Tag Archives: preservation

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

Hawkes’ Libraries

(a Georgia-sized continuation of the Gilded Age’s social reform philanthropy)

A little less than a year ago a phone call out of the blue turned me on to a bit of Georgia history I had never heard of. The city of Jackson, Georgia, wanted to know how to save their 1925 Hawkes Library. Hawkes Library? I made confirming noises like I understood while my fingers started in on google. What I learned lead me deep into the annals of American values in the Gilded Age, philanthropy, and social philosophical ideals. But it started with a man named Albert King Hawkes.

Albert King Hawkes was an optometrist, inventor, and philanthropist. He was born in 1848 in Massachusetts but settled in Atlanta in 1886 and began an optical company which would become nationally known. Possibly partly because he didn’t have a family to pass his wealth on to Hawkes followed in the philanthropical footsteps of the wealthy benefactors from the Gilded Age (late 1800s) before him. According to one Hawkes Library National Register nomination:

“His donations were attributed to his interest in “sociological conditions” and in giving where it could most benefit society. He founded the Georgia Training School for Girls with a $10,000 donation as well as the land… He donated to various colleges, and a dormitory is named for him at LaGrange College. He provided for over-aged Methodist ministers, as well as Methodist orphans.”


some of Georgia's Carnegie Libraries, past and present

Georgia’s Carnegie Libraries, past and present

As America industrialized after the Civil War, waves of social reform also swept the nation. Besides libraries, this era saw a huge push for public schools, prison reform, housing services and the roots of the temperance movement. Much of the development in the way of public libraries was due to the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie who had raised himself from the slums of Pittsburgh to become the richest man in the world through his steel industry businesses. In line with the social reformers of his day, Carnegie believed in social institutions’ ability to reform society, and in the wealthy few’s duty as benefactors. He considered the library in particular a strong influence on the “meritocratic nature” of America and thus a wise investment in order, stability, and sound economic growth.

From 1883 to 1916, Carnegie provided the funds for 2,811 libraries around the world. According to a PBS American Experience program, “Ordering a library from Carnegie was as easy as ordering a sofa from the Sears Catalog.” Step one was to submit a request in writing. Step two involved identifying a site. Step three identify matching funds for maintenance.

In Georgia, 29 total Carnegie libraries were built, 5 at institutions of higher learning.

Mr. Albert K. Hawkes apparently felt he could provide for society in a similar manner. By the early 20th century the public library was evolving as new services to address the needs of the “common man” were coming to the fore. Hawkes’ specification that the libraries be oriented toward children was a result of these new ways of thinking. In addition, and possibly due to his visual or simply technological savvy background, Hawkes wanted libraries to incorporate moving picture facilities as well.

Hawkes Library

Hawkes Free Children’s Library in Griffin, Ga.

The first discussions between the city of Griffin began in 1913 and the Griffin Hawkes Children’s Library officially opened in November of 1916. Though he had donated previously to libraries in Grantville, Roswell, and possibly other Georgia towns, the Griffin library was Hawkes’ first large-scale experiment in providing both literary and motion picture facilities. If it worked he planned to fund other children’s libraries around the state. Unfortunately, Albert K. Hawkes died in 1916 just as the Griffin library was opened. His will, however, provided $7,500 in funds for libraries in a short list of towns. Hawkes libraries in Cedartown (1921), West Point (1922), and Jackson (1925) were built as those cities raised the additional funds for construction and materials.

Although no specification from Hawkes is known, Hawkes’ libraries, like Carnegie’s were Classically styled and beautifully done. All but one of the libraries is attributed the Atlanta architectural firm Hentz, Reid and Adler and Neel Reid himself. Robert and Co. is the architect listed for the West Point library.

Despite being called a children’s library, the Griffin library and the others after it, served adults too as these were the only public libraries in town and served most towns into the 1970s or later.

The Hawkes Library in West Point is the only one still operating as a library today.

