the histories of our streets

Georgia State University students map Atlanta's past

Category: Atlanta Stories (page 1 of 2)

The Birth of Pride in Atlanta: 20th Century Origins of Gay Rights in Midtown and Downtown

Growing up in repressive rural Georgia hours north of Atlanta, I dreamt of going to Pride in Piedmont Park – a chance to experience freedom, joy, hope, and love in the expression of the queer identity. Now at college and in my third year in the city, I am a few months out from attending my third Atlanta Pride. It has been everything I hoped: the colors, smiles, excitement, compliments, free mom hugs, drag queens swinging from poles on moving floats, seeing old friends, making new connections, and overwhelming emotion at the scale of LGBTQIA+ representation. Pride at Piedmont Park and the larger community provides the most electrifying, knowing, and supportive environment where one can see those both alike and different. Every year the smaller-than-you’d-think community gathers bumping into exes and impending self-realization yet are happy in the light air of the large gathering of a normally stigmatized and disjointed community. Experiencing this I found myself curious as to how such a setting, and Atlanta Pride, were born – what people, places, and ideals coalesced to create the resonant gay culture that midtown has become known for? 

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Development of the Dome

Some people may look at the space now and see the Mercedes Benz, and fondly remember the Georgia dome.  However , many individuals don’t know what used to lie in its place and how the dome’s costly development and how it affected the lives of those around it.

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Buttermilk Bottom

Urban Renewal and Development of the Atlanta Civic Center

‘Buttermilk Bottom’ is a colloquial name given to the Atlanta neighborhood that once existed where the now defunct Atlanta Civic Center was built. The neighborhood was low income, primarily black, and had been neglected in infrastructure such as paved roads and modern sewage systems. Buttermilk bottoms suffered from dilapidated housing conditions and poor drainage (Holliman 2009, 372). The name ‘Buttermilk Bottom’ referred to the smell of the area. It is suggested the area had smelled because of open sewage. 

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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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Laboring in the Gate City: The 1964 Scripto Strike and its Precedents

Early Days

Not knowing what to do with the bankrupt National Pencil Company, owner Sigmund Montag sold his company to his son-in-law Monie Ferst in 1919. In 1931, Mr. Ferst would move his company, now renamed to Scripto, to a new location on Houston Street in Sweet Auburn that by the 1940s had an employee base of nearly all working-class Black women. Indeed, Scripto counted itself as one of the earliest Atlanta companies to hire Black employees for work on the assembly line.1

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Serving the Community: The Shopping Center that became Plaza Fiesta

Plaza Fiesta main entrance facing Clairmont Rd1

As a first-generation Mexican-American, Plaza Fiesta is a place with fond memories. The plaza was one of the rare places where I felt that I fit in, away from the stares of others. I grew up in a majority-white community in Cherokee County, Woodstock. So, getting to experience places like Plaza Fiesta occasionally was very refreshing for me and my family. Here, we didn’t have to worry about our English proficiency. Instead, we didn’t need English at all. My father got to ask all his silly questions without me having to translate them, and my mother got to feel a little less homesick. Granted, this is only one of many small spaces along Buford Highway that give Mexican families a sense of familiarity. However, Plaza Fiesta is different because it is the only market designed for Hispanic communities to spend their day like they would in their countries.

Looking at this lot’s history, we can see the evolution of Buford Highway and its demographic change. We will also see that the lot has always been geared towards the community in the area. This lot, along with many other spaces in the corridor, shows the adaptability and openness to new business regardless of race.

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The Georgia State Capitol

Western Facade of the Capital Blueprints1

If you were to think of the Georgia State Capitol, the image that would come to your mind would likely be the imposing building sitting just south of the Georgia State University MARTA station. Standing atop Capitol Square Block, the structure gated off from the outside. Several statues adorn the outside along with maintained lawns to give an almost park like appearance. The actual structure itself is four stories tall with four asystematical facades that adorn its outside. Its main entrance, the west main entrance, is the grandest of these facades. Carved into the stone above the west entrance in a relief carving are four figures and the seal of Georgia. On the right of the seal is a man and a woman. The man represents the armed forces with a helmet and sword and the woman represents peace with her horn of plenty. On the left side, there is another man and woman. The woman holds mercury and an anchor to symbolize trade while the man holds a hammer to symbolize industry. Yet, towering above the four figures is a fifth. Standing atop the capitol building at its highest point, standing on a dome of gold, is a robed women holding a sword and a torch representing the idea of liberty.

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Convergence of History: Exploring the Significance of 330 Auburn Ave NE

A photo of Prince Hall Masonic Lodge on Auburn Avenue.
1928 Atlas map showing the lot being vacant, in the lower right corner.
1928 Atlas map showing the lot being vacant, in the lower right corner.
1911 Sanborn map showing 330 Auburn Ave.
1911 Sanborn map showing 330 Auburn Ave.

