Building Atlanta: 1900-1960’s – Part 2

As we saw in Part 1, Atlanta was born on rolling hills at the nexus of three railroad lines, Native American trails, and river crossings.

Aerial view of Five Points, showing the construction of the Fourth National Bank building, Atlanta, Georgia, 1904. Original photo mount has newspaper caption attached to verso: "Above -- Five Points many years ago. This picture, looking north on Peachtree, shows excavations being dug for the Fourth National Bank building, since rebuilt as the First National Bank building. Across the street is the site of the present William Oliver building." The added paper mount has two captions: "Five Points when work started on the First National Bank Building" and "The excavation for the First [crossed out and "Fourth" penciled in] National Bank building at Five Points. The old structure on the opposite corner was later replaced by the William-Oliver building. As the tall skyline shows, Atlanta already had quite a number of skyscrapers." Paper mount dated "1904." This image was later printed as a postcard.

In the 20th century,

these design constraints would prove to be a major challenge to traffic, as the railroad lines expanded to 15 lines, with up to 350 trains per day. Subsequently, the automobile took over, allowing Atlantans to travel distances easily, lowering the need for city density and adding the need for parking thousands of cars.

Finally, three major interstate highways were crashed directly through downtown Atlanta, inflicting the final blow to any perceptible grid in Atlanta’s urban design.

But, before we see that, let’s see how incredibly urban and dense Atlanta had become, with miles of streetcars, before the onslaught of the car.

The 1900’s:

1900 population  –    90,000   (the largest city in Georgia; 3rd largest in the SE)

1910 population –    155,000, a 72% increase

Atlanta’s grandest Terminal Station was completed in 1905. Train traffic would continue to increase up to a massive 350 trains per day in the 1950’s. It was destroyed in 1979.


The 1902 Carnegie Library (replaced by architect icon Marcel Breuer’s unfinished work in 1980)


A view of the city in 1905, as the Candler Building foundations are built.


Rural farmers would rush in for cotton market day in 1905.


1909-georgia-possum-banquet-for-taft-atl chamber of comm
Culture changing… 1909 Georgia “Possum” Banquet for President Taft by the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.


Jewish Temple at Ponce De Leon and Piedmont, in 1903.


1909 ponce bap
The new Baptist Church on Ponce De Leon in 1909.


The 1910’s

1910 population –    155,000      1920 population –   200,600

1911 po
The 1911 US Post Office in the Fairlie-Poplar Historic District, still standing today.


Today’s Henry Grady (“The New South”) Monument stands in the middle of Marietta Street as it did in this photo in 1913 showing the old Post Office/City Hall and the Opera House.


1917 -1964 ptree arcade
The European-inspired Peachtree Arcade opened in 1917. It was razed in 1964.


The Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta was established by Congress in 1913.


Busy downtown Atlanta.


The 1920’s:

1920 population –   200,600       1930 population –   270,400

Peachtree and Broad Streets were roaring in the 20’s. Today, Broad is partly a pedestrian street. Shouldn’t it be completely pedestrian?


Already, the Atlanta Airport (Candler Field) had been created by Mayor Hartsfield, in 1925.


A great view showing the density in the Atlanta of 1929.

Building The Viaducts:

Building the viaducts over the railroads, created what would become Underground Atlanta many years later.



Viaduct construction on Spring St (now Ted Turner Drive) in 1920.


Trying to connect the south of the railroads to the north with a very long viaduct. Later, The Omni, Georgia World Congress Center, and Phillips Arena would be built alongside the viaduct, reducing it’s perceived length.


Atlanta reconnected by the viaducts, the first and second floors would become forgotten about until the 1970’s entertainment complex was built.


late 20s
The Howard Theatre, Hotel Winecoff, streetcars, and automobiles.


Opening_of_Howard_Theater,_Atlanta; 1920 Paramount
Opening of The Howard Theatre, 1920.
masonic_temple ptree intl ATM
The monumental Masonic Temple at Peachtree & International Blvd, the site of a 60-year-old parking garage today. (photo courtesy of Atlanta Time Machine)


Middle class African-American businesses were growing at this time on historic Auburn Avenue, including Atlanta Life Insurance Co. which would make Atlanta’s first black millionaire.