Hawkes Library, Jackson, Ga.

Hawkes Library, Jackson, Ga.

By the way, the update on the library in Jackson? On the brink of demolition the city managed to stall the county and purchase the building. Today it has a new roof and a committee is being established to oversee the building’s rehabilitation.

kitsch, preservation and good food

We’d just flown in from a hot and sunny Caribbean island, we’d been floating in saltwater at noon and drinking rum punches, but were plunged into an already dark, cold and VERY windy Atlanta at 6:30 pm. Following our fellow beach-clad passengers off the plane we made a pit stop to layer up, shorts to pants, a cardigan, a fleece, and beachy scarves tucked tight in all the crevasses to keep the wind out. That is really irrelevant to what happened next except to say that it seemed like a good night to try the much-anticipated Sobban. While the rest of Atlanta was huddled at home on this Tuesday night, we’d slip in for some warming vittles before the kitchen closed at 9.

Sobban is the new venture of Heirloom BBQ chefs and owners, a Korean / Southern diner. This would normally have no relevance on this blog here but moments after we walked in the door (we did have to wait a few minutes for a table) I asked where the restroom was (I’d been holding it cause we were in a hungry hurry) and the hostess bubbled up with an apology masked by the enthusiasm of telling us that this was an old Arby’s and so the bathroom was outside on the back of the building.

Sobban, Clairmont Rd, Decatur, GA

Sobban, Clairmont Rd, Decatur, GA

the first Arby's, according to and from papaarbys.com

the first Arby’s, according to and from papaarbys.com

I personally don’t remember Arby’s looking like this, but that’s because this is one of the MOST HISTORIC ARBY’S, c.1969, and close to the 50-year historic mark. From their first franchise in 1965 to 1975, this building was Arbys’ standard, designed by W. C. Riedel. According to one informed commenter here, “the Raffel Brothers (R-Bs, get it?) wanted a building free of chrome and neon that would attract a more discriminating clientele.” So they built in the shape of Conestoga wagon, with rustic stone pillars and a tile floor with images of steers supposed to be drawing the conestoga wagon—there was so much symbolism in these early designs!

As with most fast food structures, it has changed hands many times over the years but escaped demolition. There is a lot of this in Atlanta, famously on Buford Highway, a corridor where a lack of development/demolition has allowed for immigrant entrepreneurism. The Arby’s on Clairmont was, most recently, a pizza joint, then Kitsch’n 155, and now Sobban. I unearthed a blog post by Lee Bey of wbez Chicago about Kitsch’n 155, he chronicles the rehab by the excited owners at that time:
the biggest revelation was finding and restoring an original lighted, curved ceiling hiding above a dropped-ceiling added after Arby’s vacated the building. The find makes all the difference.

In Lee Bey’s photos you can also see the linoleum floor that had replaced the original square-tile mosaic. Back to our excited hostess: they had just pulled up the linoleum and discovered that the original tile floor was still there!

original Arby's floor at Sobban, Decatur

original Arby’s floor at Sobban, Decatur

I would say that despite changes over the years and missing the iconic Arby’s hat sign (long gone) it still retains most of it’s historic integrity.

yes, I just used the words “historic integrity” in relation to a fast food building.

now, how will these mid-century chains fare in National Register nominations? historic districts? will we consider them significant enough to require preservation or will it be left to a passionate few to preserve them in the name of kitsch?

To see more about the history of the remaining Arby’s structures go here.

<http://arbys.com/company-history>Arby’s company history.

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.

Preservation Treatments: 1

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards are guidelines for responsible preservation approaches. Few projects fall entirely in one zone or another, the standards can often not be perfectly adhered too but they present one with the philosophy of each of four treatment options which should serve as a guide to the preservation project and the roll of preservation in general.

This is the first of 4 Preservation Treatment posts. It is also likely that these posts may be updated in the future with more information, examples, and discussion of each treatment.

