Henri Jova, 94: Architect helped remake Midtown neighborhoods

When architect Henri Jova bought his Mentelle Drive home in the heart of Midtown in 1960, it wasn’t because the area was trendy. But when he and his life partner moved to Florida in 2002 everything about Midtown had changed and many say Jova is the man to thank.

“He talked a number of us into buying homes in Midtown,” said Gene Surber, a fellow architect and long-time friend. “And in the ’60s, people thought you were crazy for wanting to live in Midtown. But look at it now.”

Jova took up residence in the area initially because he could afford it, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview in 2008. But he knew the neighborhood had potential, so he helped organize the Midtown Neighborhood Association in 1963. To encourage other homeowners to spruce up their properties, he sponsored a home-improvement contest, which was judged by then-Mayor Ivan Allen. Fifty years later, he was pleased with what the neighborhood had become.

“It took a long time,” he said in 2008.

Jova’s work in Midtown was “an important aspect of his life,” said David R. Rinehart, his partner of 40 years.

“Look around at Midtown Atlanta today,” he said. “It was once a derelict place that was on its way down. And Henri really did galvanize the forces that be to make Midtown happen. Henri was the catalyst for that turnaround.”

Henri Vatable Jova of West Palm Beach, Fla., died Jan. 13 at Good Samaritan Medical Center after collapsing at home. He was 94.

A memorial celebration is planned for 5 p.m. on April 3 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. A private memorial service is also planned for early summer in New York. The Neptune Society, Pompano Beach, Fla., was in charge of cremation arrangements.

Jova spent his childhood in Cuba and later served with the U.S. Army in the South Pacific during WWII. As an adult he lived in Europe and later moved to Atlanta, where Jova/Daniels/Busby became the preeminent architectural firm. He retired from the firm in 2002 as chairman of the board.

His major projects in Atlanta include the Carter Center, the Cecil B. Day Butterfly House in Callaway Gardens and the former Atlanta Journal-Constitution building on Marietta Street.

Next to his work in Midtown, another point of pride for Jova was the Carnegie Education Pavilion in Hardy Ivy Park. Rinehart said when the Carnegie Central Library was torn down in 1977, all 1,500 marble bricks from the building were numbered and preserved. Jova spent 20 years looking for the perfect use for the bricks and found it in the construction of the pavilion just in time for the 1996 Olympics.

Surber said the designs and work of his friend and mentor did more than just breathe new life into Midtown.

“I think Henri had a big part in stabilizing the city,” Surber said. “Midtown was a catalyst for other things. Ansley Park wasn’t in that good of a shape in the ‘60s, but now that’s changed. And then there is Druid Hills, which has changed so, and that whole area, that central Atlanta area.”

Jova is also survived by a number of nieces and nephews.