Virginia-Highland (nickname VaHi) is a neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia, founded in the early 20th century as a streetcar suburb. It is named after the intersection of Virginia Avenue and North Highland Avenue, the heart of a busy commercial district at the center of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is famous for its bungalows and other historic houses from the 1910s-1930s. It has become a destination for people across Atlanta with its eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, and shops and for the Summerfest festival, annual Tour of Homes and other events.
In 2011 readers of Creative Loafing voted Virginia-Highland "Best Overall Neighborhood", and in June 2011, Atlanta Magazine designated Virginia Highland "favorite neighborhood overall". In 2012 readers of Creative Loafing voted VaHi "Best Walkable Neighborhood".
Newspaper articles from the early 1920s refer to the "Virginia Highland" section of Atlanta with regard to the area around the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Highland Avenue. Later in the 1920s, southeast of this intersection the "Virginia Highlands" (with an "s") subdivision was built. However, neither term appeared again in the press until the 1970s.
During the revolt against the construction of the I-485 freeway through Morningside and what is now Virginia-Highland, a pro-highway group called themselves the "Highland- Virginia Civic Association", claiming to speak for the neighborhood. When Joe Drolet and other residents formed a group to oppose the highway in Fall 1971, they chose the name "Virginia-Highland Civic Association". With the victory of the anti-highway forces, the Virginia-Highland name stuck and started to appear in the press in reference to the entire neighborhood between Amsterdam, Ponce, Piedmont Park and Druid Hills.
Around Atlanta, "Virginia-Highland", "Virginia Highlands" and "the Highlands" are all commonly heard. However, only "Virginia-Highland" is the official name of the neighborhood. The other terms are even included in some business names, but are incorrect.
The term VaHi, imitating the New York style of naming neighborhoods (SoHo, TriBeCa), first was used in the Atlanta newspapers in 1998. It is now in common use as a shortened, playful form or in URLs of neighborhood media and organizations (examples are www.vahi.org, www.vahinews.com and vahi.patch.com).
The first record of settlement of the area that is now Virginia-Highland was in 1812, when William Zachary bought and built a farm on 202.5 acres (0.819 km2) of land there. In 1822 he sold his farm to Richard Copeland Todd (1792–1850). Todd's brother-in-law Hardy Ivy settled in 1832 in what is now Downtown Atlanta and the road between their two farms came to be known as Todd Road (a portion of which still exists in Virginia Highland).
The first land to be subdivided in what is now Virginia Highland was Highland Park in the 1890s, located on either side of Ponce de Leon Ave. between today's Barnett St. and N. Highland Ave. However, the majority of the houses and streets in Virginia-Highland were constructed between 1909 and 1926. In 1916 the Arc Light Controversy raged between neighbors on Adair Ave. and N. Highland Ave.
Some businesses opened around the intersection of Virginia and N. Highland starting in 1908, with many more opening starting in 1925. At the same time development started in the Atkins Park commercial district around St. Charles. Ave. and N. Highland, including in the present-day Atkins Park Restaurant (1922) which reportedly got what is now Atlanta's oldest liquor license when it became a bar and restaurant in 1927. Between 1928 and 1930, the Howard Dry Cleaning Company and the Phelps Millard Grocery opened, anchoring the Amsterdam and N. Highland business district. The Samuel N. Inman School, named after the nineteenth-century cotton merchant, was built in 1923. In 1924, fire station 19 was built on N. Highland at Los Angeles Ave.
Streetcar service to Virginia-Highland ended around 1947, along with all of the other trolley lines into and out of central Atlanta.
As the neighborhood continued to regentrify, property values increased rapidly; the shops and restaurants became progressively more upscale. Towards the end of the 90s, the neighborhood-oriented character of the business districts gave way to businesses serving patrons from across greater Atlanta. VIrginia-Highland wrestled with traffic and parking issues. Apartments affordable to students became more difficult to find.
In 2000, a spat among organizers and a shakeup in the organizing committee made local headlines. However, Summerfest did continue as usual in 2001 as one of Atlanta's highest profile neighborhood festivals.
Preservation and balance
In November 2006, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation added Virginia-Highland to its list of "places in peril" due to an acceleration of teardowns and infill projects by real estate developers and newcomers to the area. However, Virginia-Highland remains one of the most architecturally historic, distinct and vibrant neighborhoods in Atlanta.
Residents, through the VHCA, succeeded in getting the city council to pass zoning legislation prescribing development that fits the scale of the streets, rolling back loose zoning ordinances passed in the 1960s.The new zoning also prescribes a maximum number of each type of establishment - restaurants, bars, retail and other types.
The zoning aims to preserve a vibrant mix of enterprises while keeping control noise, parking and traffic issues but also addresses specific problems which came up in 2005-2008:
Avoiding Virginia Highland suffering the same fate as Buckhead Village, where a large number of bars opened, eventually attracting crime from other areas of the city.
Fighting a liquor permit for the 700-seat Hilan Theatre).
Opposing "The Mix@841" project at 841 N. Highland Ave., originally proposed to be 80 feet tall.
In December 2008 the VHCA bought the land land for New Highland Park, a small 0.41 acres (0.17 ha) park at N. Highland and St. Charles.
In Autumn 2010, a rash of seven muggings occurred, statistics which were far lower than those of the 1980s when the neighborhood was edgy, but in 2010 shaking up the neighborhood. Partly in response, the local security patrol, FBAC, expanded patrol coverage to the entire neighborhood. Shortly thereafter in Nov. 2010 Charles Boyer was murdered during a mugging, for which the "Jack Boys" were indicted in Jan. 2011. Police continued to step up patrols and since then Virginia Highland has returned to its status as one of Atlanta's lower-crime neighborhoods.
Currently the neighborhood is enjoying adjacent development projects including a new biking and walking trail along the BeltLine from Piedmont Park to Inman Park, as well as the pending redevelopment of Ponce City Market, the old Sears building, which later became City Hall East. Ponce City Market is slated to become a major multi-use development including a gourmet food hall of national importance. Behind Ponce City Market is the brand new (2011) Historic Fourth Ward Park.