A sprawling apartment community in a no man’s land west of Interstate 75 in Buckhead wasn’t Cousins Properties’ first project, but it was close.
When the public real estate company acquired the land for Cross Creek, it was up against the expressway, in a transitional area between the neighborhoods lining Peachtree Battle Avenue, Howell Mill Road and Moores Mill Road and the industrial businesses of Defoor and Chattahoochee avenues.
Cousins and its partners purchased the site for $3.25 million, according to a 1967 newspaper article. By my math, considering it is 122 acres, it works out to about $26,600 an acre. Poking around property records, an undeveloped acre nearby today goes for around $500,000 and can reach as high as $1,000,000.
Over several phases, the developer built a myriad of apartment homes starting in 1968. Newspaper advertisements from that time claim the waiting list for a unit was two years.
It was the first of its kind in Atlanta. Yes, they were apartments, but the amenities were on par with a staid country club, down to the 18-hole golf course and tennis courts. The Cross Creek Cafe looked out over one of the three lakes, the golf course and the swimming pool.
A bar welcomed golfers after a day on links, residents and the public. On any given afternoon, some legendary characters could be found with their elbows up, watching TV and telling tales.
Cross Creek is a community within in a community. It is a verdant place of gardens, old growth trees and geese. But it is the people that make the place. They come from all walks of life, many of them born and raised in the Buckhead of old.
At some point, it transitioned from apartments to condominiums — no longer for rent, but owned.
Tom Cousins and his father started their namesake real estate company in 1958 when the younger Cousins was 26-years-old. They took the company public in 1962. Soon after, they were the largest homebuilder in Georgia. With that newly minted money, the company built an office building in downtown Atlanta and then started Cross Creek in 1966.
Cousin became one of the most prolific developers in Atlanta, redefining downtown with the CNN Center, originally called Omni International, and Omni Arena. He was one of the men responsible for bringing the Atlanta Hawks to town from St. Louis. He needed a professional sports team to play in his arena, so he bought one.
Through his foundation, he has done incredible work in the community, most notably transforming East Lake into a model community, with top-tier education, housing and opportunities for its lower-income residents.
He is a visionary, to be sure. And that is evident in one of his earliest large-scale projects — a community in a community.
Over the years, groups have invited me to give my Buckhead history talks at the Cross Creek clubhouse. I gave a talk there last week to the Gardenia Garden Club.
Every now and again I meet friends and acquaintances in the cafe. I put their BLT up against any in the city. The service and charm of the outdoor deck looking over the lake and the golf course are tough to beat.
Walking through the door is like stepping back in time. There were happy hours at the bar that extended well into the evening. The first time I played golf was on that 18-hole par three. I spent many evenings chipping balls onto greens from back terraces as the sun set, the last of the golfers pulling their carts towards No. 18.
It remains unchanged all these years later.
Cross Creek is comfortable in its place, and we take comfort it is there, preserved by those who call it home. They are the stewards of this 50-year-old community hemmed in by a highway and a creek.
It is the people that make the place, and the place reminds me of a Buckhead I once knew.