Right on Auburn Avenue and Hillard street stands the Prince Hall Masonic Temple, a building that is a token of the historical Sweet Auburn passage. Before its pivotal role in history, the lot which now hosts the building, was vacant for a period of time, then a duplex was built on the vacant land, as indicated by historical maps.

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How the Expansion of Higher Education Transformed the Fairlie Poplar District

The Fairlie Poplar District is a walkable, pedestrian-oriented business center located in the middle of Downtown Atlanta, with a prevalence in food, shopping, and historic buildings that are concentrated within the heart of Atlanta’s central commercial region. This district and its surrounding areas effectively capture the exciting, diverse, and energetic atmosphere of a bustling inner city, featuring a variety of amenities that authentically serve the Atlanta population. Over the past century, the district as a whole has become a vibrant gathering location for Atlanta residents, with numerous pedestrian friendly qualities that create an inviting space to commence social interaction and establish a greater sense of community in this part of Downtown. While the district has undergone numerous structural changes in recent decades, the area has still managed to remain fairly preserved in terms of vibrance and walkability. Fairlie Poplar’s liveliness is especially apparent in comparison with many other historic regions in Atlanta, which have either been demolished completely or altered to accommodate a car dependent lifestyle. Streets that were once distinguished with unique character and architectural beauty over a century ago have been transformed by contemporary urban design, leaving behind a gray and institutional landscape that has been drained of its energy and culture.

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The Full Story of The Temple Bombing

The Temple, or as it was also known, The Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, was originally located at the corner of Richardson and Pryor. 1 It wasn’t until 1931 that the congregation moved further away from downtown and transferred to the intersection of Peachtree and Spring Street where it still stands today.2

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John Portman’s Development of Peachtree Center

John Portman

John Portman was born on December 4, 1924, in South Carolina. Portman was raised in Atlanta and served during World War II. He attended Georgia Tech where he would study and earn his degree in architecture in 1950. He opened his architectural firm in 1953 and named it John Portman and Associates. This company would transform his company into a real-estate company, and eventually become involved in a home decor wholesaler. Not only would his work be in the city of Atlanta, but also in Chicago, Illinois; California, San Francisco; and Detroit, Michigan. Portman would become an important architect and restate developer figure in Atlanta’s development of Peachtree Center and reviving the decaying city. 1

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The Trolley Barn

Photograph of the Trolley Barn from Edgewood Avenue
Photograph of the Trolley Barn from Edgewood Avenue1

If you travel down Edgewood Avenue, you’ll pass through historic parts of Atlanta that have a deep and rich history with the city of Atlanta, including through the retail district and into the historic Inman Park neighborhood. This rich history extends throughout Edgewood Avenue, however there is one building which tends to stand out near the east end of Edgewood Avenue, near the Inman Park/Reynoldstown MARTA station — the Trolley Barn.

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Martin Street, Baptists, and the Love of Pecans

In 2001, during my first attempt at college, I was contacted by a friend from high school who was transferring to Georgia State. He and two other friends were looking at houses near campus and wanted to know if I would like to be the fourth roommate. I asked him to send me the address so that I could go check the house out myself and see if it would make sense. The address he sent me was familiar, and at the time I was unable to figure out exactly why that particular combination of numbers and letters was so memorable. A quick google maps search later and I immediately knew the exact house they were looking at.

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The Winecoff Hotel Fire

Sketch of Winecoff Hotel.

The Winecoff Hotel, currently known as the Ellis Hotel, was burned down on the early morning of December 7, 1946. The fire started around 3:15 A.M. and claimed the lives of 119 occupants. 1The story of large building fires during the 1940s was not a unique one, but the Winecoff Hotel Fire created a wake up call for fire safety throughout the country. The absence of fire alarms and sprinkler systems in the Winecoff Hotel resulted in an update to building codes around the country. Eerie stories of abnormal activities at the current Ellis Hotel has been a catalyst for a local Atlanta bone-chilling chronicle. 

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Centennial Olympic Park and the 1996 Atlanta Games

Centennial Olympic Park fountains at night. Taken by Georgia State University

Centennial Olympic Park is the centerpiece of Downtown Atlanta, where tourists and locals alike can unwind in the grass, take a stroll through the various Olympic monuments and look at breathtaking views of Downtown’s skyline. As a kid growing up in Atlanta, I always loved the design and location of this park, nestled in the center of a bustling city. I remember always having a blast running through those Olympic rings. But before this urban centerpiece was even a park, there is an interesting history of what was there before.

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Hurt Park

Hurt Park is a two-acre park located at 25 Courtland St SE. Opening in 1940, the park transformed “an area of rambling, obsolete and run-down structures into a rolling stretch of green lawns.”1 Named after Joel Hurt, one of the most influential people in the city’s early history, the park is now co-owned by the City of Atlanta and Georgia State University after a recent renewal. But what was the history behind the land and the man it was named after?

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Bowen Homes

Bowen Homes was an Atlanta Public Housing development built in 1964. It was one of the last developments that was demolished in 2009.  What was once one of Atlanta’s largest housing developments is now 74 acres of vacant land with only the abandoned A.D. Williams Elementary school left standing. Plans for redevelopment have been announced but work has yet to begin.

