I grew up in the Morningside-Lenox Park neighborhood, here in Atlanta. I walked home from Inman and Grady, nearly every day of the combined seven years I attended the schools, through the heart of Virginia Highlands. When I started my undergrad work at Georgia State, my group of friends stayed fairly local as well, with those who weren’t from Atlanta originally slowly becoming settled in the city in various neighborhoods.
A constant in all of this, either as landmark I recognized while driving, a meeting place for food, or simply hangout after a late night on campus, was Manuel’s Tavern. Be it a friend’s improve group holding an event there, or just ending up there because it was central to nearly everyone in a group, the bar was a staple of my social life until I graduated in 2004 and moved to the hinterlands of Buford, Ga (or so it felt to me). But, even then, as I did my Masters and now PhD at GSU, Manuel’s held a cozy, wood paneled place in my heart.
Fear and panic gripped my heart when I heard the news that the land surrounding the Tavern and the Tavern itself were being bought out by a developer to “renovate” and “upscale” the area along North Avenue. I had already seen what was being done to the area on Piedmont at Rock Springs and Cheshire Bridge Rd., and felt a small bit of what had made the area special was being lost to a construction plan that looked entirely out of place. I felt upset, and nearly violated. That is, until I heard that the Tavern would be preserved, despite renovations to the 108 year old building, and that the owner would retain ownership of the business, despite the land being sold out from under them.
Little did I know, I would end up as part of the preservation process.
A joint team from Georgia State University and Emory University are currently in the process of producing GigaPan images, along with Faro laser scans, of the entire interior, in order to document the entire building and the contents. And I’ve volunteered to help document and catalogue every item visible on the walls of Manuel’s Tavern.
What have I gotten myself into?
Quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had as a material culture historian, that’s what!
The current goal is to produce a sample grid and object record for one wall of the Tavern. Currently, I’ve chosen to work on the street side (east) of the main dining room, which includes three walls, part of which is pictured above. In addition to the images taken by the team, I’ve taken my own photographs to use for documentation, and I’ve begun conducting interviews with the owner and various staff members at the Tavern.
In future posts, I hope to share with you some highlights of this process, including objects of interest, historical value, or even just an image with a funny story attached to it. For now, let me include a favorite story that cropped up in my first interview.
The painting that is the focus of this photograph was made by an artist who used to be a patron of the Tavern. When it was first displayed, a rumor started that it was a portrait, or even self portrait, of a female member of staff who was very shy. Of course, this is completely untrue, but the legend was very persistent. In fact, I remember hearing this story when I was a frequent visitor to Manuel’s.
The real story, that it was simply a gift to the Tavern, and the legend that grew up around the painting, are both a part of the history of the object, and the context of the object. While some might be tempted to only document the artist, the materials of the painting, and the “real” history, with a context as rich in story and social lore as the Tavern, the legend is, to me, just as important to understand and document.
I look forward to helping with this project, and to giving more highlights like this one in the future!