Union Station 1920's
Union Station, number 2, in the 1920’s.


Growing skyline and density of Atlanta in the 1920’s.


atlanta 2
Seven floor Davison’s (later Macy’s) covered almost an entire block opened in 1926 and still stands as an event space, tech offices, and perhaps, a Georgia Music Museum.


Opening in 1924, the Atlanta Biltmore would become the social center of Atlanta’s elite living in the mansions along Peachtree and surrounding areas. WSB radio was broadcast from the top floor until 1956, hence, the radio towers.


The Fabulous Fox Theatre opened in 1929 in full Mid-eastern Revival architecture including Moroccan and Egyptian themes.


The 1930’s:

1930 population –   270,400     1940 population –    302,300

The 1930 William Oliver building entrance epitomizes the Art Deco period in Atlanta.


Aerial view of Atlanta in 1930


Atlanta-Union-Station 40s
The Third Atlanta Union Station was built in 1930. The earlier ones were from 1853 and 1871.


4th Atlanta_City_Hall_1930
Atlanta City was opened in 1930, the fourth building since 1853.


Fulton Tower Jail in the 1930’s


Map showing Atlanta streetcars in 1936.


1937 atl
The Theatre District, along Peachtree, in 1937.


The glamorous event of 1939 was the Premiere of Gone With the Wind at Loew’s Grand Theatre with all the stars and Margaret Mitchell, herself.

All was not as great as it looked above, as Atlantans were suffering through the great depression.

Walker Evans took important photography of Atlanta’s African-American communities in 1936.


Another Walker Evans photo, during the depression.


The 1940’s:

1940 population  –  302,300       1950 population –   331,300

The 1940s saw Atlanta stretch out in every direction, as this streetcar map attests. However, buses were beginning to replace the streetcars, which would disappear until 2014.


More commercial began taking over the residential areas of Midtown.


ptree 6th
Peachtree at 6th Street, Midtown.


ptree north ave 1940
Peachtree at North Avenue.


ptree west p baker 1940
Peachtree at West Peachtree 1940


Building the Downtown Connector through Midtown in 1948. Georgia Tech (since 1888) is on the left and the Varsity is on the right. Who knows what used to be in between?


An AJC file photo of ther Sears building from the Glen Iris/Ponce de Leon intersection. taken in March 1948.
An AJC photo of the Sears building, now Ponce City Market, taken in 1948.


A busy Five Points in Downtown Atlanta in the 1940’s.


The old M. Rich Building (RICH’S Dept. Store) in 1942, when it was Grant’s. Downtown, below Five Points, was still the main shopping district for Atlanta.


theatre dist 41
The Theatre district had increasing shopping in 1941, as Atlanta moved north.


Edgewood Ave toward Five Points.


Regenstein’s building still stands today, next to the towers of Peachtree Center. Across the street, the old Henry Grady Hotel (where the Peachtree Plaza is).


The 1950’s:

 1950 population –   331,300    (33rd largest city in US)    1960 population –   487,500

Sadly, this was the beginning of an era that would raze historical skyscrapers, or any building, to build parking garages and parking lots. This bad Atlanta habit would last into the 1980’s.

Sometime in the late 1950’s, Metropolitan Atlanta’s population hit 1,000,000 people.

The elaborate Howard Theatre still existed in 1956. As did the Loew’s Grand, Roxy, and the Ehrlanger Theatres.


Looking west from the Capitol, notice the parking lots starting to take over.


atl_million_strong late 50s
A postcard from the late 1950’s when metro Atlanta surpassed 1 million people.


1952, Eisenhower running for President on Edgewood Avenue.


Herren's Luckie
Luckie Street in the 1950’s. Herren’s Restaurant was a Atlanta icon.


