Underground Atlanta, home to the city’s annual Peach Drop celebration, is nearly deserted on a Saturday evening, and there’s no peach in sight. On this particular occasion, a piano sits under the entrance arch, which advertises shops, restaurants, and entertainment, and a man sits at it, playing a pleasant tune. The site has suffered from a decrease in business over the past few years, and while its stone buildings and cobblestone streets still hold a certain charm, the ambiance is disrupted by a sense of abandonment.
Constructed in order to alleviate early but still ever-present
traffic problems in the city, Underground Atlanta is the result of a series of concrete viaducts that raised the street level but ultimately fell into disuse during the 1920s. This is a pattern that this site knows all too well. After being revitalized once in the 1960s and again in the late 1980s following various economic and social downturns, the relocation of the World of Coca Cola nearly a decade ago meant dwindling business for Underground yet again.
The majority of the underground mall complex stands empty and is hot and dim. Certain doors are locked, barring access to parts of the facility, and numerous stairwells now lead only to empty stores. Pop music echoes through Kenny’s Alley, an outdoor annex of the mall and home to what remains of a number of popular restaurants and clubs.
Despite the air of disuse due to its lack of patronage, the remains of the original “City Beneath the Streets” are still present and intriguing. There’s something fascinating about the historical juxtaposition that can be found at this site. The original brick and stone facade of an old hotel that now contains one of the only shops that still seems to be going strong, a shoe store, stands beside a store that boasts a “for lease” sign.
A few buildings have maintained their original fronts, like the Southern Candy Co. and the Atlanta Dollar, which used to be a hotel, giving the place a historic feel. There are also several examples of old metal work, which adorned many of the buildings of the era. This historic value of Underground Atlanta is unmatched by other areas of the city. The area reflects each of its many revivals and is a fantastic example of how the city has changed over time and has still managed to preserve parts of the past.
All of that being said, in my opinion, the Underground mall is best described as a little creepy. The place is so empty that it almost feels as if someone is following you at a distance. As I mentioned before, it is also relatively dark since it’s underground. This only added to the uneasiness I felt upon entering, and though it wasn’t serious enough to drive me away, it discouraged me from wanting to come back. At one point, a woman at a jewelry kiosk gestured with her finger for me to come over to her. Against my better judgment, perhaps, I did, and she asked, “Would you like me to make you some fine beaded jewelry?” Being the broke college student I am, I declined and walked away, a little amused and in all honesty, slightly shaken. This is an area that should be celebrated, a rare place where the past mingles with the present. Unfortunately, the present is giving way to the past, and it’s all being forgotten. And scaring people away in the process. In this case, however, the past provides a glimmer of hope. If the current trend continues, once Underground Atlanta dies, it will be revived once again. That’s all we can hope for.