House in Shirley Hills getting historic designation today

The deep-brown, one-story ranch beneath the pines in Shirley Hills just about blends into the pine straw bed out front.

The house at 1849 Waverland Drive in Macon, not far from the Ocmulgee River, is as unassuming as a mountain cabin.

The 59-year-old structure’s heritage and understated design has landed it on the National Register of Historic Places as the first so designated mid-20th-century ranch house in the state.

Built in 1950, it was designed by Ellamae Ellis League of Macon and her daughter Jean League Newton. The two architectural pioneers were, at the time, among about half a dozen Georgia women who worked in the field.

Joseph League, 87, the home’s only owner, said his mother hated being referred to as a “woman architect.”

“But I’m proud of everything my mother did. She was quite a gal,” he said.

Ellamae Ellis League designed many of Macon’s public-housing communities — Pendleton Homes, Oglethorpe Homes, Tindall Heights, among them.

Another of her designs, built in 1940 — one she lived in down the way on Waverland that now bears her full name — is also on the National Register.

Richard Clouse, who manages the Survey and National Register Unit in the state preservation office, said the 1950 ranch house where Joseph League lives is one of about 30 places in Georgia that will receive the national-historic designation this year. There are 70 or so structures in Macon with National Register status.

Such places, according to the National Parks Service, which oversees the program, “have significance to the history of their community, state or the nation.”

“There was an interesting kind of convergence here,” Clouse said of the latest League house.

“For several years our office has been working on a women’s history study, trying to identify women who made a difference in Georgia’s history. Also, for the past three years we have been doing a study focusing on the ranch house. ... And this house came up in that study. So when the same house came up in both studies, we said this was a key property. ... It would have been as cutting-edge in 1950 as it could have been.”

Joseph League’s sister, Jean League Newton, who died nine years ago, played a leading role in the house’s design.

“She had gone to Harvard during World War II to get her training, so she came back with all these new ideas about modern architecture. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall and listened to her discuss these with her mother,” said Clouse, who will make the historic designation official at a brief ceremony this morning.

“The ranch house then was a whole new kind of house,” he added.

“They were deliberately made to look kind of quiet, just a comfortable house to live in. Some people look at that and say, ‘Gosh, why didn’t they try harder?’ In fact, they worked really hard to make a house be simple and unpretentious. The idea was that you were supposed to celebrate your life in the house, not your house.”

Joseph League, whose career saw him go from military pilot to insurance-company owner, now works as a tour guide during the Cherry Blossom Festival. His house, though, is covered with wood from perhaps an even more famous tree.

“It’s built of California redwood, which you don’t paint,” he said. “You don’t stain it, you don’t do anything. It just weathers. ... It’s a shining example of how to get a lot of house for a little bit of money.”

And now, modest as the place may be, it bears historic notoriety.

“It’s a great honor,” he said.

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.