Cover Story: Northcrest

Welcome to the subdivision of retro chic

Slip into the pencil skirt, tie on the gingham apron and throw a brisket in the oven: Mid-century chic is back.

Surprisingly, one of metro Atlanta’s best examples of mid-century architecture can be found barely inside the Perimeter, in a Doraville subdivision with the rather bland name of Northcrest.

All too often, decades of renovations suffocate the personality of a neighborhood, clashing styles and eras from one house to the next. But many Northcrest residents moved in to preserve rather than alter the vision P&H Realty had in mind when building 630 houses, starting in the 1950s.

In P&H’s original catalog, new houses boast a state-of-the-art air conditioning unit promising Northcresters a better life, one in which climate control “will increase your family’s togetherness. You’ll spend more time with each other ... talking, reading, televiewing, or just plain enjoying each other’s company.”

An engraved wood sign marks the turn off Northcrest Road onto Regal Woods Drive. The absence of garages is the first sign you’ve entered a mid-century mecca. Carports supported by skinny beams twist up the streets, flanking elongated, split-level ranch homes reminiscent of scaled-down, Frank Lloyd Wright designs. The cars pulled up beside the windows of living rooms and kitchens aren’t Thunderbirds or Cadillacs, but they could be. Retro relishers and “Brady Bunch” buffs are right at home here.

Charles Green isn’t obsessed with the old sitcoms (though he once spent five days with “Golden Girls” actresses Bea Arthur and Betty White, back in 1987). But coming from a 900-square-foot condo in L.A., Green was thrilled to find a mid-century gem on a half-acre lot for just $205,000. Ironically, it wasn’t until Green left California, his home of nearly 20 years, that he finally was able to afford a California contemporary.

Of course, he had been warned about the cultural gaffe of living nearly outside the Perimeter. After moving into his four-bedroom Northcrest home in 1999, Green’s OTP anxieties were hard to quell. As he wrote in Southern Voice at the time, he feared Doraville was “a no-gay-man’s land peopled with banjo-playing-squeal-like-a-pig backwoodsmen and Great White Flighters who U-Hauled it out of the city singing, ‘Let’s find a place today, somewhere far away with no blacks, no Jews and no gays.’”

But Green soon discovered that his Northcrest neighbors were sophisticated folks seeking the same mid-century architecture that drew him there. What’s more, he found that whenever he yearned for the melting-pot feel of L.A., all he had to do was zip over to nearby Buford Highway, a virtual runway of international cuisine and culture.

Of course, Buford Highway ain’t exactly Sunset Boulevard. As an actor in Hollywood, Green appeared on several TV shows, including “General Hospital” and the “Golden Girls.” He earned a guest role on the episode in which the girls were set to appear on their favorite game show. When Blanch catches wind that two brothers have won over $50,000, she ditches Sophia and Rose and goes looking for the men. Green plays one, an obnoxious know-it-all who in fact knows nothing. “I fuck it all up for them,” he chuckles. “But the experience was great. Working with the ladies was so much fun.”

The bulk of Green’s career, however, was spent on instructional or promotional videos about a company or a cause. And the acting jobs weren’t paying all the bills. So Green moved to Atlanta after he was hired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a public relations rep.

“My biggest fear,” Green says, “is that they’ll call all of us in, pop in a video, and there I’ll be, teaching myself and coworkers about how to be a more productive worker.”

Mid-century hasn’t always been Green’s passion. The hobby is as much a product of his surroundings rubbing off on him as some innate retro itch. The woman who owned Green’s house before him had just started decking out her vintage dream home when she suddenly had to move to help manage her daughter’s business. Green moved in and ran with the design theme, scouring antique stores, Ikea and eBay for mid-century decor. He painted a wall in the kitchen lime green, then accessorized it with pop-art paraphernalia: Andy Warhol plates, a Warhol Marilyn Monroe print, Marimekko place mats, original Howard Hunt dessert bowls, and an orb-like hanging light.

Green learned that in retro restoration, productivity isn’t nearly as important as patience. He waited until a 90-year-old original Northcrest homeowner was moving out and selling some of her stuff to revamp his bedroom. In time, his new passion has been adopted by friends and family. A fellow mid-century renovating buddy gave Green his purple door. The pebble art by the base of the half-stairway was a gift from an aunt. And the doughnut rotary phone next to the Danish lamp came from an actor friend.

Says Green, “Every guest that I have over says within a few minutes, ‘I’ve got the perfect thing for your house.’”

?Fact Box
?Averaging $180,266 in 2004, up from $176,390 in 2002; a 2 percent increase.
?Average rental: $1,3000 for a three- bedroom brick ranch.

?Pleasantdale Elementary
?Henderson Middle School
?Lakeside High School

?White: 63 percent
?African-American: 26 percent
?Hispanic: 4 percent
?Asian: 5 percent

?Embry Village Wine & Spirits: An exceptional selection of vintages, vineyards and values. 3503 Chamblee Tucker Road. International Bowling and Arcade: An Asian- influenced, disco-style bowling alley. 5600 Buford Highway.
?Northcrest Swim & Tennis Club: Untouched 1960s-style trapezoid-shaped pool popular among residents, accessed for a nominal yearly fee. 3524 Bowling Green Way.

?Collard Green Café: If you’re looking for soul food, look no further than the Collard for catfish, meaty beef ribs and red velvet cake. 2566 Shallowford Road.
?Little Szechuan: By far, some of the best Chinese food in metro Atlanta. The stir-fried mu shu veggies and eggplant with garlic sauce are not to be missed. 5091-C Buford Highway.
?La Churreria: Authentic Colombian baked goods, including empanadas stuffed with beef and potato, cheesy bread and churros rellenos that will melt in your mouth. 5730 Buford Highway.