Tag Archives: atlanta

Atlanta’s Central Library debate


Last night I attended a “Social Studies” talk hosted by the Center for Civic Innovation and Creative Loafing. The discussion and points made went well beyond the simple but helpful Poll Curbed did a few months ago and voices were not raised during the panel discussion. The talk was interesting and enlightening with multiple views: the preservationist/architect-afficionado, the library system itself, the politician with a driving desire to see a long-dreamed-of plan go into action.

THERE IS SO MUCH I WANT TO SAY ABOUT THIS!! but for now I’m going to leave it at a brief recap of what each panelist had to say.

DR. GABRIEL MORLEY: brand new Director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.
Position: Neutral
What he brought to the table: an honest look at the library SYSTEM and where libraries, including this one are going in the future. He’s spent some time thinking about this and working on this in Louisiana. He made a good point that the library will survive and work with whatever buildings they are given. As a public institution whose mission is to provide access to information to the public, the future of the library is beyond the physical building itself. No longer should the MAIN focus of libraries be about bringing people into the building, it should be about making information accessible to the public wherever they are. He even pointed to a program that was beginning this summer in Louisiana where library books could be delivered to you when and where you need them (uberBooks?). He’s all about rethinking and while he stayed clearly neutral on the preservation of this particular building he did say that building big new central libraries at this point in time seems misguided, the buildings themselves, if anything, need to scale back so the focus of the Library can be on making information accessible.

DEAN BAKER: Friends of Central Atlanta Library (FOCAL), preservationist, historian, lover of Atlanta (from what I know)
Position: Save!
What he brought to the table: Dean brought up a lot of great counter-points to former councilman Rob Pitt’s argument. Besides pointing out that Atlanta already has pretty much the most iconic library we could ask for, he has respect, appreciation, and probably genuinely LIKING the blocky concrete Brutalist building. Beyond the architectural perspective, he circled back several times to the rehab what you’ve got vs. demo and new construction options or even rehab vs. new construction elsewhere and put the Breuer (can we call it that now?) to another use. He pretty much made the point that it would be far more economical for the City, the Library system, and beneficial to the community to rehabilitate THIS iconic building rather than building a new Central Library anywhere else.

MELODY HARCLERODE: Architect and Past President of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
Position: Save the building!
What he brought to the table: Melody made the point that the architecture is beautiful, iconic and worthy of preservation. She loves it architecturally and wants to see it remain. She was clearly open to other uses for the Breuer building or bring additions/change to the building just so long as it retains its original architectural integrity. Preservationist values. She noted that she voted yes on the referendum back in 2008 that is listed below, presumably she understood at the time that that meant building a new central library. I was unclear on how she feels about keeping the Central Library at the Breuer building.

ROB PITTS: former Fulton County Commissioner, also served on the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library Board
Position: New Central Library!
What he brought to the table: It may seem personal but it’s not. The voters have spoken.

thanks to Kyle for posting the bond referendum as it appeared on ballots in 2008!

thanks to Kyle for posting the bond referendum as it appeared on ballots in 2008!

Though he had not before, Mr. Pitts acknowledged that the Breuer building is iconic and architecturally significant, even ‘beautiful’ to some people. He also said point blank that he’s hated that building since it was built (and he remembers that, he’s been in Atlanta politics a long time). So his pushiness for a new library and who-cares-what-happens-to-the-Breuer-building is personal but he’s a politician and knew how to spin it so that we could tell it WASN’T personal. It was all about the voters. As he said repeatedly, the voters voted in 2008 to allocate funds specifically for a new central library, not a rehab, but NEW CONSTRUCTION. He knows politics, he said, and you can’t backtrack when the voters have spoken, the city’s hands are tied. Ok, you CAN backtrack, educate the public on the options again, take it back to the table, back to the ballot box and see if the voters will allow the funds to go toward a rehab or something rather than ONLY new construction, but that is politically dangerous, you do that and voters don’t trust you anymore. I was still skeptical on whether the voters REALLY DID speak specifically for allocating X funds for specifically a brand new library or if it’s something the Commissioners did (and therefore could undo), you can see the ballot measure below. ‘The voters have spoken’ was his primary argument and in fact, this was the ONLY thing he had to stand on to argue for a new central library building.

