MARIETTA — Whitlock Heights was the place to be for young families moving to Marietta in the 1950s.
The neighborhood just southwest of Marietta Square got its start in 1950, the brainchild of real estate developer Banks DuPre.
The first lots sold for about $2,000, and a house cost about $10,500. The earliest homes were traditional, with many in the ranch style, a few with basements.
You can still find homes in that traditional style there today alongside a wide variety of newer designs. Neighbors say the variety comes from the manifold developers and builders who have added to the neighborhood over the years, and that variety is a big part of what gives the neighborhood its charm.
Each new curve on the neighborhood’s winding streets reveals a new delight as unique homes peek out from the lush old growth trees.
The area was a hit with the many people coming to town to work at the new Lockheed facility, which opened in 1951 on the site of the old Bell Bomber plant.
Bell Bomber shut down production at the end of the World War II, but DuPre realized the aviation business would not be absent from the city for long, said Christa McCay, collections manager for the Marietta Museum of History.
“Banks DuPre had actually worked at Bell Aircraft, so he kind of knew that just because we had stopped building B-29s after World War II, I think he kind of had the foresight to say we’re still going to need airplanes, and there’s already a plant here and the government knows about it,” she said. “I think he was smart enough to realize, ‘If I start building houses, something’s going to happen to bring people to Marietta for aviation jobs.’”
DuPre developed the first phase of the neighborhood on the lower part of South Woodland Drive. It included Chinquapin and Chestnut drives, and further phases added homes on streets including Woodvalley Drive and Hickory Drive, then Walnut, Hemlock Holly and Wisteria drives and Redwood Drive, Bouldercrest Drive and Banks Street, which is named after DuPre. The neighborhood is named after its proximity to Whitlock Avenue, which is in turn named for the Whitlock family of Marietta.
The neighborhood does not have definite boundaries, according to Marietta City Manager Bill Bruton, but the city’s planing department estimates there are roughly 1,000 homes in the area.
When it was first built, Westside Elementary was the closest school, but that changed in 1960 when Hickory Hills opened up in the heart of the neighborhood.
The neighborhood became a draw for the city’s movers and shakers, and members of Marietta’s prominent families have called Whitlock Heights home over the years. Among that number is Mayor Steve Tumlin, who grew up in the area and lives there today.
Tumlin said the neighborhood with its old trees and rolling hills was the perfect place to grow up.
“Most people knew each other, some were Lockheed folks, some worked for the military base and some were downtown local merchants, a lot of young people in there,” he said. “It was just a fun place. It was hilly.”
Tumlin said the hilly terrain helped contribute to the larger lot sizes in the neighborhood, with some lots between one and three acres. Back in the day, a few people kept chickens or even horses behind their homes, including the Tumlin family. They had a horse named Dusty, who lived in a stable most of the year, but came home on special occasions.
One day, on a lark, Tumlin decided to take Dusty for a ride along Bouldercrest Drive with his friend, Wyman Pilcher. They stopped by the home of Charlie Laubaucher to pay a visit, but when his wife Norma Laubaucher answered the door, Dusty let himself in, with the 11 or 12-year-old Tumlin still on his back.
“I can confirm the horse story is true,” Tumlin said with a laugh. “She hollered, but she didn’t get mad. But it was kind of a sign of the times. We didn’t have as many ordinances, dogs weren’t on leashes and horses were in people’s back yards. … But it was a great place to grow up. Everyone knew your name, everyone knew your dog’s name, everyone knew your horse’s name.”
Another familiar name who calls Whitlock Heights home is former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, D-Marietta, who lives there with his wife, Lillian. The Dardens live in a 1951 house that was graded personally by Marietta contracting firm founder C.W. Matthews himself, back when he was just getting his start.
“We like it because a lot of people that we know live in the neighborhood, and (the houses) are all different, it’s a diverse neighborhood in terms of architectural designs, and it’s close to the Square, it’s easy to get downtown from here, both downtown Marietta and downtown Atlanta from here,” Darden said.
