the histories of our streets

Georgia State University students map Atlanta's past

Author: Kyla Nguyen

Underground Atlanta’s History

The Underground sign in Atlanta, GA from the AJC
The Underground sign in Atlanta, GA from the AJC1
Overview of the Underground in Atlanta, GA from the AJC
Overview of the Underground in Atlanta, GA from the AJC2

Atlanta historically served as a connection for railroads and since then has economically boomed. In 1835, the state of Georgia was determined to build a railway to the Northwest, from the Tennessee line to the southwestern bank of the Chattahoochee River, and through Athens, Madison, Milledgeville, Forsyth, and Columbus.3 Eventually, Atlanta became the center for the South. With the consistent growth in population, Atlanta has rapidly developed and evolve from the Civil War to the 1996 Olympics, the existence of the Underground became a result of this.4 The shopping and entertainment district in the heart of downtown Atlanta, also known as “the city beneath the city”, holds rich history and culture. Today it stretches across 50 Upper Alabama St SW which was historically constructed along the zero-mile post sometime during the 1920s.

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Highway Interchange Southeast Section

Southeast the heart of Georgia, stands an abandoned building that was once a grand hotel, now iron fencing surrounds it indicating the restricted area. A ‘For Sale’ sign sits in front waiting for a buyer that may never come, evoking a sense of loss and history that led to its current state. Observations on the Google Maps Street View photos reveals the hotel at one point was a Holiday Inn, but now remains as an empty shell in the bustling cityscape of Atlanta. It also appears that hotel is not the only infrastructure on this lot, but attached to it is a storage facility or a covered parking lot of some sort.

Atlanta, 1895. AFPL_M0039a, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library Digital Collection, Georgia State University. https://digitalcollections.library.gsu.edu/digital/collection/afpl/id/25/rec/4

From what I could find, in 1895 to 1911, and probably longer, the lot which the hotel lies on was Southwest of the Gulch, the elevated viaduct area which served as Atlanta’s original commercial hub.1 North of the Gulch was where the city’s original residential growth took place.2 Today, it is directly located Southeast of the highway interchange. During this time, the lot housed less then 20 dwellings, a church, and a wood yard. In 1895, north of this lot lied Clarke Street, south lied Fulton Street, west lied Windsor Street, and east lied Cooper Street. Just in 16 years, 1911, the streets to the west and east changed, respectively to Capitol Avenue and Fraser Street. Now, north of the lot lies the entrance to I-20 E, south lies Fulton Street SE, west lies Capitol Avenue SE, and east lies Fraser Street SE. The streets and avenue surrounding the lot are bustling with cars every day, while the quieter, less heavy, street on east provides parking for local visitors and residents of the area.

Yellow & D= Dwelling, Pink= Brick building with brick or metal cornice.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia. Sanborn Map Company,; Vol.4, 1911. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn01378_009/.

During the 1950s, the time of urban renewal, this lot was at the cusp of the Rawson Street. By 1960, the third renewal area to start its project and was granted $709,300 which was based on the progress in land acquisition within the Rawson-Washington Street project area.3 Something interesting to note during the period of urban renewal, was the differences in perspectives which I found to be the similar case to the issues and opinions of today. Rather than seeing the issues of urban renewal projects in the past, we are experiencing the adverse effects of gentrification. An article from 1965, discussed the perspectives on whether urban renewal is good or bad. The article stated the positive of clearing bad slums, but also addressed the negatives, one was that the Atlanta Housing Authority was responsible for relocating people displaces by urban renewal but figures showed that 4,166 families and individuals were displaced, while 3,111 were relocated to “some form of standard housing.”4 One opinion found the Rawson-Washington renewal to function as “cleaning out acres of land and letting them lie there,” another similar idea was that most slum areas in Atlanta were essentially waiting to be cleared of housing but lacked the solution to displacement.5 In the end the main perspective is that there are not far enough decent affordable places “to raise a child or live a life.”6

  1. https://www.wabe.org/gulch-past/ ↩︎
  2. https://www.wabe.org/gulch-past/ ↩︎
  3. $709,300 Granted To Rawson Project, The Atlanta Constitution (1946-1984); Nov 23, 1960; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Atlanta Constitution pg. 10. ↩︎
  4. Is Renewal Good or Bad? The Argument Goes On. Simmons, Ted;REMER TYSON The Atlanta Constitution (1946-1984); Jul 29, 1965; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Atlanta Constitution pg. 1 ↩︎
  5. Is Renewal Good or Bad? The Argument Goes On. Simmons, Ted;REMER TYSON The Atlanta Constitution (1946-1984); Jul 29, 1965; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Atlanta Constitution pg. 1 ↩︎
  6. Is Renewal Good or Bad? The Argument Goes On. Simmons, Ted;REMER TYSON The Atlanta Constitution (1946-1984); Jul 29, 1965; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Atlanta Constitution pg. 1 ↩︎

Walkway Arch

This arch doesn’t have an exact address, but it is located through the narrow path that connects Peachtree St. NW. Woodruff Park stands east of it, Flatiron City building directly north, and a Moe’s Southwest Grill lies directly south. GSU students often pass this structure on the way to Aderhold Building. I glimpsed on one bottom side of the arch as I passed by and read Chick-Fil-A twice and small print which look like what would be list of names. I noticed this structure because of the colorful flowers attached, which looks like it has been on there since recently because the latest up-to-date street view was in September 2023.

Selfie at the arch with flowers
Slightly blurry selfie walking pass the arch.

I think the flowers on the arch are a cute touch. Most places in downtown are gray, bland, and boring. In my opinion, there should be more colors in the downtown landscape, the concrete gray can be so depressing. The pop of color and nature brings a little life as go on about our day. I do very much appreciate the little details in things like this that is a vibrant contrast to the concrete jungles in the downtown landscape.

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