For this audience member, that all-about-the-voters/public spiel was not enough in the face of all the other evidence.

I suspect the audience was fairly pro-preservation, and even pro-rehabbing and keeping the Central Library here, but maybe there were more current politicians or Library Board members, I would’ve liked to hear from the folks who WORK at the Atlanta Central Library speak to the current pros and cons of the library (iconic architecture aside), I would like to hear more from the people to actually USE (or live near enough to use “if only…”) the Atlanta Central Library and how it could better serve them.

view of the Breuer Central Library from Peachtree St. (exit the south end of Peachtree Center Marta and there you are!) from the Atlanta Preservation Center.

view of the Breuer Central Library from Peachtree St. (exit the south end of Peachtree Center Marta and there you are!) from the Atlanta Preservation Center–there’s actually a lot more windows than you think.

meanwhile, some more reading on this issue:
Creative Loafing: Library system debates downsizing — and iconic Central branch is caught in the middle
Kyle Kessler for CL: Central Library doesn’t need replacing, it needs boosting
ArchPaper.com Future Uncertain for Breuer’s Central Library in Atlanta
Overdue! Metropolis article from 2009, architectural significance and changing libraries
Waiting for the Internet – great images of the interior

this just in from the real journalists: Curbed’s report on last night

Midtown Boom

Curbed’s visual of current development statuses in Midtown Atlanta Forty Projects Leave Few Block Untouched in Midtown

Not at all surprisingly, Curbed beat me to it. I wanted to write a post after I’d had a chance to compile a complete catalog of Midtown Atlanta’s low-rise 20th century commercial structures. I should know I do not have time for that. However, I can at least keep up a casual documentation of midtown’s historic and mid-century buildings via flickr tagging.

Midtown Atlanta is changing fast. While there is plenty of development to be happy for—infill construction where surface parking has snaggled-toothed blocks for ages—the loss of ever more of Midtown’s few historic resources are saddening.

The former low-rise corner of 14th St. and West Peachtree is slated to become 1163 West Peachtree

The former low-rise corner of 14th St. and West Peachtree is slated to become 1163 West Peachtree

The rate of destruction became truly alarming to me after the disappearance of the cute little commercial block (formerly home to an Einstein’s, a Zip Car office and Carolyn’s Gourmet) on the SE corner of 14th and West Peachtree the Checkers at 10th and Spring.

Midtown has always shown an array of eras, grand houses on Peachtree, slightly less grand on the flanking streets, followed by early 20th century commercial cropping up at crossroads such as 10th. In the mid-20th century midtown shifted away from residential and tear-downs gave way to single story mid-century office and retail buildings, in the 60s and 70s we get a few larger, often 2-story commercial structures and later came the towers, and more towers. I love seeing a house among the office towers, remnants of past eras strewn here and there in the heart of a bustling office district. But with all this new development, while a few Landmarked buildings will remains (Rhodes Hall, the Wimbish House…) we are in danger of loosing almost every one of those [more ordinary] links to each of Midtown’s pasts.

the many incarnations of Underground Atlanta

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here, but I’ve had this one in the works since this summer when serious talk began circulating about Underground Atlanta’s potential sale. 2 days ago Mayor Kasim Reed announced that sale to South Carolina developer T. Scott Smith “who plans to convert the struggling center into a mixed-use development with a grocery anchor [much-needed downtown] and apartment homes” towering above-ground. This is a significant departure from the tourist-centered plans that have governed Underground since the 1960s and it may be just what downtown needs but as with many big developments, the fate of our historic built environment is in the balance and it’s a big deal.

