Big Ideas for How to Improve Midtown with its Historic Structures:
As Midtown Atlanta explodes into the skies with 40 huge new projects,
Atlantans must speak up now– about what buildings of old Midtown you want to save.
Having watched Midtown Atlanta from the 1960’s to today, I am constantly intrigued by the stylistic changes, new buildings, developments, and urban design which has brought huge changes to the area.
Now in its 50th year of a complete transformation, Midtown Atlanta is finally filling up its parking lots with mid-rise, high-rise, and skyscrapers which will make up its urban core for many years to come.
The City of Atlanta, and especially the Midtown Alliance, has done an outstanding job making sure most new buildings are built as mixed-use with street-side retail to enliven almost every street. And the shoddy broken sidewalks, old Georgia pine telephone poles, and 1950’s lighting has been upgraded to wider brick, stone, and concrete sidewalks, underground utilities in many areas, and decorative street lighting. As an architect, I would have loved to see more examples of great architecture constructed, even though there are great works by Mack Scogin/Merrill Elam, Lord, Aeck & Sargent, I.M. Pei, Michael Graves, Richard Meier, Phillip Johnson, Anthony Ames, Renzo Piano, Pickard Chilton, Kevin Roche & John Dinkeloo, Perkins & Will, TVS, Stevens & Wilkenson and Cooper-Cary. The newest buildings may not be avant-garde design, but, being a realist, and having waited for 30+ years, the new environment is quite exciting and beautiful, with some very good pieces of architecture planned or under construction.
As Atlanta continues its speedy strides toward being the Great Silicon Peach and Hollywood, Georgia, I am confident that more great architecture is yet to come.
Today, the construction has reached a fever pace, once again, and available lots have become scarce. Which means, it is time to make certain the landmarks, historic buildings and fine old homes which are left in Midtown– are certain to remain.
Here is a list of “absolutely must-be-protected” historic buildings from North to South, as well as ideas to enhance their usefulness. Please join your Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the Midtown Alliance if you would like to help save old Midtown Atlanta.
1) Brookwood Railroad (Amtrak) Station by famous Atlanta architect Neil Reid, possibly endangered as Amtrak plans a more functional station. This is the last remaining railroad station in Atlanta, of many spectacular stations now gone.
The new Atlanta Railroad (and/or Transportation) Museum.
Atlanta was conceived by and built by the railroads. Subsequently, it became an important American historical site due to its railroads, and also a great American metropolis due to its railroads and airport. This idea is a winner.
The small site would require building the museum many levels underground, which could make for a very dynamic design with windows overlooking the Brookwood Expressway Interchange and even the Amtrak railway itself. Exhibits could ramp downward until or below train track level built into the hillside under Deering Road. Somewhat like a reverse Guggenheim or HIGH Museum atrium design. Being underground would help make the building environmentally sustainable. Another possibility is to buy the Masonic Lodge next door on Peachtree, joining the two buildings with a tasteful modern abstraction of an old railroad trestle bridge.
2) Peachtree Christian Church, modeled after Melrose Abbey in Scotland, designed by Charles H. Hopson in 1928. The sanctuary’s windows, made by William Glasby of London, are one of the finest collections of stained glass in the country. This building is probably safe from development.
3) The Temple by Atlanta architect Phillip Trammel Shutze. Historically, even more important because of its bombing in 1958; probably safe from demolition
4) Rhodes Hall & 1930’s retail building Atlanta Preservation Center is its caretaker, so it is safe from development.
5) 1920’s Apartment Building near World Athlete’s Monument, probably endangered, as the 17th St area is expected to be a major redevelopment area.
The red brick apartment building has a red terracotta tile roof, to the far right in the picture above. We have already lost all the other old apartment buildings at Pershing Point, which were considered The Dakota or Chelsea Hotel (NYC) of Atlanta– filled with artists and musicians.
6) Historic Home at 17th & Peachtree and Apartment Building on 17th St, probably endangered, due to being prime Peachtree property, but acts as a respite from the glassy towers surrounding. Also, the addition behind is an excellent example of early European modernism, like Mies Van der Rohe or Die Stijl. Across 17th street ia an attractive building which appears like a European villa.
Also, all the best historic homes should be protected in incomparable Ansley Park neighborhood, which is under siege for tear-down and new construction.
7) First Presbyterian Church, next door to the HIGH Museum of Art, probably safe
8) The Reid House Condominiums by Neil Reid, probably safe
9) Artmore Hotel, Mediterranean revival, probably safe
10) First Church of Christ Scientist, a magnificent Greek revival, probably safe
11) Wimbish Mansion, with original Ballrooms, Opera House, & Gardens (including the first swimming pool in Atlanta). Possibly endangered. We must watch for this landmark’s safety, due to the extremely high land value at 14th St & Peachtree.
12) Historic Greek Revival House on West Peachtree, now medical offices, possibly endangered, watch out for this singular Greek revival left in the Midtown commercial district
13) Spring Hill Chapel & Gardens (H.M.Patterson) by Atlanta architect, Phillip Trammel Shutze; This site is highly endangered– need to definitely watch out for this landmark’s safety– as it sits on a large and beautiful hilltop site, with fine views of the Atlanta skyline. It is an important example of the English country-style, well-integrated to the Spring Hill site, and its interiors are a fine example of Adamesque style.
