Tag Archives: development

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

Sandy Springs’ historic gem threatened

Not far from “downtown” Sandy Springs (that cluster of shopping centers where the recently formed city is working to create a town center) lie over 70 acres of private greenspace that are currently for sale and in the middle of the northern portion lies the exquisite, serene, Glenridge Hall.

Glenridge Hall, built by TK Glenn in 1929, is now for sale along with its surrounding acreage. This exquisite restored historic house has no protections.

Glenridge Hall, built by TK Glenn in 1929, is now for sale along with its surrounding acreage. This exquisite restored historic house has no protections.

I need not tell any metro-Atlantan that property at the intersection of 400 and Abernathy Rd is a prime real estate in the corporate world, in fact UPS and Newell Rubbermaid headquarters sit on former Glenn family (now Mayson) property adjacent to the acreage now for sale.

TK GLENN, the builder
Thomas Kearney (TK) Glenn was one of those bootstrap fellows like so many early Atlantans such as Asa Griggs Candler, Amos Rhodes, and Joel Hurt. From Vernon, Mississippi, he came to Atlanta in 1887 and before you knew it he had his fingers in half the pots in the city, from the nascent Atlanta Consolidated Street Railway Co (later Georgia Power) to aiding the development of Atlantic Steel, Grady Hospital, and Sun Trust Bank. (read more about him in relation to the Glenn Building on Marietta)

In 1915 TK Glenn purchased 400 acres for a farm and upon marrying his second wife, in 1927, built Glenridge Hall on the property, which was completed in 1929. It was an English Tudor Revival manor house for an English country estate, just north of Atlanta.

The Restoration
In the 1980s, Frances Glenn and Joey Mayson expressed their desire to restore Glenridge Hall for “preservation beyond our own lifetime and into perpetuity.” They were spurred by the sale of a huge portion (around 150 acres) of the property to developers, which would become office parks and Ga-400.

They enlisted the help of preservationists and the community of Sandy Springs rallied behind them. Glenridge Hall was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and the restoration was completed to the trumpet call of local papers and earned accolades from The Georgia Trust.

Unfortunately Frances (granddaughter of TK Glenn) died of complications in childbirth in 1987. Joey Mayson continued to care for and restore the property as a memorial to her while he lived there with his daughter, Caroline. It is touching to read the correspondence and clippings of that era that are contained in the National Register file at the State Historic Preservation Office.

He fought hard to keep encroaching development at bay though in the end, offices towers for UPS, Kaiser Permanente, Rubbermaid and others rose on the eastern flank of the property. The house though, through Mr. Mayson’s efforts remained secluded in the midst of a thickly forested 37-acre parcel north of Abernathy Rd. As for it’s service to the public and the community, while the grandest ideals he and his wife shared in the 1980s were never fully realized (public access, and a tie-in to Marta for starters it sounds like), Glenridge Hall has served the community over the years, hosting balls, fundraisers and other charitable events at little or no cost to the charity.


But times change, and people come and go. Ideals are forgotten and unfortunately Mr. Mayson never had Glenridge Hall placed in that land trust he dreamed of when he saw the first office towers rising. Today the family, with the almost exclusive aid of their financial manager Mike Rabalais, are selling the remainder of the property, some 76 acres in total, including Glenridge Hall, and no protections are in place.

Would a corporation see the value in this pristine property? enough to stay the hand of execution (of forest and hall) and let the property continue to serve this world? It is possible, but unlikely in the booming bustling office-park road-happy Atlanta.

The people of Sandy Springs should be raising a ruckus!
but only a handful seem to be aware of it at all.

The preservation of this beautiful property along with some land conservation could be an exceptional boon to the city. There are 76 acres at stake! Surely there is room in there for everyone to be happy.

more Mixed Use

(warning: this is a long one)

back in December, the word got around that the corner of the Reynoldstown neighborhood directly across the street from the Edgewood Shopping Center was ripe for development and someone was interested.

parcel-GIS-layered data flat
the affected property outlined on the current GIS map

the Physical Details:
20 residential lots comprise approximately 5.4 acres and contain 12 houses with 1 apparently vacant (1150 Wade St). Historic properties and their date of construction (according to Zillow.com, so take as estimates) are in orange, occupied properties in yellow. The oldest properties date 1920 though this one looks like it may be older and all new construction is from the 1990s and seems like they may be Habitat houses (though not the original owners). Judging by the GIS records most of these houses are rentals and some empty lots are owned by neighboring owners while others, like those lots in the southeast corner, are owned by an LLC.