Us Atlantans, we all know Underground, it’s a place natives have been to a time or two in their youth but adult transplants have never and would never EVER be caught dead there. It’s the early ’90s all over again right? is it a theme park? a shopping mall?? Yes and no…

To be honest, besides an Unseen Underground walking tour a few years ago, the most time I’ve spent there was while I was in grad school, and that was mostly on the street above, so I took my camera one day for a quick walk-through. There’s a lot of history down there, let me tell you, and standing beyond the white glare of the shoe store, looking at the rebuilt curbs and sidewalks, well, honestly, you get a real feel for this crazy historic space. It may be a little Disney-fied but the “street underground” is a unique real-life urban planning phenomenon.


atlanta_georgia-the_commercial_centre-300x194good video version

As we probably all know by now, Atlanta owes its very existence to the railroad, and by the time of the Civil War it was the hub of commerce for the rest of Georgia and the South. Of course Sherman put a brief end to that in 1864 but the rail lines were soon back in business and by 1869 Atlanta was constructing the Georgia RR Freight Depot which still sits at the eastern end of Alabama Street. The freight depot sat to one side of what we today call “the gulch,” through which a slew of railroad tracks ran. The huge train shed seen in this image sits alongside Wall St. in the gulch and was catercorner to the freight depot whose now-gone front tower can barely be seen on the right.

The gulch, as you can imagine, was a traffic disaster. Horses and carriages, streetcars, pedestrians, trains, and ever-increasing automobiles all converged in this wide, largely unregulated throughway. By the 1910s the area had become so congested that the city built iron bridges over a few of the streets.

Beginning construction of the viaducts along Alabama St., view east from Peachtree with the freight depot at the end.

Beginning construction of the viaducts along Alabama St., view east from Peachtree with the freight depot at the end.

In the early 1920s, Atlanta architect Haralson Bleckley convinced the city to replace the haphazard iron bridges with a unified system of concrete bridges over all the streets in the area. The original grade of Wall Street, which ran alongside the train tracks of the gulch, pretty much disappeared while the low-lying blocks of Alabama Street were submerged with the buildings intact.

1886 Sanborne map of downtown Atlanta, gray shows the elevated roadways built in the 1920s, pink areas should orient you to the layout today.

1886 Sanborne map of downtown Atlanta, gray shows the elevated roadways built in the 1920s, pink areas should orient you to the layout today.

Consequently, the businesses that had been located at the original street level moved up to what was then the second floor and the new street level. Some of the old storefronts below were boarded or bricked up and became basement storage while others became speakeasies during Prohibition. Cofer quotes Blues legend Bessie Smith’s “Atlanta Blues”:

Down in Atlanta G.A.
Underneath the viaduct one day
Drinking corn and hollerin’ hoo-ray
Piano playin’ till the break of day

After Prohibition ended, the underground speakeasies were no longer needed and within a few years, the 12 acre, 5 block stretch of Alabama street was completely forgotten.

Underground ATL 1970s Postcard.jpgIn the 1960s, the original storefronts were rediscovered and many architectural features from a century earlier had survived intact including decorative brickwork, granite archways, ornate marble, cast-iron pilasters, hand-carved wooden posts, and gas street lamps. Two Georgia Tech graduates, Steven H. Fuller, Jr. and Jack R. Patterson, begin to plan a private development there to restore and reopen “the city beneath the city” as a retail and entertainment district (wiki). In 1969 the first Underground Atlanta opened. “Liquor by-the-drink” sales regulations kept Underground classy for a time but as alcohol sales relaxed Underground got seedier. The district was reincarnated as the mall we know today in 1989 and spruced up again for the 1996 Olympics.

The construction of MARTA in the late 1970s razed several historic buildings both above and below the viaducts, which must have been a motivating factor in getting Underground Atlanta listed as a National Register district in 1980. Despite redevelopments so far, much of the historic fabric remains. By my estimate, at least half of the storefronts on the 2+ block stretch of Lower Alabama Street date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The upper portions of many of those same buildings, however, have been dramatically altered or rebuilt.

Although very intriguing in its own right, the tourist-tied reincarnations of Underground Atlanta have never been lasting successes. On the brink of another redevelopment, there has been talk of “razing” Underground (Fuqua), although in later discussions, Mayor Reed seems cognizant of the significant history of the district. The other day he acknowledged Underground as “the place where Atlanta started” and, in an 11Alive interview several months back, he seemed to indicate that the historic environment of Underground was safe from destruction.

Mayor Reed is not developing Underground though and, like a good preservationist, I have to ask WHY is it NOT protected, this super significant piece of Atlanta’s history, preserved here by unique bit of urban planning that few others can claim?? I’m sure there’s an answer, follow the money.