Buying and selling
Longtime Whitlock Heights resident Bill Smith, retired from Little & Smith Insurance and Bonds, has been a part of the neighborhood for decades but now wants to downsize. He’s moving out of the home he built in 1963. He said he’s staying in the city, but he will miss the memories of the old place.
“It’s kind of sad. This is the first house I’ve owned and everything, but it’s time for us to move on. We’ve got too big a house. It’s time to downsize. … We absolutely could not have found a better place to live and have your family raised and go to the Marietta school system. It was just perfect.”
When he moved in, Smith paid between $4,000 and $5,000 for the lot, and between $25,000 and $30,000 to build the home, he estimated. The home was listed last week for $699,000 with Johnny Walker Realty.
Walker, who also serves on the City Council, grew up in the neighborhood and attended Hickory Hills Elementary School.
“It was a great place to grow up,” Walker said. “We rode our bicycles to school, left our doors open, unlocked, didn’t have anything to worry about. A lot of kids in the neighborhood, a lot of nice families, a great place for a kid to grow up.”
Now he helps people buy and sell their homes, including in Whitlock Heights. Walker said on average, homes in Whitlock go for between $350,000 and $450,000, and they tend to sell quickly.
For a long time, Walker said, original owners and their families were holding on to their Whitlock Heights houses, but that’s starting to change as they begin to look to downsize.
“It went through a period where a lot of the young people, a lot of the kids left, but they’re coming back now,” he said. “A whole new generation is moving in. They want to raise their kids there.”
A great place to grow up
Resident Ann Little, who built a house there in 1960 and raised her two boys there, said she’s hopeful the neighborhood is once again becoming a place for young families.
“We do have two nice young couples on the street that have moved in, and we’re so glad of that, with very young children, so that’s good. … It’s a neighborhood built around Hickory Hills School, and we hope we continue to get more young people who will continue to go to the school.”
One young couple, Sherry Coleman Collins, a registered dietitian, and Chad Collins, an IT professional, live off Woodvalley Drive with their 6-year-old son, Gavin, who loves robots.
Sherry Coleman Collins had lived nearby when they were dating.
“I loved being here,” she said. “I loved the trees and the proximity to the Square, and I liked the larger lots. So when my husband and I got married in 2010, one of the first things he said was we can buy a house in your neighborhood if you want.”
Chad Collins said that’s because he had come to love it as much as she did. The two moved there in 2011 after living in Atlanta for a short time.
“We looked at a few other houses outside the neighborhood, but everything just kept drawing us back here,” he said. “I think it’s the large lots, the old trees, the established neighborhood. At the newer neighborhoods, they bulldoze all the trees. At our old house, the only wildlife was the neighbors. There were no birds, no deer, bunnies, squirrels, nothing moving but people and cars. Here we see everything, foxes, coyotes.”
“And owls!” Gavin added.
Sherry Coleman Collins said another huge draw is the walkability. When Gavin wants to play, they can walk to the Square or to either Tumlin Park or Laurel Park.
“We can walk to either of those parks in about the same amount of time, and that’s been great for having a young child, that he’s got somewhere to play,” she said. “It’s been a great place to meet other kids in the neighborhood and just generally have fun.”
Blake and Leslee Hungerford, both attorneys, moved to Whitlock Heights about five years ago. About 18 months ago, their daughter Emerson joined the family.
Leslee Hungerford said in the time they’ve been there, there has been a definite shift in the demographics.
“When we first moved here on our block, it was predominantly an older kind of scenario,” she said. “Most of our neighbors are in their 70s, but in the five-year span, we’ve had a lot of younger families move in. On our street alone, there’s three other families with small children. So it’s definitely kind of got a blend of older families that have been here for generations, like our neighbors to both sides, their parents owned their homes before they did, and they inherited them. ... And then you kind of get this influx now coming of newer families that want to get in here, because it’s such a good location you’ve got, it’s close to the Square, it’s close to Marietta City Schools.”