Designated: Landmark Building Exterior
537 Peachtree Street, N.E.
Built for the founder of the Four Roses Distillery, the Rufus M. Rose House is one of only four "Victorian" mansions left along Peachtree Street and the only one left in the central business district. A splendidly intact example of late Victorian architecture, the Rose House is an extremely rare example of a nineteenth-century town house of the affluent. Its beautifully carved front steps rise directly from the busy sidewalk in the fashion of pre-automobile Atlanta, and its tiny yard, shaded by a large elm that is original to the site, are a singular survivor from Peachtree's residential heyday.
Designed by Atlanta architect E. C. Seiz, the Rose House has a red-brick exterior with multi- gabled and bayed facades penetrated by a variety of window shapes and sizes. Although it has lost its front porch, it retains several fine chimneys and a slate roof. The second floor houses the "Atlanta Museum," one of the most remarkable private museum collections in the city.
As the home of an important business figure in the city and a rare example of residential development before the advent of the automobile, the Rose House has a high level of historical significance to the city. Mostly intact and extremely well-preserved, it has a very high level of architectural significance. Finally, the historic character of the Rose House is so clearly visible and the sense of time and place that it conveys so strong that its cultural significance to the city is of the first order.
RUFUS M. ROSE
Rufus M. Rose was born in Connecticut in 1836 and studied medicine in New York before moving to Hawkinsville in the 1850s to work in his uncle's drugstore. He worked in the Confederacy's medical service during the Civil War, serving at the wartime hospital at William and Mary College and later in Macon.
At the end of the Civil War, in 1867, Rose moved to Atlanta and organized the R.M. Rose Company. With a large distillery on Stillhouse Road in Vinings, he produced blended rye and corn liquor -- "the purest, safest drink you could buy." The liquor ads in the Atlanta papers stressed the fact that ladies could come into his store because there was no saloon attached and no drinking or sampling was ever done on the premises. It was also advertised that "when used in moderation, its effect on the human system is wholesome and beneficial. . . [it is] the best and purest medicinal whiskey obtainable."
In 1906, the "Four Roses" trademark was registered, probably named for Rufus, his brother Origen, and their two sons. It was a special blend that, reportedly, only he knew. It was also said to be his last blending before he retired as president shortly thereafter. Although Rufus Rose retained an interest in the business until his death, with his retirement, his son Randolph became president of the company. In 1907, however, Randolph was forced to move the company, including its distillery at Vinings, to Chattanooga when the legislature voted the state "dry" as of 1 January 1908. In 1913 the company was sold to Seagram and Company, which recognized the Four Roses' "growing reputation as America's most glorious whiskey."
Rufus M. Rose died in July 1910 at his home on Peachtree and, according to his obituary, had remained "a familiar figure on Atlanta streets as he attended to his large real estate business [the Rose Investment Company] to the very last."
THE RUFUS M. ROSE HOUSE
On 8 October 1900, a building permit was issued to E.C. Seiz, as architect and builder, for a two-story dwelling at 481 (now 527) Peachtree Street. The estimated cost was $9,000 for about 5,200 square feet of floor space on the main two floors. The permit was stamped again on 7 May 1901, indicating completion of the structure.
Emil Charles Seiz (1871-1940) began his architectural career when he opened his offices in Atlanta in 1897. Among his credits are the Jefferson Hotel (1921, Alabama at Pryor, burned 1982), the Robert Fulton Hotel (1924, Cone at Luckie, demolished c. 1970), the Massellton Apartments (1924, still standing at 178 Ponce de Leon Avenue), and a number of other residential and commercial structures.
The architect's design for the Rose house was a simplified version of the aesthetic movement's Queen Anne-style architecture, of which the Peters House (1883) and the Raoul House (1892) are earlier examples. Besides being a later expression of this style, the Rose House was constructed on a fifty-foot wide lot in an almost fully developed portion of Peachtree Street and, as a result, the plan of the Rose House has the compactness of a townhouse rather than the rambling plan that is more typical of the Queen Anne. Yet it was worthy of inclusion in Art Works of Atlanta, a 1903 folio volume of photographs of Atlanta's turn-of-the-century showplaces. The photograph of the Rose House in that book shows the original front porch, which was removed in the 1930s.
