Leila Ross Wilburn: Architect’s work still stands in intown Atlanta

At a time when it was uncommon, Leila Ross Wilburn was an architect — one of the first women in Georgia to enter the profession.

And she was so good at it that much of her work still stands today dotting Atlanta intown neighborhoods from Inman Park to Ansley Park to Midtown to Decatur and Avondale Estates.

Architect Leila Ross Wilburn (1885-1967) designed early 20th-century houses and bungalows in a range of styles. FILE PHOTO

icon to expand image

Wilburn, who attended Agnes Scott Institute (now Agnes Scott College), was an architect who designed early 20th-century houses and bungalows in a range of styles — from Craftsman to Colonial to Tudor. She opened her own architectural practice in Atlanta in 1908 and remained on the job until her death in 1967.

She marketed her work through a series of books starting with “Southern Homes and Bungalows” in 1914. The books were filled with photographs and renderings, and with plans that could be purchased by homeowners and builders.

She is most well-known for Craftsman-style homes — solidly constructed, cozy homes with high ceilings, fireplaces, deep front porches.

MORE: Dian Fossey: A woman who dedicated her life to saving gorillas

This home on Adams Street in Decatur was designed by noted architect Leila Ross Wilburn. AJC FILE PHOTO

icon to expand image

Susan M. Hunter moved into a two-story Craftsman-style house on the Prado near the entrance to the Atlanta Botanical Garden with her family in the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until a few years later she learned she was living in a Wilburn-designed house.

“It was a great place to raise kids with a big front porch and big entryway,” said Hunter, who lived at the house until 1983. “We had a living room on the left and sliding doors to cut off a room, and a sleeping porch which we later enclosed. … There were tall ceilings, large rooms and plenty of sunlight.”

Hunter, who was teaching art history at the Atlanta College of Art and pursuing a Ph.D. at Emory University, decided to embark on a research project about the woman who designed her house, a woman who is the second female architect in Atlanta (Henrietta Dozier was the first female architect in Georgia).

This is the front porch of a home on Adams Street in Decatur, and was designed by noted architect Leila Ross Wilburn. AJC FILE PHOTO

icon to expand image

“Wilburn developed trends that were existing, and she developed them in all sorts of unique ways, and wonderful and sustainable ways,” she said.

Hunter has teamed up with Sarah J. Boykin in a new book, "Southern Homes and Plan Books: The Architectural Legacy of Leila Ross Wilburn" (University of Georgia Press, $42.95). The book, which is scheduled to be released in June (but can be pre-ordered now), showcases the architectural legacy and design philosophy that includes hundreds of houses in a variety of popular house styles built using Wilburn's plan books during the first six decades of the 20th century.

“Her magic, you could say, is in how she used new innovations as the architectural profession, building profession and technology change,” said Hunter. “It’s not just one style, but there was one sensibility to the different styles to make sure they have certain characteristics — natural light, good circulation, you want the rooms to connect in a wonderful way. As times changed, she adapted to new building materials and new technology.”

This Decatur home was designed by noted architect Leila Ross Wilburn. AJC FILE PHOTO

icon to expand image

Today, her homes are coveted historic homes. Many of these older homes have been renovated with new kitchens and bathrooms. The restorations, and desire to preserve the historic charm, Hunter said, show the adaptability of these houses as well as demonstrate the lasting affinity for a Wilburn home.

Most of Wilburn's plan books can be accessed online at www.mak-decatur.org/lrwbooks.shtml.

Go to myajc.com/womens-history for the whole Women’s History Month series and for more subscriber exclusives and videos.