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How the Cascade Heights 'Revolution' Transformed Atlanta

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[Contemporary architecture of a residence formerly owned by the Paschal Family near Cascade Heights. Photo courtesy Garfield Peart.]
[Contemporary architecture of a residence formerly owned by the Paschal Family near Cascade Heights. Photo courtesy Garfield Peart.]


Editor's note: Today, Atlanta architect Garfield Peart (MBA, AIA, NOMA, LEED Green Assoc.) continues a three-part series for Curbed about the Cascade area of southwest Atlanta, tracing its current status as a hub for dignitaries, its controversial history and plans for future enhancements.

Over the years, there have been many articles written about the southwest Atlanta neighborhood of Cascade Heights as being the epicenter of Atlanta's black elite and power. Cascade Heights is the home of notable Atlanta residents like former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin, baseball legend Hank Aaron and former UN Ambassador Andrew Young. However, the importance of this southwest Atlanta neighborhood goes much deeper and actually starts back in the 1920s with the design of two parks by prominent Atlanta landscaper, William L. Monroe, Sr.

At the time, the City of Atlanta and Fulton County were poised for expansion into unincorporated areas to the north and south. Monroe, a special consultant for Fulton County, designed both Chastain Park and Charles R. Adams Park with golf courses to spur the development of both neighborhoods as upscale white suburbia.

Around 1924, a 200-acre portion of the new Adams Park neighborhood was demolished and rebuilt by Weyman & Conley Company as the Cascade Heights subdivision. After the dedication of Adams Park in 1940, the Adams Park and Chastain Park neighborhoods were annexed and later became part of the City of Atlanta in 1952. Today, the original rich contemporary residential architecture style is still preserved in both Cascade Heights and the north side neighborhood of Morningside, which were built during the same time period.

By the 1960s the neighborhood was poised for a different kind of expansion; one that would change the facade of Southwest Atlanta forever.

Google Cascade Heights and you are soon introduced to the Peyton Wall of 1962 erected by Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen on the corner of Peyton and Harlan Roads to keep blacks out of the mostly white Peyton Forest neighborhood. Dubbed "Atlanta's Berlin Wall", the action quickly became a flashpoint for the high racial tensions in the city and ignited a national firestorm of protests.

The Peyton Wall affair all started with one bold move by a young surgeon named Dr. Clinton Warner — a D-Day veteran and founding member of the Morehouse College School of Medicine — who bought a 3,000-square-foot home for $65,000 on 21 acres of land on Fielding Lane, an area that would later become part of Cascade Heights.

In a recent interview with his second wife of more than 44 years, Sally Warner stated that he simply needed a place to live, saw this property, could afford it and bought it. Dr. Warner, a civil rights activist in his own right, who would often downplay his role in the incident, in a candid interview with Southwest Atlanta Magazine in 2004 stated, "Although I was working and trying to make a living, I did make it my duty to step up and try to stop segregation and racism every chance I got."

The barricade stood for 72 days before a court ordered it removed; but it left an indelible mark on race relations and transformed the city forever.

First, it significantly eased the traditional planning and zoning practices of creating racial boundaries and buffers for blacks during that time, as highlighted in a book by Christopher Silver, John V. Moeser on black communities in the urban south 1940 to 1968. Second, the incident became a national poster child of 1960s white-flight, which ushered in the "colorizing" of many neighborhoods throughout the city and especially Southwest Atlanta.

Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, over 160,000 whites fled Atlanta for a more segregated suburbia, opening up greater opportunities for middle-class blacks to move in and upgrade their quality of life.

In 2012 the city celebrated the legacy of Cascade Heights with the Chi Wara Sundial Lantern public art installation in the Cascade Heights Commercial District. Designed by nationally renowned artist Ayokunle Odeleye, the art highlights 12 notable community leaders from Cascade Heights, including Benjamin E. Mays, longtime Morehouse President; Minister C.T. Vivian, civil rights activist; C.A. Scott, founder of Atlanta Daily World; and Dr. Clinton Warner. According to the Saporta Report, the art is inspired by the Chi Wara West African headdress used to pass knowledge from the elders to the younger generation. It's an apt interpretation for the historic home of Atlanta's black leaders that is ready to inspire yet another generation.

Artist Gil Scott-Heron's controversial song and poem, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," represented a transformation that first took place in the mind and helped force America to "get on the right page." From its signature landscape and architecture of the 1920s and 1950s, to stemming the tide of segregationist planning practices, to symbolizing a force for the upward mobility of the black middle class, to historic civic leaders, to the power of its current residents, Cascade Heights continues to be a transformative force which also helps keep the City of Atlanta on the "right page."

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Peart is the president of Syntony Design Collaborative and the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and a co-founding member of nonprofit The Atlanta Center for Creative Inquiry, Inc. He writes:

· Architect: Will the Real Cascade Heights Please Stand Up? [Curbed]