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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Architecture in April (Part IV): California Dreaming in Peacock Woods

The story encompasses the Peacock Woods neighborhood, the California Ranch style, a noted landscape architect from San Fransisco, a Columbus movie theatre magnate, and the modern house he built. There are several high style examples of Contemporary Ranch style architecture in Columbus - the majority being within the Country Club, Hilton Heights, and Averett Woods neighborhoods. What makes this Brookside Drive house special is that it was it wasn't a part of a larger mid-century development but nestled within a 30-year-old neighborhood with earlier examples of high style architecture in Columbus. Hopefully, this sampling of Columbus history will also get you ready to celebrate Preservation Month in May! SOURCES: Columbus on the Chattahoochee by Etta Blanchard Worsley, 1951. “Everything you need to know about the iconic ranch-style house – inside and out” by Kelsey Mulvey, 2021. This Place Matters by Virginia T. Peebles and Elizabeth B. Walden, 2016. Online article by Willem Oosthoek. Guidelines for Evaluation: The Ranch House in Georgia prepared for the Georgia Department of Transportation. Peacock Woods - Dimon Circle Historic District National Register Nomination.


John Frances Flournoy, Columbus' most active suburban developer, developed the Peacock Woods. Flournoy hired Earle S. Draper, a landscape architect from Charlotte, North Carolina, to design his 35-acre tract. Cape Cod-born Draper designed mill villages and residential neighborhoods throughout the South and later served as the first director of land planning for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). In Columbus, he worked on an extension to the Bibb City mill village, redesigned part of Flournoy's St. Elmo Place on the west side of Wildwood Park and designed the nearby Wynn's Hill-Overlook Historic District developed by Lloyd G. Bowers. Draper also maintained an office in Atlanta, at that time and worked with the architectural firm of Hentz, Reid, and Adler. Draper's signature design style included fitting roads to the contours of the land and creating parks within his subdivisions. In the case of Peacock Woods, he planned curvilinear streets that tended to discourage through-traffic. His roads also followed the bottoms or the lower elevations so that houses could be perched on the hillsides. In 1922, Flournoy began development of the Peacock Woods subdivision, the crowning glory of his career as a developer. Three years later, he convinced the city and school board to move the high school next to his subdivision. Together Draper and Flournoy created one of Columbus' most prestigious neighborhoods.

The Peacock Woods subdivision was so successful that most owners purchased more than one of Draper's original lots. During the first year of development, Columbus architect John C. Martin, Jr., built his own house in Peacock Woods, a large Tudor Revival-style house located at 1687 Flournoy Drive. However, Martin only lived there a brief time, dying in 1928 at an early age. By 1925, the three Colonial Revival-style houses at the top of the hill on Summit Drive were being constructed. By 1934 nine of the first 13 houses were large-scale, architect-designed residences. Unlike Flournoy's nearby Wildwood Circle subdivision where the onset of the Great Depression stopped construction, the building of upper-class houses in Peacock Woods continued during the 1930s. Between 1936 and 1939, six Tudors Revival-style homes were built on one block of Eberhart Avenue as well as a Tudor Revival-style house and a Mediterranean-style house on Brookside Drive and a French Vernacular Revival-style house on Flournoy Drive. Only four houses appeared in the subdivision between 1940 and 1951 and two of those were in the first two years. These included two houses on Cherokee Avenue, an attractive rock house with Classical details by James J. W. Biggers on Summit Drive, and a 1951 two-story home with Mediterranean features on Flournoy Drive. Seven houses built between 1954 and 1990 completed the fabric of this subdivision. Their owners were E. D. Martin of Martin Theaters (1954), Ed Burdeshaw (1978), an architect, and Norman Rothschild (c.1990), a scholar and an Anglophile. The last two of these homes were built on wooded lots and are almost hidden from view. The residents of Peacock Woods were prominent in Columbus society and included physicians, lawyers, developers, and merchants, and the financiers and entrepreneurs who created the city's textile, soft drink, and movie industries.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1922 with 1956 additions - highlighting Block C - note the modern and contrasting shape of the newest house on Brookside Drive

Edwin Dennis Martin was born on January 30, 1920, in Columbus, Georgia. His parents were Roy E. Martin, Sr., born in Harris County, Georgia, and Hattie Lou Miller Martin, born in Columbus. He had one brother, Roy Elmo Martin, Jr. The Martin family lived in the Rose Hill neighborhood at this time. Their house is pictured below.

Following his graduation from Columbus High School, he attended the University of Georgia where he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Commerce in 1940. On May 19, 1940, Mr. Martin was married to Miss Emily Patricia Loomis in Avon Park, Florida. Upon completing his education, Mr. Martin started working with his father and his brother in the operation of Martin Theatres, Martin Realty Company, Idle Hour Park, and other business enterprises. During the period May 18, 1943 – December 5, 1945, he served in the Armed Forces and was discharged with a rating of Technical Sergeant. He began service at Camp Stewart in Savannah with the Anti-Aircraft Unit of the 593rd Automatic Weapons Company; from there he was sent to the Anti-Aircraft Artillery School at Camp Davis, North Carolina and Fort Bliss, Texas. Late, he was assigned to Headquarters, 20th Infantry Regiment Training Center in Camp Maxey, Texas, and the Parachute School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He served as a director of the Southeastern Theatre Owners Association, Confederacy of Southern Theatre Associations, Theatre Owners of America, Motion Picture Exhibitor of Florida, Alabama Theatres Association, and Treasurer of the Motion Picture Theatre Owners and Operators of Georgia. E. D. and his brother presided over the largest independent chain of movie theaters in the U.S., more than 125 of them in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Northern Florida. They also owned various TV stations, motels, and other real estate. Martin kept his office at 1308 Broadway in Columbus.