1928 Atlanta City Map from Emory Library

parcel Pullen-aerial 1940 copy
1949 Aerial Atlas of Atlanta from GSU Special Collections.

You can tell by the above map from 1928 and aerial from around 1949, that the property has been in continuous use as single or two-family residential parcels since he 1920s. These houses once faced more homes across Moreland where Edgewood retail district now sits, although the majority of that parcel was an industrial brownfield.

from Edgewood Retail District

The buzz in December was oh-so-brief but the general consensus on the web seemed to be that this was super! residential and commercial development at an appropriate location, right next to Marta, TOD! and all that.

But I was appalled, in the name of development (yet another mixed-use multi-residential/commercial with plenty of parking complex) it’s ok to snatch up people’s homes, (historic homes), on lovely tree-filled lots??! also, I must admit, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the 1920s homes on Moreland Ave—particularly those sitting up above the street with a narrow staircase through their retaining wall, I can’t tell you how much I long to live in one…

On the other hand, proponents were right, proposals to build a high density residential development near a Marta station is positively, duh, brilliant. Despite my heartache at the loss of old houses and older trees, I can see the logic of a better transition from the single family neighborhood to the busy street and commercial hub, and as long as it’s done properly (without turning its back on the neighborhood or otherwise resulting in the deterioration of the next front line of single family properties) this could be perfect. Parking should not be centralized, neighborhood streets should not become congested (believe me, Rtown streets are too small to handle that, Wylie is bad enough), just, overall, it should be beneficial to and serve the existing community not just the young-up-and-coming it aims to attract. And of course, any development should position itself to take as much advantage of public transportation as possible. One person very soundly suggested a reworking of the MARTA entrance along Seaboard Ave. “When it was built,” they write, “there was no reason for [the entrance] to extend down the street toward Moreland but with this development in addition to the Edgewood development, there’s reason for MARTA riders to be coming and going in that direction.” Personally, after walking a quarter mile on elevated walkways in the opposite direction, the distance from where the Rtown entrance spits you out to Moreland is the only reason I don’t walk by the store on my way home. A long trek west just to go east is downright frustrating.

The thing is, it’s hard to believe any developer is going to do right by the community. My boyfriend welcomes the possibility of good restaurants right in our hood, but who’s to say there won’t just be more Willys’ and Subways (nothing wrong with that it’s just not what he has in mind)? and if there’s no improved access to the Marta station then residents and shoppers are just as unlikely to use public transit as they are now when accessing the Edgewood Retail District. And there are other concerns with affordable housing, will a flashy mixed use development like this speed the gentrification of Reynoldstown or will affordable housing be offered and neighborhood’s diversity maintained?

We might not have long to wonder.

The scoop:
An application (Z-13-53) was brought before the Zoning Review Board on February 20, 2014, to rezone the 20 contiguous parcels as Mixed Residential Commercial (MRC-3). Applicant: JW Homes, ℅ Jessica Hill Esq., 17 property owners were named in the application.

According to the Staff Report, the applicant included a conceptual site plan for a multifamily residential development comprising 285 units, 15,000 square feet of non-residential space and 467 parking spaces.

The Staff Report basically says what online commenters had indicated a few months ago:

    – that facilitating a mixed use development was suitable to this area and that “the zoning and site plan proposal are consistent with the recommendations of the Moreland Ave Corridor Study and goals and policy for the City for infill development near MARTA stations.”
    – the proposed development would have a positive influence on the quality of life and positive effect on adjacent properties, “filling an important gap in the urban fabric between the Edgewood Retail District and the MARTA Station.”
    – an MRC zoning for this area would allow for the best use of this site and much better use/opportunities than the current R-5 zoning allows for.

