Martin Luther King Jr.’s home and its street to receive historic designation from Atlanta

By David Pendered

The street where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. moved his family in 1965 is slated to become Atlanta’s newest historic district.

The Sunset Avenue Historic District would protect all houses on the street, including the King home, from developments and alterations that are not in keeping with the community’s historic nature. Other dwellings were home to  civil rights leaders and some of the city’s earliest European settlers.

The King home remains in the name of Coretta S. King, according to Fulton County tax records. Photo: David Pendered

The King home remains in the name of Coretta S. King, according to Fulton County tax records. Photo: David Pendered

“This will bolster tourism traffic and trade in the area, and it will memorialize the giants who put their life on the line, and their families who sacrificed so much,” said Atlanta Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr.

The Sunset Avenue designation is occurring amidst a flurry of proposals to commemorate persons who have played significant roles in the city’s development.

Two civil rights leaders are to be honored by having their names affixed on various sites. Plans remain in the works to honor renown Atlanta architect John Portman.

The Atlanta City Council intends to rename the Oakland City Park to the “Rev. James Orange Park at Oakland City.” Another proposal calls for Xerona Clayton to have memorials including a portion of Baker Street to be named in her honor, and a yet-to-be-determined tribute to her in Hardy Ivy Park, which is located at the intersection of Peachtree and Baker streets.

The home of Edward Wachendorff, a German immigrant who moved to Atlanta and helped open a nursery and seed store in 1876, still stands. Photo: Jean P. Hollowell

The home of Edward Wachendorff, a German immigrant who moved to Atlanta and helped open a nursery and seed store in 1876, still stands. Photo: Jean P. Hollowell

On Monday, the Atlanta City Council is slated to approve a proposal that will defray the city’s cost of creating the Sunset Avenue Historic District. Those costs include notifying property owners and filing papers in Fulton County Superior Court.

Young and Councilman Michael Julian Bond have offered to split the $1,200 cost. They will shift money from their council accounts to the city’s planning department. The item is slated for approval without discussion.

Young said Sunset Avenue was home to civil rights leaders including former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson; Julian Bond, a 20-year member of the Georgia Legislature and chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1998 to 2010; and one of the city’s first health centers – the Neighborhood Union Health Center.

Sunset Avenue – located a half-mile west of the Georgia Dome off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive – also was the home of Edward Wachendorff, a German immigrant who moved to Atlanta and helped open a nursery and seed store in 1876, according to a history of the area published at www.vinecity.net.

“So many sacrificed their quality of life so all humanity can live in a spirit of equilibrium, harmony and peace,” Young said. “As evidenced recently in Egypt – where you saw after 30 years of power and politics, a regime simply rolled over to nonviolent struggle in a very Gandhi-like, King-like way.”

The proposed Sunset Avenue Historic District already has been approved by the city’s Urban Design Commission. The commission voted Feb. 9 for the proposal, which was submitted by Doug Young, the commission’s executive director.

Atlanta’s program of historic districts aims to protect the nature of significant communities. Once designated, property owners in historic districts who want to make substantial changes to structures must get approval from the board that oversees the Urban Design Commission.

“There’s a lot to be learned here that’s relevant today,” Young said.

The Neighborhood Union Health Center is one of the first health centers in Atlanta, according to Atlanta Councilman Ivory Young. Photo: David Pendered

The Neighborhood Union Health Center is one of the first health centers in Atlanta, according to Atlanta Councilman Ivory Young. Photo: David Pendered

 

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3 comments
Henry Norman
Henry Norman

I have no real problem with the historic designation for Sunset, but it's becoming apparent in this town that there is a mindset that no one, other than those associated with the civil rights movement, accomplished anything. Old names and honors are most casually laid aside for "today's heroes." I hasten to add that "today's heroes" will one day be "yesterday's heroes." Listening anyone?

I cannot understand why landmarks have to constantly be renamed and why new tributes for civil rights leaders cannot be created in a way that adds threads to Atlanta's tapestry of history instead of pulling them out. Actually, I know why... it is Atlanta's early history and its pioneers that they find distasteful and wish to displace. The renaming tributes would effectively reduce "Baker" and "Hardy Ivy" to mere unimportant footnotes, yet we know it won't work the other way around, don't we? Witness only the fit that the NAACP pitched over the "Burning of Atlanta" marker erected in the midst of downtown's so-called "civil rights district."

Remember also that totalitarian nations were/are pretty good about renaming and laying aside their history also...

Makeda Johnson
Makeda Johnson

I am proud of the residents and homeowners whom works for years to have Sunset Avenue designated as an Historic district, this was a communtiy based request and as a homeowner and resident . I thank City council for their support of our collective desire.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

The most interesting part of this article is whose opinion and interest is not mentioned - the property owners in this mishmash neighborhood. Their right to use their property as they see fit will be restricted by this legislation. As the author writes, "The Sunset Avenue Historic District would protect all houses on the street, including the King home, from developments and alterations that are not in keeping with the community’s historic nature." Of course, the City in its wisdom will decide what is in keeping with the community's historic nature. I wonder whether any or all of the property owners were consulted.

If I owned property there I would have my lawyer on point.

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