Urban Living - Neighborhood watch

Home Base: Oakhurst is a small town's small town

It's raining in Decatur, but the view from Ann Ritter's living room on Ansley Street is anything but dreary. Ansley Street originates in downtown Oakhurst — a small town within already small-town Decatur.

Ritter, a Georgia State University professor, sits in her living room with a glass of wine, the red hues complementing the room's dark crown molding. While she's well-versed in her home's history, the house speaks for itself on the subject of style. The front-porch pillars, characteristic of 1940s craftsman homes, flank the threshold, which boasts a hefty oak-and-mahogany door the original owners salvaged from a Macon bank decades ago.

Ritter explains that a wealthy family named Hudgins used her Oakhurst corner as a country estate, and that the construction worker/patriarch built the house and several surrounding homes for his children. From Ritter's dining room, the porches of the three sister homes line up neatly, but a wall of orange plastic mesh calls special attention to the middle one.

The orange fence signifies imminent destruction and represents the current debate in Oakhurst over the proposed historic district. Although many hate to see such historically significant and visually eclectic homes give way to McMansions, other quite literal signs of the times decorate lawns, reading "Historic District is Not the Answer."

Most of the yards that display this message are clearly more modern than Ritter's. But she refuses to take a stand on the issue, saying only, "It drives up my property value, but then it drives up my taxes, too."

Despite the obvious differences in homes and opinions, Oakhurst has an abiding sense of community. Ritter believes it's a remnant of the six years that Oakhurst existed as an incorporated town before Decatur annexed it in 1916.

Oakhurst Neighborhood Association member Jack Krost says that although arguments exist, they stem from community pride that's best defined as "impassioned.

"There have been some McMansions that are tasteless, but there are others that are bigger than the norm, but still in the same spirit," Krost says.

Straight lines and dark wood trim rather than ornamental frills on railings and doorways characterize the area's architecture. Open porches and inviting façades are the norm in Oakhurst's vibrant garden of 1920s and '40s bungalows and more modern multistory homes. The yards of most historic homes are densely covered with ferns and bushes and scattered with uneven stone walkways.

Downtown Oakhurst isn't a booming metropolis, but it has cultivated an identity independent of Decatur. From the gas station-turned-bar Universal Joint to the Oakhurst Community Garden, the neighborhood operates at a more easygoing pace than the sprawling city six miles to its west.



TRANSPORTATION: Ponce de Leon Avenue runs through the heart of Decatur. From downtown Atlanta, head east on Ponce toward Stone Mountain and veer right onto East Lake Road, a straight shot into Oakhurst. Take the 123 Decatur/Candler Park bus from the East Lake MARTA (404-848-5000, www.itsmarta.com) station, or the train to the Decatur station.

HOUSING: Ritter's next-door neighbors put their historic bungalow on the market for $324,900. Farther down the street, a renovated two-story home with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths is priced at $400,000 — a comparable price for an area full of small historic homes on valuable ITP property. Few Oakhurst houses are rented, but an upstairs one-bedroom/one-bathroom apartment with a small kitchen in a triplex goes for $675 a month.

NEIGHBORHOOD HIGHLIGHTS: The owner of the popular (but now closed) Roman Lily Cafe has opened Calavino's (350 Mead Road, 404-270-9575) in the former Oakhurst Grill space — same great patio, familiar Roman Lily menu. Palate Wine Bar (321 W. Hill St., Suite 7-B, 404-373-4702), in the same complex as Solarium at Historic Scottish Rite, is a popular destination for young couples who've left the kiddies at home with a babysitter. Oakhurst Park (307 Feld Ave.) has pavilions with grills, a playground and walking trails.

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