Situated around the rolling, oak-dotted fairways of the nationally renowned East Lake Golf Club, East Lake is the easternmost neighborhood in Atlanta, jutting well into Dekalb County. Despite its location on the fringe of the city, East Lake is a distinctly Atlantan community; with one of Atlanta’s richest and most unique histories, its story is one that continues to be written today by an influx of residents discovering this once neglected enclave.
The land that now makes up East Lake was a 19th-century plantation, and remarkably, the antebellum home at the heart of it still stands, one of only three original, antebellum homes in Atlanta. By the turn of the century, the plantation had become a popular amusement park, and before long some of Atlanta’s most prominent developers began establishing lots on the pleasant land around a small lake, at the the end of one of the city’s newest trolley lines. Asa Candler was instrumental in forming the Atlanta Athletic Club, and in addition to selling lots for new suburban homes, he and other powerful citizens built the first East Lake Golf Course. The course was Atlanta’s first, opening in 1907. A decade later, it was the neighborhood course for a young Bobby Jones, who began his golf career surrounded by many of the south’s most notable citizens and golfers.
The club and the neighborhood thrived through the 1950s, but as with so much of Atlanta, underwent white flight during the ‘60s, and saw a subsequent decline in the community’s strength. An apartment complex ravaged by drugs and crime became known as ”Little Vietnam,” and the area was largely avoided or ignored.
In a story now becoming legend, East Lake’s revival began in 1993, when a modern Atlanta developer, Tom Cousins, took an interest in restoring East Lake Golf Club to its former glory. Forming a partnership with the city and garnering support from longtime residents and corporate sponsors, Cousins began a bold and radical plan to redevelop the golf course and surrounding area. By most accounts, the effort has been a resounding success, with crime rates drastically reduced, new mixed-income apartments replacing the old dysfunctional complex, and the creation of a new charter middle and high school, which has performed well-above average.