Tag Archives: downtown

Atlanta’s Central Library debate

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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


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.

Untitled

A BRIEF HISTORY
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.

sigh.

RESOURCES:
– 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


total 80s Atl

I’ve been driving to work a lot lately, I know, it’s unusual, in fact on the way to work today my gas gauge started flashing. that hardly ever happens. But I’ve been giving N a ride to his office on the west side which has its advantages, namely, Atlanta. I love seeing this side of Atlanta in the perfect morning or afternoon light! The drive up Marietta in the morning is particularly lovely, sunlight hitting those colorful historic commercial strips just right, but it can be nice on the way home too through the heart of modern downtown Atlanta, even in traffic. I looked up from a stoplight to see this recently, the concrete structure is usually gray but on this day it glowed, redolent of the late-1980s. Rockin the recent past.

Atlanta


Atlanta’s most historic Coca-Cola landmark

So, I know you want to know about the Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Company building on the corner of Edgewood and Courtland in downtown Atlanta. It’s a beautiful gem of a Victorian building and doesn’t look a thing like it could have seen anything akin to manufacturing. It looks like a little Victorian house, maybe with a saloon on the bottom floor…

125 Edgewood 1893-2011

In 1886 Joel Hurt and Samuel Inman formed the East Atlanta Land Company, that’s right, Inman Park, Druid Hills, the Hurt Building, and … Edgewood Avenue. Edgewood didn’t even exist until 1888, when Hurt, wanting a direct line to run a streetcar to his upcoming subdivision, made it happen (by coercing the legislature, buying up land along the route via the East Atl Land Co, and leaning on the city to condemn properties he was unable to purchase). 125 Edgewood at the future corner of Courtland and Edgewood appears to be one of the properties he bought, as well as most of the Edgewood frontage on that block and in 1891 the Victorian commericial/residential building was built. The historic picture below is from 1893, the streets were still dirt, but a streetcar line was already operating to Inman Park.

Meanwhile, another shrewd Atlanta businessman (and later Inman Park resident), Asa Candler, was building his own monopoly. After a good bit of swindling on Candler’s part, The Coca-Cola Company was officially formed and previous records were destroyed to obscure any dubious origins (wiki). In 1894 Joseph Biedenharn of Vicksburg, Mississippi, began bottling Coca-Cola to sell the soda to country customers “right off back of the turnip truck” (not sure if that was talking about the customers or the selling), Candler acknowledged the gratuitous cases sent him with a mere “that is fine”–he was not interested in bottling his product. On July 1, 1899, Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead of Chattanooga secured a contract to bottle Coca-Cola in the U.S. (excepting Mississippi and New England which had their bottling operations and Texas for the time being). They began in Chattanooga then Whitehead headed to Atlanta where he started the Dixie Bottling Company just one block down from Candler’s Coca-Cola Company headquarters at 179 Edgewood. That’s right, it was 1901 and Whitehead and Lupton opened the bottling operation in this cute little Victorian commericial/residential building, one of many businesses to grace this building with their presence over the 70 years or so of it’s operational existence. And it didn’t last long, not even long enough to appear in the City Directory before they moved to expand operations. But a picture below shows a sketch of the early bottling operations and how it may have appeared in this special little building.

So why is it a National Landmark? it wasn’t actually the site of the Coca-Cola Company, it wasn’t even where the drink was first bottled (certainly an significant step in its impact on the world), it wasn’t even the first official bottling operation condoned by Candler himself, but it was the site of the FIRST OFFICIAL BOTTLING OPERATION IN GEORGIA. and that’s important.

After the Dixie Bottling Company moved out, 125 Edgewood was home again to a rotation of diverse enterprises: John Payton’s Beer Saloon around 1911, Joseph Horowitz Ladies clothing, and, for a couple decades, Virgil Shepard’s window display shop. Whereas this area had been largely racially mixed (black, white, Jewish), by the 1920s it seems that things were more segregated and the block was mostly comprised of black-owned businesses evident by their advertisements appearing in the Atlanta Daily World, the offices of which were just around the corner on Auburn.