Leila Ross Wilburn was the first woman architect in Georgia. She began her practice 1909. Wilburn executed few commissioned residences, yet she established a successful practice and reputation based on the wide distribution of her plan books, an innovative business approach in its day. Wilburn-designed houses proliferated throughout neighborhoods and suburbs of Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia, where there are more houses by Wilburn than by any other architect from the period.
She insisted that the design and construction of the American home should not be reserved only for those who could afford an architect. To reach a wider audience, the young architect produced a series of “Pattern Books,” from which people could choose a design and purchase construction plans. In a half-century of work, she left a legacy of homes, apartments and commercial buildings in the southeast. Today, her homes may be seen in the MAK Historic District of the City of Decatur, Georgia, as well as Ansley Park, Druid Hills, Candler Park, and East Lake communities of the City of Atlanta. (All good Decaturites know that Atlanta is Decatur's largest suburb, of course.)
This house was originally designed and built as a duplex by a gentleman for his two daughters. Each daughter had a separate flat on each floor, and the basement contained the servants quarters. Construction was finished in 1920.
In fact we found a construction photo of the house from 1920 in records of The Kenan Research Center at The Atlanta History Society. Over the years the house became run-down and neglected. By the time our clients bought it, the house had become unlivable.
As you can see from the photographs, the original carpentry on the existing front porch must have been done by expert. All of the exterior trim and porch work was built from Florida cypress, a wood that is naturally very resistant to rot and decay. That is probably why it is so well preserved.
Still, much work was required to strip away, sand down, and repair eighty-five years of old paint, dirt and neglect. Once the craftsmen had removed the heavy layers of old paint from the cantilevered porch and two-story columns and repainted them, they looked like new. Due to the deteriorated condition of the brick and mortar, the owner decided to seal and protect it with paint.
To begin the project's design, we carefully took measurements, then created plans and elevations of the existing house on our computer aided drafting system. Once this was done, we began work with the owner to lay out the new floor plans and elevations in a schematic design, which we refined many times through our design development phase and then during the construction drawings.
The house is located at 1304 North Avenue in Atlanta, in the Candler Park neighborhood on the edge of Historic Druid Hills. Due to site restrictions of the City of Atlanta, much coordination with the Department of Planning and the Department of Zoning was required.
The main entrance leads into the first floor living room of the original first floor duplex unit. The second floor unit had been accessed from a single door on the left side of the front porch.
To convert the duplex into a single-family residence, we replaced the former entry door to the upper level with a window matching those nearby, and we altered the stairway to be open to the new living room. This connected the first floor of the home and made the living room as grand as other homes of its era.