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Revitalization of Little Five Points

Little Five Points, a retail district around the intersection of Moreland Ave and Euclid Ave, in between the Atlanta neighborhoods of Inman Park and Candler Park, is a place where people come to shop for eccentric clothes and unique items, where people come to sell their art and play music, or just to be in an environment with a diverse range of individuals, whatever it is for, Little Five Points is a staple of Atlanta. But what lays below the surface? The history of Little Five Points is one of White flight and White return, of the fight between corporate and family owned, and of the progress that can be made through community-based action.

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Georgia State Convocation Center

GSU shuttles line up outside Convocation Center to pick up students.
GSU shuttles picking students up from the Convocation Center1

In 2020 contractor Brassfield & Gorrie broke ground to build Georgia State University’s Convocation Center.2 This premier facility has already been incorporated into GSU’s operations, hosting athletics and graduation ceremonies, among many other events. Occupying an entire block across from GSU’s Blue Lot, its presence looms large in Summerhill. The center has yet to see a class from freshman convocation through commencement, and this newness raises a question: how did GSU acquire the land, and what was there before?

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Grady Memorial Hospital

One day, I grew curious after seeing the construction workers extending Grady’s complex building. I asked myself, “where Grady’s original building stands and how were the nurses and patients treated in the public institution?” Like any other institution, Grady started with one building. During the early and mid-20th century, the First Public Hospital in Georgia expanded. Grady mirrored the social structures in the south during Jim Crow segregation. Many people are not aware of the hidden story about the Training School of Nursing Program for Caucasian and Colored Nurses. In my report, I will discuss the origin and development of Grady Hospital, the Grady Hospital Nursing Training School, and the nursing training program’s history in the United States. I will also talk about the pioneers who pushed for equality. Unifying Grady Nursing Program created a promising future for the hospital. 

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The William Oliver Building: Atlanta’s Original Art-Deco Highrise

The William Oliver in 1930

Downtown Atlanta is certainly devoid of many of its original prominent buildings. Just a few, such as the comically endearing wedge-shaped Flatiron Building and the lavishly decorated Candler Building sit amongst modernist monuments to an era of Urban Renewal and post-war corporatism. One of these surviving buildings was also the city’s first entry into the Art Deco wave of the late ’20s and ’30s, the William Oliver building.

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The Battle of Atlanta

In a Time Long Ago…

A War Department map detailing the locations of major fighting around Atlanta in July of 1864, with Confederate earthworks in black and Federal Earthworks in red. Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

For many residents of Atlanta’s Eastside, US-23 (or Moreland Avenue) is the backbone of their community. It connects the vibrant cultural hubs of Little Five Points and East Atlanta Village to a myriad of classic Eastside neighborhoods such as Candler Park and East Atlanta. While this route may be a high-traffic residential road today, in 1864 it was little more than undeveloped farmland—unremarkable in every way except its role as the dividing line between Fulton and Dekalb counties. However, as Sherman’s Federal armies made their way towards Atlanta, this undistinguished strip of land would become the site of some of the fiercest fighting experienced by participants of the Atlanta Campaign in the American Civil War. While this clash of arms took place in an area that was, at the time, southeast of the city limits, the action which centered around Federal fortifications at Bald Hill came to be known both to its contemporaries and historians as the Battle of Atlanta. The Battle of Atlanta, though a fierce and bloody contest, would prove inconsequential to the fate of the city and today is a forgotten relic of Atlanta’s past, its historical markers serving as the only testaments to this tremendous folly of war.

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Spelman College

Spelman College is currently regarded as one of the most highly esteemed and respected colleges dedicated to the higher education of African American women. The school has a long history that has led to this achievement.

Gates of Spelman College

Spelman’s beginnings may surprise some due to its distinguishment as an HBCU. Originally named Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, Spelman College was founded in 1881 by Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles. Both were white women who hailed from Massachusetts and came to Atlanta with the hope of establishing a school for young black women. Backed by financial support from the Woman’s American Baptist Home Mission Society (WABHMS) and others, Giles and Packard opened a school in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church, an African American church in southwest Atlanta.

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Prohibition and Prejudice in Atlanta

A. Abelsky Saloon in Downtown Atlanta

Prohibition in Georgia has a long history; starting as early as the 1830s, temperance communities had become prevalent. Because of Atlanta’s explosive growth and development post-Civil War, saloons and other entertainment establishments were widespread throughout the city, particularly on Decatur Street. With an ever-increasing number of saloons, public drunkenness became commonplace, and the societal costs of drinking became more apparent. Saloons not only provided space for interracial mingling and intoxication, but they were also a symbol of the growing Black middle-class. These factors only incited tension among the races, further pushed to the brink by inflammatory publications that ultimately lead to a massacre of the Black community. The Riot of 1906 was the catalyst for Georgia’s statewide prohibition act, which sought to further disenfranchise minorities rather than address the societal issues at hand.

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