East Lake History
An Architectural History of the East Lake Clubhouse
by Samantha Beaumont
East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta's first country club, began as an extension of the Atlanta Athletic Club. In the early 1900's, the Atlanta Athletic Club was located downtown on Auburn Avenue. Members wanted a place in the country where they could relax, enjoy fresh air, play tennis and practice the sport of golf, which was relatively new to the United States at that time. In 1904, the club's president George Adair bought an amusement park located on 187 acres of land around East Lake and began plans for the country club.
The original golf course opened in 1905 with just seven holes, an interim boat and bath house, and a few tennis courts. Soon, the first clubhouse, designed by Harry Leslie Walker, was built, and the golf course was expanded to eighteen holes by noted golf course architect Tom Bendelow. This was the course where Bobby Jones learned to play. When Jones was a young boy, his family rented a house during golf season on club property. Prior to its renovation as a summer home, the property had originally housed the livestock used to pull the fairway mowers.
By 1913, the neighborhood of East Lake was growing rapidly, as was the popularity of the game of golf, and a new golf course was designed by Scottish golf course architect Donald Ross. During construction of the new course in 1914, the existing clubhouse burned to the ground. Architect Walter Danning designed a larger and more luxurious structure to accommodate the ever increasing number of members and guests of the club.
This building remained for more than ten years until it also burned in late 1925. The clubhouse was immediately redesigned by noted Atlanta architect Philip Shutze of the firm of Heintz, Reid and Adler, as a three story English Tudor style building of brick and cast stone. This new clubhouse, which constitutes the basic architecture of today's structure, featured more dining space and men's locker rooms on the second story. Due to the great number of golfers around the early 1930's, a second golf course, also designed by Donald Ross, was constructed across Second Avenue from the club's main property. In the years of prosperity following completion of the Shutze clubhouse and second golf course, several additions and renovations were undertaken, including enclosing the open-air dining terrace and adding a wing which housed new men's locker rooms, a golf shop, and grill room. Above this wing was a new concrete terrace overlooking the lake where visitors could dine and dance outdoors in pleasant weather.
By the 1950's, members who resided north of town began expressing a desire for a new country club closer to their homes. However, since a large number of members still lived in and around Decatur, this idea was not well received by all. After some debate, it was decided not to move the country club. As a compromise, the clubhouse was again renovated and the main golf course expanded by George W. Cobb. It was at this time that East Lake Country Club enjoyed its highest patronage.
As integration took place in the 1960's, racial tensions rose around Atlanta, and many white residents moved north out of the city and out of East Lake. With membership waning and vandalism on the rise as a result, the Atlanta Athletic Club sold the Number 2 golf course to fund construction of Riverbend, a country club in Duluth by the Chattahoochee River. The old course was rezoned for a housing development which eventually became East Lake Meadows. Although the Atlanta Athletic Club paid to have the existing clubhouse completely redecorated, and food and services improved, there simply were not enough paying members to sustain the country club as it had once been. The Athletic Club sold East Lake Golf Club to a group of 25 former members, including Paul Grisby, who miraculously held onto the club through difficult financial times and inhospitable social conditions until 1994, when Tom Cousins established Cousins Family Foundation to acquire the property.
East Lake Meadows, which had become poverty stricken, drug-infested and dangerous, was torn down by the Cousins Foundation to make way for the Villages at East Lake, a mixed income housing development including a nine hole public golf course on the site of the original Number 2 golf course. Cousins also saw to the complete restoration of the East Lake clubhouse using Philip Shutze's architectural drawings of 1926. In addition, the golf course was restored to Donald Ross' original layout from 1914, which has since been the site of several PGA tours as well as other nationally and internationally known golf tournaments. By 1998, East Lake Golf Club was again architecturally magnificent and became the foundation for an unparalleled project to revitalize an urban neighborhood using successful suburban models and corporate contributions. East Lake Golf Club now stands as an internationally recognized architectural landmark for East Lake and the southeastern U.S., and acts as an anchor for a neighborhood where businesses are opening and thriving, old homes are being renovated, and new homes are being built.