– look here for great pictures of the viaducts in the mid-20th century
– from the Atlanta Preservation Center with a link to the NR form
– lengthy and captivating history by blogger Jim Cofer

DAR/Craigie House

Well, it’s officially been released now so I can jump on the story of the recent sale of the DAR/Craigie House. The Craigie House on Piedmont Ave in Atlanta has been the home of the Georgia chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution for a century or more. In recent years it has fallen into pretty serious disrepair though, by the sound of things the DAR has NEVER had the money to properly finish it to begin with! So it goes. Anyway, it’s in a right state now as you can see, and after a run-in or two with the wrong kind of developers, the house was still on the market for a “preservation-minded” buyer. When folks noticed the SOLD sign in the yard on Monday spirits were high and the lines were buzzing as various news outlets including us, tried to uncover the scoop.

The scoop.

DAR Craigie House

Now, as I searched for information regarding the historic preservation protections on the building (none, alas, it’s not even on the NR except as a contributing property in the Ansley Park NR district, also not protected), I uncovered the real history of the building which is pretty interesting. **

“Craigie House,” it turns out, is actually sort of a misnomer. That’s the real name of the house on Piedmont Ave, but to its namesake—the home of Longfellow and first headquarters of George Washington in the War for American Independence—it bears no resemblance. The resemblance is all in the story:

The original Craigie House, built in 1759, was used by General George Washington as his headquarters in 1775-76 and was the home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from 1837-82. In 1895, the State of Massachusetts erected an exact replica of this historic home for its building at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta on land that is now part of Piedmont Park. *

The Atlanta Chapter of the DAR had been founded only 4 years earlier, in 1891, shortly following the founding of the National organization and the Chicago chapter which was the first. The Georgia Magazine article goes on to say that,

Of course, the members of the four-year-old Atlanta Chapter DAR played an important part in the social affairs of the Exposition. Many brilliant receptions were given and according to a history of the chapter appearing in 1921, “These social affairs given by the Atlanta Chapter have never been surpassed by any entertainments of the Atlanta Daughters.” *

Massachusetts then, trying to decide how to dispose of their temporary home at the Atlanta World’s Fair, decided that that the donation of the Massachusetts exposition building would be “a fitting and proper recognition of the courteous and untiring efforts of the ladies of Atlanta for the hospitable welcome accorded to the people of Massachusetts.” The house, however, was still in Piedmont Park, and though near, it was not an easy transition to the lot on Piedmont Ave which the DAR would soon acquire through another donation.

Plan of the 1895 Cotton States Exposition/World's Fair in what is now Piedmont Park. pink highlights location of Massachusetts Craigie House replica and the lot on Piedmont that the DAR sought to have their meeting house.

Plan of the 1895 Cotton States Exposition/World’s Fair in what is now Piedmont Park. pink highlights location of Massachusetts Craigie House replica and the lot on Piedmont that the DAR sought to have their meeting house.

The fundraising began but the building fund did not grow fast enough. In 1909, the Craigie House in Piedmont Park was sold for $400, and demolished (the city had recently condemned many of the remaining exposition buildings). However, the DAR salvaged windows, doors, “and some bricks and boards,” which were moved to the lot on Piedmont Ave. It is possible that some of these materials were used in the construction of the new chapter house which would bear the same historic name.

Ultimately, the idea of reconstructing the Craigie House by the same floorplan was abandoned as well due to it’s unsuitability as a meeting place (also, i don’t think it would’ve fit on their 30 ft frontage lot). Thomas Morgan, a noted Atlanta architect whose wife served as the DAR Regent from 1906-07, likely designed the current building, a very classical American design. On June 14, 1911, the two-story red brick Chapter House with four white columns supporting a full-height portico “was thrown open to the public.”

There you have it, “How the Craigie House got its name.” Finally, I should say that all this about the DAR is particularly timely and relevant to me as I JUST mailed off my notarized signature form to complete my application to the DAR (Dancing Rabbit Chapter)! (my ancestor apparently sold bacon to the troops)

* from Georgia Magazine, “Diamond Jubilee Inspires Gifts for Historic Craigie House, Home of Atlanta Chapter DAR,” February-March 1966.

