One of the most remarkable attributes of one of the most impressive buildings in Atlanta is that it is hidden in plain sight.
For years, my cousin, Peter Howell, and his wife Barbara have lived in the former apartment building in Ansley Park in Midtown. I knew nothing about it. But they insisted I knew where they lived.
“The Villa,” they would say. “Right next to Ansley Golf Club.”
My brother and his family lived around the corner on Flagler Drive, and I drove past Ansley Golf Club on Montgomery Ferry Drive regularly. I honestly had no idea where they lived. The tone, however, was incredulous, as if to say, “Everyone knows The Villa.”
It is not in Buckhead, I realize, but I found two weekends ago it has more than enough connections that make it relevant to the readers of this paper. That is when the residents of the now-condominium building opened its doors to celebrate The Villa’s 100th birthday.
It is an Italian-inspired landmark. The front is practically an identical copy of the entrance to the Church of St. Cecilia in Rome, Italy, the facade of which dates back to 1725.
The firm responsible for the design of 1920 Ansley Park apartment building was Hentz, Reid & Adler, but a younger architect, who worked at the firm at the time, is credited with it: Philip Trammell Shutze. In 1927, the firm became Hentz, Adler & Shutze.
The influence of Italian architecture is seen in many of Shutze’s designs, from the Swan House in Buckhead to the Academy of Medicine and The Temple, both in Midtown. He studied at the American Academy in Rome shortly before joining the Atlanta architecture firm. He later served as a fellow of the academy.
Originally called The Italian Villa, the apartments for the well-to-do were built by developer Martin Dunbar. The ground floor had eight units for servants. Internal stairways connected those units to eight luxury apartment suites on the top two floors. The servants cooked and cleaned for the upstairs residents.
Also upstairs were an additional 17 units that did not have cooking facilities. A large public dining room that could seat 60 offered meals for residents who did not have cooks.
During World War II, ‘‘Italian” was dropped from the name, and the apartments became simply The Villa.
The residents of the building recently celebrated the centennial with lectures and a tour of the homes. Reflective of the buildings’ name, the apartments have a European charm, with comfortable rooms, large windows and modest kitchens.
With 12-inch-thick masonry walls, it is a U-shaped building, a design that results in many unique and interesting angles. The courtyard in the center is a beautifully landscaped respite.
During the celebration, patrons were invited to an opening party and treated to incredible fare from Soiree Catering and Events. It turns out Soiree owner and founder Mary Hataway had lived in The Villa.
The piece de resistance of the evening was a selection of Italian arias performed by soprano Elizabeth Saliers. There was something appropriate about being in a 100-year-old, Italian-inspired masterpiece designed by the great Philip Shutze with a live opera by an engaging and incredibly talented singer.
A few pine trees shield The Villa from Montgomery Ferry, but when you stop and look, you know immediately you are looking at something special. Going inside and seeing the craftsmanship and details make it more so.
One of the best attributes of any architect in my mind is when their design fits perfectly with the landscape. The structures settle into a point where not only do they seem they have been there forever, but despite their size, they do not stand out.
That is the trick of The Villa and its 25 homes. While it has been there for 100 years overlooking a golf course in Midtown, it seems entirely appropriate while being wildly out of place and time.
But you’d never know it.