Looking northeast from the Hurt Building, Atlanta, Georgia, April 1955. In the upper right, you can see construction on the new Grady Memorial Hospital building (opened in in 1956). Photo: Charles R. Pugh. Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographic Archives. Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library.
The Municipal Auditorium and Hurt Park, looking northeast from the Hurt Building, in 1955. Notice construction of the new Grady Memorial Hospital building (opened in in 1956). Photo: Charles R. Pugh. AJC Archives


Inside the Municipal Auditorium, 1955
Mayor Hartsfield reviews needy Buttermilk Bottom in 1959, a target for urban renewal (and now the trendy Old 4th Ward).


Plaza Park, 1950’s, over the Gulch.


Rhodes Furniture, 1955
The historic buildings of Pershing Point, midtown, all now gone.


The 1958 Atlanta Cabana was Atlanta’s version of Miami’s Fontainebleau, stylistically anyway. Somehow, it survived to 2002.


The next four photos are Lenox Square which opened in Buckhead in 1959. Holy soaring concrete, Batman!



The fabulous Gulf station at Lenox square was my favorite. Too bad it’s gone.
The 1956 construction of the Downtown Connector where interstates I-75, I-85, and I-20 meet in Downtown Atlanta.
mechanicsville 50s
Mechanicsville and Summerhill separated forever by the Connector.

The 1960’s:

1960 population –   487,500        24th largest city in the US

The first Hartsfield-Atlanta international Airport opened in 1961, all turquoise mosaic tiles and curving ramps.


Delta rotundas, 1968.
Atlanta Airport, 1960’s

Circa 1960
That’s Walton Spring Park, in front, at International Blvd and Spring St. Check out what this mid-century beauty looks like, now!
The Atlanta Civic Center 1965
Crawford W Long Hospital (now Emory Health), the Life of Georgia Building (built from Georgia marble), and the neo-F.L.Wrightian Citizens & Southern Bank, now NationsBank.
Portman’s masterpiece, the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, changed the city and the hotel industry forever.
Peachtree Center; 1966
Peachtree Center; 1966
More viaducts over the train tracks, now mostly cargo, 1964.
Looking north from Peachtree Center in 1968.
The Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Falcons debuted in 1965 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium which would survive through the Olympics.
1960s - Aerial view of the heart of downtown Atlanta.
1960s – Aerial view of Peachtree Center, the new north of downtown Atlanta.
A view of 14th and Peachtree St shows the building of Colony Square, the first mixed-use development in Atlanta, with the Memorial (Woodruff) Arts Center beyond.


first_natl_aerial ATM
This mid-century Georgia marble building once occupied the site of today’s low-rise Proton Cancer Treatment Center, soon to be opened.
The revolving Polaris, a 1960’s icon soars again with its recent refurbishment.


The Memorial (now Woodruff) Arts Center was built to commemorate the tragic plane crash in 1962 Paris carrying 106 Atlanta Art patrons who all perished. Having been compared to be Atlanta’s 9-11, the mourning city came together to build Atlanta’s first arts center for the pre-existing Atlanta Symphony, the Alliance Theatre and the High Museum of Art. You may not recognize it today, due to years of renovations (the Atlanta way- If we don’t tear it down, we continually renovate it beyond recognition).


One of the urban designs for downtown planned pre-MARTA.


A view of the Atlanta skyline from the Connector in the 60’s.
Peachtree at 10th Street before its demise, becoming home to hippies, then gay people who revitalized it. It is now high-rise condominiums and the retail of the Midtown Mile.

In the 1970’s, Atlanta became the 20th largest metro in US. By 1980 there were 2 million Atlantans; more than 4 million for the millennium. Today, Atlanta is the ninth largest American city with 5.7 million residents. The newest forecast is for a city of 8 million in 2040, just 25 years away.

I hear the question often; why does it seem there has been no urban design?

The various commissions which were responsible for Atlanta’s urban design never slacked off that I know of, but Atlanta’s runaway suburbanization kept designers ever busy continuously working to keep Downtown Atlanta viable through all the decades– a difficult task. The Perimeter Highway was built creating a huge force for growth– only outward. Civic leaders fought for the central downtown area, defeating the Outer Perimeter which was planned to improve Atlanta’s traffic, but would have been the final wound for Downtown Atlanta.

Also, the design commissions had no teeth, or legal power to enforce their decisions.

