Cover Story: Benteen Park

A Neighborhood In Transition - But Check Out Those Prices!

Carole Hopper knows Benteen Park isn't perfect. But it is getting better.

Hopper, a massage therapist, has been living in the south Atlanta neighborhood, just past Grant Park, for nine years. She says she chose Benteen because of its "neighborhood-in-transition" charm.

Benteen Park is home to a mix of whites, Latinos and African-Americans, as well as gays and straights. Children play in many of the front yards, and one of Hopper's neighbors keeps chickens.

The homes themselves range from old and new bungalows to small, post-war brick ranches. Landscaping doesn't appear to be a priority for most residents, and many of the homes need work. Many others, however, are being renovated by do-it-yourselfers.

If the streetscape isn't exactly impressive, the home prices are. In a part of the city where it's becoming increasingly difficult to buy a house, let alone a fixer-upper, for less than $200,000, home prices in Benteen Park average $136,275.

Hopper owns two houses in Benteen. She bought the first in 1996 for $45,000. "The first house was basically a crack house," she says. "I moved into it and fixed it up, and now I rent it to my sister."

She bought the second house in 2000, for $50,000. "I went to the owner and just made the owner an offer," she says. "We basically gutted the entire inside. And now I've done some work on it, and it's a great place to live."

Don't expect prices like the ones Hopper paid to exist for much longer. Ninety-three new Craftsmen-style houses are now under constrution in a Benteen Park subdivision, all of them built according to EarthCraft standards (meaning they're made from environmentally friendly materials and aim to ensure the lowest possible utility bills). They'll start at $260,000, and will likely raise the profile - and the home values- of the neighborhood.

While the neighborhood lacks some key amenities, such as sidewalks, and Benteen Park itself is little more than a swing set and a soccer field, the streets are quiet and neighborly, and traffic is light. Still, Hopper doesn't like to venture out alone after dark. Crime is an issue.

For protection, Hopper owns two dogs that bark at everything. She has a fence around the perimeter of her yard and an electric gate so she can pull her car directly into the driveway when she gets home.

"When I moved into the neighborhood, somebody tried to get into my house in the middle of the night," Hopper says. "I think he thought the old owner still lived here."

Another reason Benteen residents might be a bit skittish is the neighborhood's proximity to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. The 100-year-old stone prison occupies 328 acres where Boulevard dead-ends at McDonough Boulevard. The compound once housed Al Capone, after the legendary mobster was convicted of tax evasion.

"Some people freak out about the prison," Hopper says. "But they keep it really clean, and it's an impressive looking structure."

A friendlier local landmark is the Starlight Six Drive-In on Moreland Avenue, an old-fashioned movie theater with six outdoor screens.

"My niece and nephew love it when I take them to the drive-in," Hopper says. "I throw a mattress in the back of my truck, and they think that's the best."

If Benteen residents need to run errands, they'll likely need a car; there aren't many amenities within walking distance of the small neighborhood.

But there is a new Kroger nearby, on Moreland Avenue, as well as the renowned barbecue joint Harold's. And in addition to the drive-in, residents are close to the cultural amenities of Grant Park, including the park's pool, rec center and the Atlanta Zoo.

For Hopper, Benteen has afforded her more than just the opportunity to buy an intown home at a rock-bottom price. It has kept her close to her family.

"I have two sisters and one brother, and we all grew up in the Atlanta metro area," she says. "When I was in high school, my family moved to Maryland. But since then, all of us, except for my youngest sister, have migrated back to Atlanta. My parents live in Grant Park."

?Fact Box
?Averaging $136,275 in 2004, up from $131,212 in 2002; a 4 percent increase.
?Average rental: None available.

?Benteen Elementary School
?King Middle School
?Southside High School

?White: 15 percent
?African-American: 75 percent
?Hispanic: 10 percent

?Zoo Atlanta: Located in nearby Grant Park, the zoo is home to gorillas, orangutans, tigers, lions, giraffes, elephants, pandas and more.
?Grant Park: Offers a pool, rec center, tennis, soccer field and jogging paths. The Cyclorama, which depects the Civil War's Battle of Atlanta claims to include the world's largest painting.
?Starlight Six Drive-In: This is movie- watching done right. Movies range from current blockbusters to cult classics. 2000 Moreland Ave.

?El Mexicano: It’s a dive, but it’s cheap and good. Try the chile relleno and the flautas. 1341 Moreland Ave.
?Taqueria Nayarit: The mix of fresh and simple ingredients in the soft tacos make Nayarit a true taqueria. Also try the red and green tamales and hearty bowls of menudo and pozole. 562 Boulevard.
?Harold’s: An old-fashioned barbecue joint complete with red and white checkered tablecloths and wood paneling. Satisfy your fix for pork ribs and Brunswick stew. 171 McDonough Blvd.

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