** My primary source was an excellent post by tomitronics.

Fall with Friends

I sweep the front walk and the back deck almost every day now. The slightest breeze sends a whirlwind of leaves, yellow, brown, red, propellering through the air. Yesterday the Cabbagetown Chomp & Stomp Chili Festival hit upon another perfect weekend, since I’ve been around it has never failed to be just the right temp, sunny and beautiful—make note for future events, 1st weekend in November is a winner. 

Little could be more blissful than Atlanta in the fall (ok, maybe anywhere in the fall). Fall festivities seem to be about running into people you don’t see too often, even when the cell phone reception prohibits organized running-in-to. It’s been a kind of perfect weekend in that regard. Yesterday it was B and K and various contingents, today an unexpected C and S. Thanks to the time change it was still morning when we biked over to the Grant Park Mkt (thank goodness cause I needed some breakfast) and just as we were contemplating sitting or getting some turnips, there were C and S. Having each just bought pastries we sat down under the trees to dine together, ending up with leaves as well as pastry crumbs in our iced teas and coffees.

A bike ride back through the leafy streets and now it’s buckle-down time though I’d rather be raking leaves!

the beginning of something grand

This morning, because i was going to have to drive to work, I decided to make it bearable by leaving EARLIER and stopping halfway (get through that clog of traffic in L5P) at the NEW DANCING GOATS COFFEE SHOP! Dancing Goats is the first business to open in the Ponce City Market scheme, a project to convert the former Sears Building cum City Hall East complex to a massive, possibly the most massive, commercial, residential and recreational complex. The coffee shop is on the southwest corner of the block, at North Ave and Glen Iris, they’ve only been open a few weeks.

Now coffee-shop-visiting can be a dilemma for me, I don’t really have much to give (I can’t afford to buy coffee every morning) but I still like to spread my love around. Our most local establishment, Hodge Podge is probably most deserving of my love and they do serve the same coffee as Dancing Goats, Batdorf & Bronson. But lately I’ve been craving a new hip scene and this slick new establishment in one of the auxiliary buildings of the former City Hall East complex proved to be just the spot.

The establishment can be appreciated on many levels. But most remarkable I find that while it is part of the exciting Ponce City Market scheme, we are all in love with the centerpiece, the Sears building, and the auxiliary buildings are fairly unexciting. In fact, the gas pumps that formerly sat under the awning that is now Dancing Goats’ patio/living room are not long gone as you can see from the googlemaps image below:

so it is nothing short of amazing and awesome that they have turned THAT space, into this:

Buford Highway dash

Burford Highway is known for its [often] cheap, ethnic food. It’s where you go in Atlanta to find dim sum and bahn mi and pho. Those eateries that most of us drive to are there thanks to the extensive immigrant communities that the area supports. Our class is researching a neighborhood along Buford in Doraville so last night when we met residents at the Doraville Civic Center I took Marta. It’s amazing just how accessible the Marta train station is in Doraville, sitting on top of what used to be their town center, and our Northwoods neighborhood is a mere 2 blocks away but separated by, you got it, the ocean of Buford Highway.

In these suburban communities designed for automobile use, folks without their own wheels and a ton of metal to protect them have rough go of it just to get across those necessary 7 lanes. With such a large immigrant community and access to public transit, everyone does NOT have their own car, but they still have to get across Buford—so they dash. You can imagine the problems here, this PBS special tells you all I want you to hear:

Anyway, in the interim between arriving on Marta and meeting at the Civic Center, I needed (yes needed) to get to the Mozart Bakery for a snack and to get some work done (we have no leftover in the house, my lunch had been cheese and crackers, the least i could do is find some Asian pastries, heavy on the almonds, for dinner). But I had to cross Buford Highway. I was resigned to walking past the Bakery to the crosswalk a block further down retracing my steps but I was in a hurry to sit down and work and i decided that IF an opening in traffic allowed here at the top of the hill where i thought i could see in both directions, I WOULD do the Buford Highway Dash myself. An opening appeared, one light was red, and I dashed. Luckily found a convenient crosswalk on the way back to the Civic Center, but most stretches of Burford are not so lucky.

