It would be easy to walk by the Georgian Revival home on Palisades Road in Brookwood Hills and think it was just one among the many handsome, well-proportioned homes in one of Atlanta’s favorite neighborhoods.
But you would do well to stop for a minute and look more closely at the red brick structure with the black shutters in the shadow of south Buckhead’s mid-rises.
You would notice, for example, the brick pediment with a perfectly centered round window. Then your eyes would be drawn to the front door, where your gaze would linger for longer than a moment.
The door is the dead giveaway.
The house is perfectly balanced, and though the facade appears plain at first sight, the bold ornaments draw the eye — the pediment across the front, balanced above a smaller pediment over a wide, ornate doorway topped by a sunken half circle.
These elements tell you the work you are looking at is not by your average architect but by an artist — a poet if you will — a man who brought beauty and precision to everything he touched.
Built in 1922, the house at 14 Palisades Road is the last man standing in a way.
It is one of seven Neel Reid designed just north of Ansley Park, a small settlement of houses designed by one of the South’s preeminent architects before there was a Brookwood Hills, and when Buckhead was several miles north on Peachtree Road.
These were the first residential homes in what would become Brookwood Hills, designed for Willis Timmons (1911), Mrs. H.P. Cooper (1912), Winship Nunnally (1912), Hunter Perry (1921), Willis Jones (1922), J. Carrol Payne (1922) and Logan Clarke (1922).
All have either been demolished or moved, as was the case with the Jones house, which now sits on West Paces Ferry Road just east of Moores Mill Road; all, that is, except for the Clarke house: 14 Palisades Road.
Reid’s best-known Atlanta houses are in Buckhead and Druid Hills. These include the Vaughn Nixon house on Andrews Drive, the neighbor of the Swan House and one of Reid’s last houses, and James Dickey Jr.’s 10,000-square-foot home “Arden” on West Paces Ferry, inspired by George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
Born in 1885 to John and Elizabeth Reid, Neel Reid spent much of his childhood in Macon. It is there Reid got his start as an architect. Back in those days, the South didn’t have a renowned architecture school. Most young designers learned at the drafting tables of successful architects. Reid worked under the direction of Curran Ellis in Macon and designed many of Macon’s most important buildings from that era.
Reid eventually made it to the North and its better schools, attending Columbia University. With his future business partner Hal Hentz, he studied under Charles McKim from 1905 to 1907. McKim was a Harvard University graduate and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He led the American Neoclassical revival and championed the formal tradition of the Italian Renaissance.
Reid followed in his teacher’s footsteps, attending the École des Beaux-Arts in 1907. He traveled Europe with Hentz, drawing inspiration from the classical designs. His notebooks are filled with sketches of classic European architecture and gardens.
By 1913, along with Hentz and Rudolph Adler, Reid established Hentz, Reid & Adler in Atlanta. A list of their projects is far too great for these pages, but they designed buildings for the Coca-Cola Co., Scottish Rite Hospital and the Piedmont Driving Club, to name a few.
For many of the homes he designed, Reid designed the gardens as well. Equally important to the design of the house were the gardens and the landscaping. No detail would be overlooked, and each detail informed the larger picture.
Indeed, he was a master of scale, so much so that the smallest details in his designs were proportionately related to the whole, according to the late architectural historian William Mitchell Jr., author of “J. Neel Reid Architect: Of Hentz, Reid & Adler & the Georgia School of Classicists.”
This is reflected in the Clarke house, which is now on the market. The home has been beautifully maintained and appropriately updated. Each room is a study in scale and beauty. As a unique bonus, it features a paneled library designed by James Means, another legendary Southern architect who got his start in Reid’s firm. Philip T. Shutze, perhaps Atlanta’s best-known architect, also worked under Reid.
According to Mitchell, between 1909 and 1926, Reid had 325 Atlanta commissions. These included professional buildings, factories, railway stations and homes. Each has the distinct Beaux Arts and classical influences Reid so well represented.
A brain tumor cut Reid’s life short. He died in 1926 at the age of 40.
While he died too young, he left an indelible mark on the city of Atlanta, one that thankfully can be seen to this day.