Suburban Atlantans of Cobb and Gwinnett counties and the GDOT may be mostly to blame. The suburbanites being afraid of MARTA, and the DOT confining themselves only to car transportation. Still, it should be said that after the GDOT “Freed the Freeways” in the 1980’s everything seemed great– until the population explosion after the Olympics. They definitely should have upgraded the intown arterial roads which have remained two lanes, always. Lawmakers had a hand in today’s clusterf___. Not until this year were gas taxes available for public transportation.

“Even now, instead of thinking regionally, as Atlanta so needs to do, new cities have split off from Fulton and DeKalb Counties. The City of Atlanta really needs to encompass at least Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton Counties. Please, let’s work together people, it is in all of our interests.”

Atlanta has succeeded, with its’ Atlanta Spirit, with its ability to stay slightly ahead of the curve in Civil Rights, and with keeping Downtown Atlanta the center focus of the region. Atlanta also has the advantage of accepting everyone newly moved to Atlanta to be accepted as an Atlantan. It has always been that way. Newcomers are always welcome to become part of the continuous design that is the City of Atlanta.

Your ideas are welcome; together all of us will continue to make Atlanta greater.


13 thoughts on “Building Atlanta: 1900-1960’s – Part 2

  1. I can’t tell you how much this site means to me. I’m born and raised Atlantan and had to be transplanted to Orlando, Florida. I live on the site, it’s like going home!

    Roslyn Broom Lambert


    1. Well, Roslyn…
      We have a lot in common. Born at Crawford Long, downtown, I lived in Atlanta until my parents moved us to Winter Haven, south of Orlando, in 1975. However, I was already imprinted deeply with Atlanta genes, and traveled there several times per year, until I could move back after college, in 1984. I’m so glad my blog helps you be a part of Atlanta! Thanks for the encouragement.


      1. Yes we do have things in common. I also was born at Crawford W Long Hospital. I grew up in the Druid Hills/Emory area. I dearly love Atlanta, and going back “home”. My husband and I went to W D Thompson Elementary School in DeKalb county and Druid Hills High School. Bill went straight from GA State College to Coca-Cola Company and retired from Coke. We are “died in the wool” Southerners!


  2. What a great trip down many memory lanes! I’m a 3rd generation native, my grandfather was a merchant along Peachtree (Zachry, and actually his father had a store for a brief time on Peachtree along the side near the Flatiron Buiding in the late 1860’s) and a trip downtown to the “store” was a huge treat. I lived for a time on 11th between Peachtree and Juniper so I was there at the very end of the small merchant “strip.” I was at the opening of Lenox, those pictures are great (I just learned that most of the Br’er Rabbit statues are now at the Uncle Remus museum in Eatonton). With my newly earned driver’s license at 16 I found the then-closed Terminal Station. You could park in the front and just walk inside and down to platforms. I only wish I’d had a camera with me; it was spectacular but gone in a matter of months. I watched as they put out the fire at the Loews’ Grand, where my grandmother heard Caruso sing when it was DeGives Opera house. I worked for TOTS at the Civic Center when it was brand new and very fancy, and I’m a second generation to eat at the Varsity and gaze at the stars in the ceiling of the Fox.


    1. I worked at TOTS also in 1972, roamed the Civic Center backstage. They used my mothers vacuum cleaner onstage during The Odd Couple, and Jack Klugman was very kind to me and my family for the week he was in town. Used to go to the Roxy Theatre downtown, the former Carnegie library, and loved the downtown car dealerships, even if I was too young to buy anything. Good memories. Atlanta changed for the worse after the Olympics, it was a bad move, real shame, but that’s how it goes.


  3. Thanks for the pics, moved to Atlanta in 1943 when I was 9 years old. live in West Palm Beach now, lived on Spring St. half block from varsity, one of my first jobs was usher at the Fox. You asked in one of the Varsity pics what was between the Varsity and Ga. Tech , where the interstate is now, one thing was the Ga Tech soft ball practice field. it was in back of my house on Spring St.


  4. A very pleasant nostalgic tour. Thank you. Per chance do you know what department store was on Peachtree around 10th Street in the 1960s?


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