Preservation places a high premium on the retention of all historic fabric through conservation, maintenance and repair. It reflects a building’s continuun over time, through successive occupancies, and the respectful changes and alterations that are made. At it’s most minimal, a structure or historic site may be stabilized and necessary repairs to the fabric of the structure made with material that is beyond repair being replaced “in kind”*. In general the Preservation Treatment is the least invasive and often the cheapest of preservation treatments as little or no upgrading, demolition or new material is required or asked for, however, it is not always the right choice of approach.

*Replacing in kind means replicating a historic feature/material with the same materials. It may sometimes seem prudent to use a substitute material, see Preservation Brief 16 for advice and reasoning behind this.

Example 1:
Let’s consider a fairly simple log cabin, built as early as 1810 possibly by Cherokee Indians. It was expanded with a frame structure, less than 20 years later and was the home of a prominent farmer-planter and his family, by the late 1860s, the planter as passed and the wife/daughters made additions across the front and interior remodels to use the home as a boarding house/hotel through the 1930s. The town no longer needing a wayside inn, it was used for various purposes after that—as a law office, doctor’s office and garden center office. At some point in there half of the front porch was enclosed for a waiting room.

This building has had quite a history! The building was only recently out of use and is in good condition. The office space is no longer needed and the town wishes to interpret this building for its contribution and position in the history of the town. Indeed, the way this structure has changed over time is a significant reflection of the town’s evolution and much can be learned about the community simply through this one building. Even standing alone, the story the building itself tells is fascinating. A Preservation Treatment of this building may be a good solution for its preservation, retaining all the additions to the building that have occurred over time, preserving the structure as is. Every effort should be taken to identify, retain, and preserve the historic character and features, and stabilization and repairs following the Secretary of the Interiors Standards for Preservation should be made.

In an extreme situation, even the latest additions to the building—the pine panelling added to the waiting room in 1979, the carpet covering the hardwood floors added in 1995—should be preserved and maintained, it could be argued that they contribute to the building’s story and thus it’s historic character, even if today they are not “old” one day they will be. However, discretion may be used in determining the historic character/integrity of a building and decisions made to remove certain finishes or features.

Also consider that the Preservation Treatment may be used for most of the structure but not all. In this example for instance, the town may desire to put their town museum in part of the building in which case upgrades are likely necessary including climate control, but if they limit the museum aspect to say the front porch waiting room, or the c. 1830 frame addition on the lower level, more invasive rehabilitation work may be necessary there while the rest of the building may still receive the Preservation Treatment.

to come:

on Awarding

There are some aspects of preservation that often get overlooked. In considering the Preservation Awards this year at the Trust, we agreed to hand out accolades to accurate period restorations, drastic salvages from the brink of despair and innovative adaptive use of existing historic spaces—but of the simple rehabilitation, involving run-of-the-mill tech upgrades and a new paint job, we were at a loss of what to do. It was admitted among the committee members that certainly this kind of “preservation action” is one of the easiest, but also the most important and worthy, somehow, of recognition. Right? I mean, they didn’t tear the building down, can you give out a “thank God you didn’t demo” award? Perhaps it was only monetary, perhaps they WOULD have demoed, or at least changed the carpet, if they’d had the money. However, in the circumstances we were considering for awards that day, and in many other instances, I think people really do want to maintain the building. Lack of funds often means a more accurate rehabilitation, if anything at least the process moves slower which means less drastic overhauling of material. You don’t have the money to replace those windows with vinyl? darn! you’ll have to repair instead!

But honestly, is it fair that only those projects that bring out the big guns will get the recognition of an award? and then, how would we acknowledge those who have been doing “a really good job”? if half the purpose of the awards are encouragement and acknowledgement within a community, then I think we need a way to bring attention to the preservation that’s accomplished by doing relatively little. It shows that it’s the philosophy that matters, not the money. right?