In fact, the renovation project does not involve a house at all. Rather, it's a storefront at 964 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., a 73-year-old building that once housed a grocery store and will soon become West End Ace Hardware.
Contractor Chris Vanover has stripped the interior walls to their bare bricks and the high ceiling to its raw pine. Store owner Paul E. Harwood aims to keep it that way. When the new Ace Hardware opens in early summer, it will be selling faucets and fixtures to explorers who have found new life in Atlanta's oldest neighborhood, as well as to longtime residents tired of driving a half-hour whenever they need a nut or a bolt.
The store is part of a new Ace Hardware outreach to the inner city and will be the first such project outside New York. Even so, Harwood couldn't find any bankers willing to share his vision of a reborn West End business district, about a mile west of Turner Field.
Instead, the city of Atlanta stepped up, providing the entrepreneurial spirit the private sector lacked. Harwood got a $100,000 loan from the Atlanta Development Authority and signed a 20-year lease.
West End - now on the National Register of Historic Places - was established in 1835. A trolley company was formed to serve West End in 1870. Today, a MARTA station sits at the eastern boundary of the neighborhood.
The area was predominantly white until the 1960s, when West End experienced an influx of African-Americans with ties to the nearby Atlanta University Center. Now, whites are returning. The reintegration has been contentious, but the neighborhood seems to be turning the corner of acceptance.
For years, Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard - RDA for short - was a dreary ruin, an endless row of hair-care storefronts and dreadful food choices. Yet West End is that rare Atlanta neighborhood that hasn't destroyed its history. The streets retain many of the buildings from West End's days as a neighborhood so vibrant its residents had no desire to leave. Still standing are the Wren's Nest, home of author Joel Chandler Harris, and the Hammonds House, with its collection of African-American art.
Perhaps the defining characteristic of West End is its wide array of religious institutions, from the towering West Hunter Street Baptist Church to an old-fashioned spiritual reader to the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center and Bookstore of the Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church.
A strong Muslim community has drawn followers to West End for more than a quarter-century. One of them was Nadim Ali, who came as a fresh graduate from college in Pennsylvania.
"I came to Atlanta for a week in 1979 and I was so taken by West End that I called my mother and told her, 'I'm not coming back,'" says Ali, who has raised five children in his 95-year-old West End house.
A member of WRFG-FM's (89.3) board of directors and a longtime jazz show host on WCLK, Ali has stayed with West End through many metamorphoses.
"West End is my village," he says. "You have everything you need. Everybody gets along and respects the community. You have more people interested in bringing it up now. In the 1980s, it was hit hard by the crack epidemic. Now it is ideal for gentrification."
A neighborhood group, West End Neighborhood Development, played a key role in the comeback. Real estate values have skyrocketed as a wave of young homeowners have swept into the neighborhood. "I bought my house for $30,000 and now it is worth $300,000," says Ali, who contends that some of the increase has been driven by investors getting fake assessments and inflating values.
The RDA shopping strip, badly damaged by the departure of the Sears department store from the West End Mall in the late 1980s, is bouncing back as well. Hank Aaron even put in a new Krispy Kreme doughnut shop at Evans Street in 2002. Signs of new construction are everywhere.
But the real draw will be the new Ace Hardware. The store will stock inventory to help residents repair historic homes in a wide range of styles, including Craftsman bungalow, Queen Anne and folk Victorian.
Store owner Harwood surveys the neighborhood's architecture and sums up West End this way: "This puts Virginia-Highland to shame. This is where the wealthy lived."
Averaging $126,176 in 2004, down from $133,077 in 2002; a 5 percent decrease.
Average rental: $800 for a two-bedroom bungalow.
M. Agnes Jones Elementary
Kennedy Middle School
Joseph Emerson Brown Middle School
Booker T. Washington High School
White: 4 percent
African-American: 96 percent
Wrens Nest: Home of Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus series of tales. 1050 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.
Hammonds House: The only independent public museum in Atlanta dedicated exclusively to the collection and study of fine arts of the African diaspora. 503 Peeples St.
West End Performing Arts Center: A neighborhood arts center dedicated to bringing performing and visual arts programming to West End. 945 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.
Gut Busters: If youre looking for a damn good cheesesteak, this is the place. 806 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.
Q-Time: The Q stands for barbecue at this down-home restaurant with a drive-thru operation next door. 1120 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.
soul vegetarian: Located next to the Everlasting Life Co-Op and Health Food Store, Soul serves simple and divine vegetarian fare. 879-A Ralph Abernathy Blvd.
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