Jim Tysinger thought it was a bad idea at the time. He still thinks so.
“We fought it,” he said.
But they lost.
The voters decided their little village had to go. The final tally: 55 votes to keep the city the same; 508 votes to write it a new charter; 842 votes to shut the town down.
So, on Feb. 2, 1965, they shut down the city called North Atlanta.
Tysinger was a member of the last City Council elected to govern the town, which was founded in 1924 and nestled into the suburban stretch of north DeKalb County between Chamblee and the Fulton County line.
“The mayor ran the furniture store in Doraville,” Tysinger remembered recently. “One of our members was a doctor in the aviation group at Georgia Tech. One was a registered architect. One was a member of one the big law firms downtown …We had a good group.”
Tysinger, a Georgia Tech-educated electrical engineer himself, had gotten interested in local politics when he returned to Georgia after working in the oil patch out in Kansas and Oklahoma for a bit.
“What was it like? Perimeter wasn’t in business then,” Tysinger said, sitting in a leather-covered chair in his basement library one recent morning. “We had made a study about developing Brookhaven, about getting some commercial [businesses] in there, but Buckhead was just starting to develop.
“It was a good community. It was mostly households. When I first built here in ‘59, there was one other house on this side [of the street] up to the top of the hill. There were three Oglethorpe professors [in the neighborhood]. Down here was a guy who worked at General Motors. It was a nice place to live.”
North Atlanta’s government didn’t do much, Tysinger said. “We didn’t have much money,” he said. “The money we did have was from the gasoline tax. We ran a full-time nursery in Lynwood Park so mothers could work.”
Tysinger doesn’t remember what exactly got him interested in running for the city council. It could have been something to do with zoning, he said. Zoning was a big issue then. Or it might just have been the times. Tysinger remembers getting active in Republican Party politics because he was excited by Barry Goldwater’s campaign for president.
Whatever got him into politics touched off a lengthy career. In 1969, Tysinger decided to run for the Georgia Senate. He faced off against the state senator who had sponsored the legislation that led to the vote to shut down North Atlanta.
Tysinger won. He stayed in the Senate 30 years.
Along the way, he helped build Georgia’s Republican Party. “I’ve been a Republican all along,” he said.
He and a handful of other DeKalb Republican office holders formed a Saturday morning breakfast club that met to discuss issues. Others heard about the meetings and started showing up. At 91, Tysinger still attends meetings of the group, which is named for him, The Senator Jim Tysinger DeKalb Breakfast Forum.
The forum now meets at a Republican Party office in Tucker. One recent Saturday, about 30 people attended to talk about presidential politics, legislative lobbyists and DeKalb school issues.
“He’s been the backbone,” said Ray Warren of Dunwoody, who said he’s attended meetings of the group since the 1980s. “He goes back to when the Republican Party met in a phone booth.”
Tysigner said that when he took office, there were six Republicans in the Legislature. He gives a photo of the group a place of honor in the hallway outside his basement office. It’s displayed as part of a wall of photos of Republican leaders from Richard Nixon to the elder George Bush to Bob Dole to Spiro Agnew.
Tysinger has seen things change, of course. Now Republicans run the Legislature. And, on July 31, Tysinger saw what amounts to the return of his old city when voters in the area of north DeKalb County between Chamblee and Dunwoody and the Fulton County line approved creation of a new city called Brookhaven in roughly the same area North Atlanta occupied.
“We had a city before,” he said. “It should have carried on, but it didn’t.”
He’s happy to see the new one spring up in its place. “I voted for it,” he said.