In the early 1950s, E.D. Martin wanted to build something modern for his new home. He approached the Flournoy Realty Company and secured one of the last lots in Peacock Woods. He could have gone with something more traditional and symmetrical, but he chose to honor the time and its 1950s flair. He chose the California Ranch. With a strong presence from coast to coast, ranch-style homes are loved for their versatility and flexibility. It’s not hard to identify a ranch-style house. While these residences come in various shapes, sizes, and styles, ranch-style homes are typically defined as sprawling, low-slung structures. California-based architect Cliff May put the ranch house style on the map back in the early 1930s, and his take is still considered classic. This tried-and-true type takes cues from the Arts and Crafts movement that reigned supreme well into the 1920s as well as Spanish colonial architecture. Additionally, many California Ranches have an L or U-shaped silhouette, deftly creating a designated courtyard space.

Ranch homes dipped in popularity shortly after they burst onto the architecture scene; however, the style made a huge comeback as suburbs became more prominent. In fact, after World War II, nine out of 10 new residences were ranch-style houses. Though the ranch house style seems simple, they offer plenty of variety. There are four basic types of ranches – Raised, Split-Level, Suburban, and California. The consistent design elements of the California Ranch are ground – hugging with a low roof and deep eaves; built of local materials (wood, stucco, brick, or stone); anonymous to the street (with a flat façade, covered entry at grade, and few streetside windows), but open to gardens in back; one room deep, shaped like an L or U (or splayed) to surround a patio and landscape features; expanses of glass and horizontal windows, sliding glass doors; and frank inclusion of cars, children’s yard equipment, etc.

Pictured here is the front of the E.D. Martin House on Brookside Drive. All of the images, except where noted, are of this property from several years ago.

What E.D. Martin did was to build a unique example of a California Ranch style house in 1954 by one of Atlanta’s leading modern style firms, Finch, Barnes, and Paschal. The firm designed the home with an asymmetrical, long, low sprawling form that emphasized the horizontal with its low-pitched roof and ribbon windows. The floor plan is almost that of a backwards capital P with the rooms radiating off a central open-air courtyard. The house also contained a movie theater.

San Fransisco landscape architect Thomas D. Church designed the landscaping to complement the house using unique, simple landscaping with modest shrubs and walled terraces. Characteristic of Church's residential designs, the yard features an enclosed rear patio for outdoor living space, the use of rocks on the slopes leading to the swimming pool, and the use of low walls forming terraces around the house. Church employed yellow Roman bricks along the walls that face the house and different types of brick along the sides of the property to match the neighboring brick houses.

The majority of Church's work was residential, and he reportedly designed over 2,000 private gardens in California and 24 other states. Notable residential works include the now iconic landscape design of El Novillero (Donnell Gardens) for the Donnell Residence (1947–1948), overlooking the winding salt marshes of the North Bay in Sonoma County, California. A part of his landscape for the Donnell Residence is pictured above.

Thomas Dolliver Church (April 27, 1902 – August 30, 1978), was a renowned and innovative 20th century landscape architect based in California. When Church started practicing, the Neoclassical style was still the predominant landscape design style. Thomas' design education at UC Berkeley and Harvard, along with his travels to gardens in Europe, gave him ample training in Classical and Renaissance Garden traditions. However, Church is renowned as a pioneer in American landscape architect for introducing the Modernist architecture and art movements into landscape design. After WW II, other designers added to what later became known as the "California Style" of gardens. Some of them apprenticed in his design studio, including Robert Royston and Lawrence Halprin.

Church outlined four principles for his design process in his 1955 book Gardens are for People. They are: Unity — the consideration of the design as a whole, integrating the house and its gardens with a free flow between them. Function — the relation of the outdoor recreational and social areas to their interior counterparts, and of the outdoor service areas to the household's needs, to please and serve the people who live in them. Simplicity — upon which rests the aesthetic and economic success of the design. Scale — relating the different design parts, features, and areas to one another, to create a whole an integrated landscape design. Church used the Modernist design principles for freedom of elements, such as the forms of spaces and features, and a sense of movement. When possible, he favored creating multiple viewpoints, instead of a traditional single axis. "A garden should have no beginning and no end," he wrote in Gardens Are for People, "and should be pleasing when seen from any angle, not only from the house." He could also use historicist design principles when the site called for it.

It’s been nearly a century since ranch-style houses were created, and the look is just as popular today as it was back then. According to a recent study by Trulia, they’re the most popular types of residences in 34 states. Ranch-style houses are oftentimes — but not always — more affordable than other homes. Plus, since most of the houses don’t require stairs, they’re ideal for family members of all ages. The E.D. Martin House was designed by a leading architectural firm and a nationally recognized landscape architect. It has gone through several owners since its construction and became listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a part of Peacock Woods - Dimon Circle Historic District in 2001. The property would become vacant for many years and was subsequently listed on the Georgia Trust's Places in Peril List in 2011. By 2018, the house found new owners who have been occupying and maintaining this unique and architecturally significant property ever since.

Next Week: In May, we are celebrating Preservation Month! I hope you will stay with us for a month of Preservation Spotlights focusing on the current projects your love of history is supporting. Please join us!

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