Sometime in 1901, the Rose family moved from their old house at 36 Highland Street into their new house at 481 Peachtree Street. At that time, the Rose family included, in addition to Rufus Rose and his wife Katharine, their son and daughter-in-law Randolph and Lucy R. Rose. City directories show them all at 481 Peachtree until about 1907. At that time, Randolph and Lucy probably moved to Chattanooga. After the elder Rose's death in 1910, his widow continued to live in the house until her death in 1921.
Following Mrs. Rose's death, the Rose House was sold in 1923 and appears to have been rented. A search of the city directories reveals that the house remained a private residence, with three different tenants, from 1922 through 1926. Listed as vacant 1927-1930, it was again used as a residence until 1935-36, when it was used as offices for the Fulton County Relief Administration. From 1937-1945, the Rose House was again a residence, although it was being advertised as a rooming house by 1945.
In 1945, James H. Elliot, Sr., purchased the house where he opened J.H. Elliot's Antiques and to which his Atlanta Museum moved from its old quarters at 16 1/2 Walton Street. His son, James H. Elliot, Jr., continues to operate the antique store and the museum and has begun a painstaking restoration of the interior rooms. The Atlanta Museum is billed as "one of the South's oldest and most interesting museums" and features over 2,500 "historical items," including an original model of Eli Whitney's cotton gin, Emperor Haile Selassie's throne chair, a complete Japanese Zero, and some possessions of Bobby Jones, Margaret Mitchell, and other prominent Atlantans.
PERIOD AND SETTING
In 1900, Peachtree Street south of Ponce de Leon was at its peak as a residential neighborhood. From the antebellum Austin Leydon house (1858-1913) and the first Governor's Mansion (1869- 1924) between Cain and Ellis Streets, to the Henry Grady house (1880-1920s) at Pine and the Samuel Inman house (1888-1946) at Ponce de Leon Avenue, the street exhibited some of the finest nineteenth century architecture that this city produced. After the turn of the century, residential development along Peachtree continued until by World War I it stretched to Brookwood.
Already, however, the commercial transformation of residential Peachtree had begun. Even before Rose's death in 1910, the Marlborough Apartments (1904-1930) and several commercial buildings had replaced residences on Peachtree between Pine and Ponce de Leon, and that same year Col. Livingston Mims's house at Peachtree and Ponce de Leon had been demolished for the new Georgian Terrace Hotel. By Mrs. Rose's death in 1921, all the private residences on the east side of Peachtree between Linden and Merritts Avenues had been demolished for commercial buildings. A few of the old residences along this stretch of Peachtree survived a few years longer but most went the way of the S.M. Inman house, demolished just a few months after Mrs. Inman's death in 1946 for construction of the Franklin Simon store at Ponce de Leon.
The Rose House is the sole survivor in the central business district of this era of grand residential development and is an invaluable part of our cultural heritage. It conveys a sense of residential Peachtree at a time when streetcars, not automobiles, determined the patterns of residential development and its importance as such cannot be overstated.
Atlanta City Directories, 1900-1945.
City of Atlanta. Building Permit for 481 (now 537) Peachtree Street. October, 1900.
Garrett, Franklin. Atlanta and Environs, Vol. II. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1954.
Morgan, Thomas M. "Reminiscences of the Architecture and Architects of Atlanta," The Atlanta Historical Bulletin. VII, no. 10, (June 1937).
National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form.
Preston, Howard L. Automobile Age Atlanta: The Making of a Southern Metropolis, 1900-1935. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1979.
Sawyer, Elizabeth, and Jane Foster Matthews. The Old In New Atlanta. Atlanta: JEMS Publications, 1976.
Williford, William B. Peachtree Street, Atlanta. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1962.
Group I (1) (2) (3)
The proposed nomination of Rose House meets the above-referenced criteria for a Landmark Building or Site as set out in Section 16-20.004 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Atlanta.