The new Spring Hill Memorial Chapel & Atlanta English Gardens
This is a landmark singular to Atlanta and rich in Atlanta family history. Many important memorials have taken place here over the last 90 years including many who died in wars, and many who died in the AIDS crisis. This should be a National Historic Landmark site and its Gardens should be embellished to become Atlanta’s elaborate English garden. A place for inspiration and serenity, and would likely become a travellers destination like the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Perhaps, ABG could own and operate this site.
14) Margaret Mitchell House, Retail, Palmer House and Phelan Apartment buildings by Gottfried Norrman, John Faulkner, and Neil Reid; probably safe, but watch out for these fine architectural landmarks
15) All Mansions, Homes and Apartments along Piedmont Avenue from 10th St to North Avenue, endangered, watch for these to be protected as commercial development encroaches.
16) Bulldog’s Bar, the oldest and only gay bar remaining on Peachtree of the many in Midtown Atlanta. Some were city landmarks for nearly forty years. It is important to note that much of historic Midtown was preserved by gay Atlantans. The last and highly endangered. There is likely a historic facade under the stucco.
17) The old Excelsior Mill (Masquerade Club) on Ponce de Leon, endangered. One of a very few old mills left in Atlanta, the Excelsior Mill has native stone walls, old heavy timber construction, and even much of its original (now rusty) machinery. For decades, the club has brought local and national acts and been a landmark favorite. Today, it stands next to the enormous Ponce City Market, an adaptive reuse project like New York’s Chelsea Market, which saved Atlanta’s old Sears store and distribution center. Sadly, a highrise may take this landmark’s place.
18) Though St. Mark United Methodist Church is not endangered, the 1920’s Apartment Building behind it on Juniper may be endangered, please watch
19) Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, probably safe
20) Old Homes, Apartments along Juniper St. from 11th St to North Ave., highly endangered
21) The Varsity, All Saint’s Episcopal Church (with Tiffany windows) and Retail in this block, watch
The new Varsity Historic District
Though it is unlikely that The Varsity would be demolished, it is not impossible. I would like for this to become a protected historic district, including the adjacent retail and the Church building.
22) The old mansions @ Atlanta Eagle & Kodak buildings & Kodak signage on Ponce de Leon, highly endangered. Behind these scruffy facades are two original mansions from the earliest days of Ponce de Leon Ave. Also, the Kodak sign is a great example of early 20th century advertising. Portland Oregon has saved many of their old signs like this and makes the urban environment more interesting.
23) The Yaarab Temple on Ponce de Leon, endangered. This is an unusual example of mid-century islamic revival architecture and is one of the oddities that make Ponce de Leon so unique. It should be saved from the wrecking ball.
24) The entirety of Myrtle Street homes are endangered due to the increase of tear-downs to build large modernist homes.
The new “Historic Myrtle Street Walk”
Just nine beautiful blocks long, Myrtle street may be one of the prettiest and favorite streets in America.
I recommend making this a National Trust site to protect the homes from demolition. Also, the street could be repaved in brick, hexagonal paver sidewalks repaired, and nice signage for “Historic Myrtle Street Walk” and informational signage to point out historic homes like Joel Chandler Harris’s home he built for his daughter’s wedding present (Subsequently the home was restored by one of Atlanta’s most famous restauranteurs). It would be a nice addition to Midtown’s attractions and give a fresh refuge from the glass and concrete jungle nearby.
25) The remaining blocks of the Midtown residential historic district are endangered, and need to be preserved. I love modern homes, too. Just, please, build them on the sites with lesser architectural importance.
26) The Rose Mansion, one of the last mansions of Peachtree St, endangered
27) Retail Buildings between Pine and Renaissance along Peachtree-– especially the old Atlanta Ballet Building, endangered
28) Historic Baltimore Row and Crawford W Long Hospital Buildings at W. Peachtree, endangered.
The new Baltimore Row & Victorian Gardens
This would be another great mini-historic district. The Baltimore Row is the only set of old rowhomes left in Atlanta. The ornate Victorian mansion at the end of the street was lost to highway construction, many decades ago. But, why not build a sculpture or an enormous mural of the old lost mansion. It would be great! Also, the parking garage across from the “Row” should be razed to allow for a new row of townhomes and Victorian gardens to be constructed. New signage and brick street paving would make this a charming block right between Downtown and Midtown.
Emory Health seems to be moving toward destruction of some of the older buildings around the old hospital. Lets make sure no more good old buildings are lost, like the one below, where I was born!
29) St. Lukes Episcopal Church and Historic Mansion on Courtland, probably safe, but watch
30) Medical Arts Building, in Downtown, just south of the connector bridge on Peachtree, most likely lost due to neglect and decay.
And finally, the creation of Atlanta Biltmore Square:
Let’s demolish the existing structures on the small block between West Peachtree, Biltmore Place, Spring Street, and 5th Street in order to construct a Georgian-style square in front of Atlanta’s most Historic Biltmore Hotel, one of a few old hotels which still stand. This would emphasize the grand structure, giving it a “front yard” and shady repose for tourists and techies from Technology Square adjacent. Georgia Tech, NCR, or the City of Atlanta need to get behind this before it is too late, when a new structure is built there– soon!