demolition time again

Times they are a’changin’. Well, really nothing about TIME is a’changin’, Atlanta’s doing what she’s always done, we’ve had a bit of reprieve thanks to the down economy and perhaps that’s why the swath of demolitions is suddenly so noticeable, but the streetscapes in midtown are certainly changing, again. A few months ago I took a nice stroll around midtown Atlanta, from Rhodes Hall down Spring, and down the ‘teenth streets all the way to Crescent. I discovered a couple historic residences i didn’t know exited, including the Castle on 15th, and I later learned it’s renown in annals of Atlanta preservation. I found Front Page News midtown houses in a chopped up old house and neighboring restaurants the same, a half intact residential block nestled among skyscrapers—rockin! I found a creepy old residence, converted to restaurant, hair salon, and a jumble of other possible retail activity before being abandoned behind it’s old magnolia and encroaching tropical plants. This house is coming down today. They’ve already torn out the mid-section and I imagine i can hear the beeping of bulldozers in reverse even from here at Rhodes Hall. Sad, but who was going to fight for this mangled old midtown building, once home to Atlanta lives long-forgotten? And that magnolia, it would’ve had to go, although I think there is some Southern biblical thing about not cutting down the magnolia grandiflora.


Sadder maybe is what demolition means for the evolution of an area. Lunch the other day found us on Crescent Ave NE, which used to look like the screenshot below. Front Page News is still holding it’s own but that adorable green house was already half gone, making room for something new that will maximize land-use profitability on the corner. However, with land being cleared for another new construction one block back, you have to wonder what this spells out for the rest of that enclave of low-story and mostly residential structures tucked so poetically among the highrises. Diversity is disappearing, you can bet whatever goes up next will not be bright green and cloaked come spring in purple wisteria. Diversity is beautiful.

Buttermilk Bottom

Once you’ve heard of a place called “Buttermilk Bottom” how can you resist spreading the word??! H actually stumbled upon it on the Atlanta Time Machine website, in the form of a song, and shared it with me. This song memorializes a poor black neighborhood on the edge of downtown, the floodplains, the lowlands, the bottom of Atlanta. The name may come from the smell that permeated the area caused by the backed up water in the downward sloping sewers. In the mid-20th century this neighborhood still had no telephones or electric lights. The African-American neighborhood was considered a slum and the city did not feel the need to invest improve conditions there until they found a new, more economically productive use for it.

In the early 1960s, under the banner of “Urban Renewal,” The “crime-ridden neighborhood” was torn down to make way for the Atlanta Civic Center which was built in 1967, and other “improvements” to the city of Atlanta. All that’s left of those chatty front porches, churches, corner stores and juke joints is a plaque at Ralph McGill and Piedmont, and a song that’ll get you shaking your hips.

The exact boundaries of the old Buttermilk Bottom today are unclear, the Civic Center now stands on part of the larger area which was the western end of the Old 4th Ward, in the floodplain between Ralph McGill and Peachtree. The photo above shows Mayor Hartsfield scoping out the slum near Piedmont in 1959.

descending to MARTA

Descending into the depths of the Earth This morning I got on Marta (technically MARTA) at the Peachtree Center station for the first time and was shocked at the escalators that just went down and down and dowwwwwwnn. Yikes, it made me a little nervous but i reminded myself that i’d been on plenty of deep escalators under the streets of New York so I should not worry. In fact, it turns out that Peachtree Center station is marta’s deepest (thank goodness) at 125 feet below street level. The deepest station in New York (which is only accessible by elevator actually made me QUITE nervous the one time I went got off there) is 180 feet below the street—191st St station up near Inwood.

With the Peachtree Center station I really had to wonder ‘why so deep?’ after all, the next station just a few blocks away is perched ABOVE the interstate! I was unable to find a cutaway of the Marta station depths like i wanted but I DID find this awesome Marta Guide for trepidatious Marta riders and experienced Marta commuters alike. It includes articles on how to navigate individual stations, what restaurants or attractions are nearby and general tips on courtesy and ease of use. Who knew! Now I wish i had an iPhone to keep this information handy–now, should I exit the train to the left or right to get to Eastbound…