The staff recommendation was to approve the rezoning conditional that the development be conceptually consistent with the site plan and elevations submitted by The Preston Partnership, LLC, with this application and in compliance with any regulations of the Beltline Overlay District in which the property is located.
While I look fondly at these houses hanging out on the busy avenue, with their long front yards full of mature hardwoods (a nice separation from the street), most people seem to see the 20 residential lots as blighted. Few can imagine living on Moreland. And so, though my heart aches at the thought of those houses being bulldozed and the trees being cut down, there is great promise for a more transit-oriented Atlanta here. Let’s hope it works out.

the Clermont

I drove passed the Clermont Hotel yesterday, its state of rehabilitation apparent from the open windows (not removed, note) and the late afternoon sunlight highlighting the emptiness of the northwest corner rooms with a brilliant golden glow. I sat there in traffic admiring the effect and itching to get back to this post i’d put on hold months ago!

Clermont May 2013 IMG_7158

May 2, 2013.
It was a typical, low-key bachelorette party. Begun in Garden Hills we moved to a non-descript midtown eatery for dinner and margaritas. The sisters-in-law pushed food and drink in equal measure on the bride-to-be, wanting to see her happily toasted but still within the parameters of Uncle D’s no-vomitting request, understandably. They were doing a good job.

But we needed to liven up the evening, we had the limo for a few more hours and the cool Atlanta night was our oyster. We were flummoxed until V mentioned the Clermont Lounge and the party really began to take shape. Keeping secretive we got our bill and out of midtown, cruising down Ponce toward one of its most identifying buildings and a true Atlanta landmark.

Now, Ponce de Leon Avenue is one of the few places where Atlanta still feels gritty, and real. The sidewalks of Ponce espouse the ragged truths of a city that is so good at embellishment and reinvention, the seedy underside of a shiny Southern gem. The Clermont Lounge, opening in 1965 is the longest running strip club in Atlanta’s history and one of the city’s most iconic and irreverent establishments. Going to the Clermont is a rite of passage for any 20-something who finds themselves living in Atlanta but it also has its share of regulars and is a valid haunt for locals needing to reconnect with an oft forgotten side of Atlanta. But others are far better at summarizing the Clermont Lounge than I.

Most notably though to me, it is a place that accepts folks from any walk of life. The bouncer, the bartender, the patrons, are most un-judgmental. Customers are expected to follow the rules (no photos, cash only) but patrons range from coats and ties, leather jackets and heavy beards, forlorn sci-fi t-shirts, floosy H&M blouses, pink tucked-in button-ups, or jeans, converse and a cardigan (that’s me). My first visit had been unnecessarily late in life, and, sipping a vodka cranberry from a cheap plastic cup, I was uncomfortable and trying not to be. Newbies, you see, are an acceptable part of the Clermont’s clientele, and so the motley crew of our bachelorette party last May fit right into that basement dive.

The Clermont Lounge, however, is only a part of the building whose presence on Ponce since 1924 has a story in its own right. In 2002 intrepid reporter Scott Henry went undercover to reveal the mysteries of that landmark to the rest of us. His piece in Creative Loafing serves now as a memorial to a place and time the remainders of which are fast disappearing.

Early last year it was announced that Clermont Hotel had a buyer and the rumors started flying. Nearly everyone took a defensive offensive that the basement strip club better not be touched, even despite assurances. A 2009 competition held by Sidewalk Radio persona and developer Gene Kansas resurfaced as the winner of that design competition—G+G architects—was announced as the architects chosen for the new Clermont to be a boutique hotel. All the plans I have seen have been from the 2009 design competition indicate it was more of an exercise in conceptual re-imaginings and a stretching of architectural hubris than reality (i hope!). The City of Atlanta approved the rezoning to move the project along in August and in the process set forth a number of conditions that should make preservationists happy:

The design for the parking structure must be compatible with the original architectural character of the Clermont Hotel building …The most interesting condition is number eight, which stipulates that following the redevelopment of this property, the owner will be responsible for nominating the Clermont Hotel building as a local Landmark. (ragandbones)

This caveat that the Clermont be established as a local Landmark, and thus eligible for the National Register, should curtail any overly designed plans of ambitious architects/developers.

You can read more about the future of the Clermont Hotel at Curbed and Rag & Bone.

Clermont 2 IMG_7156