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Column: ‘Island’ evidence of Buckhead’s evolution
by Thornton Kennedy
August 06, 2014 02:56 PM | 3422 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
A cul-de-sac off West Paces Ferry Road captures what Buckhead was, what it became and what it aspires to be.

At the heart of the 35 or so homes on Paces Forest Road and Paces Forest Drive just east of Northside Parkway is a home that rivals any in Buckhead. Like its former neighbor, the Calhoun-Thornwell house, which is better known as the Pink Castle, the address was West Paces Ferry for nearly four decades.

Georgian Revival in style, the Paces Forest home was designed by architect Charles Hobson for Charles and Fannie Lamar Rankin Gately in 1927, according to Susan Kessler Barnard’s book, “Images of America: Buckhead.” Six two-story columns dominate the front of the house and a huge lantern is suspended above the front door in a style similar to the White House in Washington.

It is called “Isola,” Italian for island. An island is precisely what it has become.

There are hints to its former grandeur throughout the neighborhood, including stacked rock walls just behind the West Paces Ferry Publix, which according to a few longtime Buckhead residents held a lake.

The estate rambled over hills, forests, gardens and the lake at the back of the property. In the 1960s, it was subdivided to meet the growing demand for land as more and more families moved to the suburbs.

The homes that now fill the former estate do not quite compare to the Gately house. There is but one entrance to the neighborhood, Paces Forest Road, which loops around to the cul-de-sac. My wife Lori and I live in one of the homes. There is almost nothing distinct about our one-story ranch with nine-foot ceilings. It sits at the top of one of the hills off the cul-de-sac.

The front yard is a straight drop to the point where people who are in excellent physical condition struggle to walk up it. Some of the homes built in that era on our street were larger and nicer than the one in which we live. A majority were built on less than an acre and were single-family ranch homes.

During the 1990s, with land values climbing and families moving farther out, the small enclave evolved again. The ranches were bought, and rather than tearing them down and starting from scratch, they were completely redone, including heightening the ceilings, adding upstairs bedrooms and drastically improving the landscaping.

I would guess as many as half the homes in the neighborhood have been completely renovated. The best among them in my opinion is a restoration to the nearly 90-year-old carriage house of the Gately home, which maintains that 1920s style and feel, but was completely redone and updated to accommodate a 21st-century family.

Our street has not advanced to the teardown stage yet, but that is only a matter of time. I am certain when Lori and I decide to move on, whoever buys this old house will opt to start over rather than renovate, despite the fact that she has excellent bones.

For now, walking through our tight-knit community, we can experience the evolution of Atlanta and Buckhead and still experience a little of what drew the Gatelys here in the first place.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at

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