developments key qualities and the landscape design of Techwood has often been cited as one of the reasons that this project probably still remains the "best" public housing project in the United States.
Description of 1976 and historic physical appearance:
Covering eleven blocks in area, Techwood Homes is located along Techwood Drive, a main thoroughfare leading from Atlanta's business district to the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Designed as a self-contained neighborhood, with buildings grouped around grassy courtyards and play areas, the structures of this first all-Federal housing project cover only about one-quarter of the total twenty-five acre site leaving plenty of remaining space for stores, social units and central laundries and generous open expanses.
Situated just south of the campus of Georgia Tech, the site of Techwood Homes has a length of six blocks running south from North Avenue and a width, west from Williams Street, of two blocks. The total area is 24.8 acres. The north end of the plot, that area adjacent to the Tech campus was originally devoted to playgrounds and tennis courts. Today, this area is occupied by a campus parking lot, to the east of Techwood Drive at North Avenue, and a high-rise for the elderly (Roosevelt House, 1972, H.A. Millkey & Associates, architects) to the west. The first building to the south along Techwood and within the historic district is a three-story dormitory containing 159 rooms for students at Georgia Tech. Techwood Dormitory was planned as such from the start of the project. In each of the remaining blocks of the housing development two or three buildings are placed within each block. These are either three-story apartment buildings or two-story row-houses, as indicated on the sketch map. Many of these buildings front on Techwood Drive which is a street developed in 1935 along the approximate longitudinal centerline of the housing project. Garage buildings, providing shelter for 186 cars and now in a state of near ruin were originally placed at the rear of the housing blocks along perimeter streets; since that time, however the housing project has been expanded with the result being that these garages are now practically in the center of the housing area. There are, in addition, four enclosed play-yards located in the apartment courts and many acres of open, tree-shaded spaces.
Incorporated into the original eleven blocks of buildings that comprise Techwood are several groups of two-story row-houses, the three-story Techwood Dormitory, one one-story Store and administration building , eleven one-story garage groups and thirteen three-story apartment buildings. All total there are 604 family living units divided into 397 three-room apartments, 128 four-room, 53 five-room and 26 six room units.
The architecture of the Techwood Homes development is characterized as modified Georgian. The type of construction selected for this project was based on careful analysis and estimates of comparative designs of floor systems. The structural layout for the three apartments and the two-story row houses is similar and all of the building have a narrow transverse dimension: 27 feet for the three-story apartments and 28 feet 2 inches, for the row-houses. This width is divided into two bays by a row of concrete columns and longitudinal concrete beams. The 12 inch exterior walls consist of 8 inch load-bearing ring tile blocks, faced with 4 inches of selected common brick, bonded every fifth course and trimmed with terra cotta and limestone. The floors and roofs are of solid concrete slab construction, supported by the exterior bearing walls and the interior row of columns and longitudinal beams. The exposed concrete ceiling slabs, soffits of stairs, beams in habitable areas, and all exposed interior and exterior surfaces are unplastered; exposed concrete surfaces are covered with cement paint. In general, all footings for these buildings are of the spread type and the basement walls are of poured concrete 12 inches thick to the ground level and 8 inches thick, faced with four inches of common brick, to the first floor line.
Whereas the dormitory in the Techwood Homes development is similar in style to the remainder of the complex, it differs in some respects from the other buildings. It is a concrete skeleton-frame structure with wall columns spaced from 18 to 22 feet and with two lines of interior columns spaced 10 feet apart on either wall of a longitudinal corridor. The outside bays are 12 feet 4 inches wide and, as in the other buildings, there are no transverse beams; the ceilings are smooth in all living quarters. The one-story garage groups are relatively narrow in the transverse dimension of 18 feet 4 inches and have 8 feet 4 inch wide stalls. The roofs are solid-slab construction, 2 1/2 inches thick reinforced with welded wire mesh and are supported on 10-inch steel channel. The side and rear walls of the garages are of 8-inch red brick and in the front, between the garage doors, are 4-inch H-columns supporting the roof channels.
The store building is mainly a one-story structure, except that one end of the building contains an additional floor that houses the complex's administrative offices. The type of construction used here is similar to that used in the three-story apartments except that there are two lines of interior columns instead of one, spaced 18 feet 2 inches connected by longitudinal concrete beams with a roof slab 5 1/2 inches thick.
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