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Controversial Decatur Demo Begs Question: 'What's Historic?'

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People don't usually get up-in-arms over the demolition of a boxy, rather unremarkable, midcentury brick home — the ubiquitous housing stock of American suburbs. There are countless examples around Atlanta that look similar to the house that, until recently, stood at 235 West Pharr Road in Oakhurst. But it wasn't the architecture that made the home so special to the neighborhood; the people who lived there, and the events that followed their arrival, made it a unique place. The home was recently reduced to rubble, but David Rotenstein over at History Sidebar has compiled an interesting look back at the brick ranch and its former occupants, to keep a piece of it in Atlanta's memory long after something else (larger and much more expensive, no doubt) rises on the site.

Today, Oakhurst is a sought-after neighborhood in south Decatur. But 50 years ago, when Clifford and Elizabeth Wilson moved in, white-flight had decimated the once-bustling community, as Rotenstein writes. The couple set about building a neighborhood from the ground up, providing educational, civic and housing opportunities for a disenfranchised African-American population. 235 West Pharr Road was the epicenter of the changes, as the Wilsons forged new neighborhood groups that cemented the growth potential of the area and ultimately led to a Renaissance — and subsequent gentrification.

Elizabeth Wilson not only improved the neighborhood in her years in the house, but was a champion of civil rights. From her humble roots, Wilson would go on to become Decatur's first African-American mayor. In many ways, Oakhurst is what it is today because of the Wilsons. As Rotenstein writes:

"The only places folks like Wilson and her like-minded neighbors had to rebuild community institutions and plan the neighborhood's future were South Decatur's living rooms, dining rooms, and porches. They formed block clubs for individual streets and larger organizations associated with the elementary schools ... These fledgling organizations coalesced throughout South Decatur. They helped the City of Decatur in 1979 pick the area's new formal name: Oakhurst."

While the little brick house that played such a big role in the process became a victim of the Wilsons' success, it serves as a reminder of what people who take an interest in their community can achieve. And, you know, Atlanta's undying love of demolition.

· The Wilson house (Updated) [History Sidebar]