Atlanta’s Buttermilk Bottoms: Area razed for Civic Center could be renewed as Hollywood-style studio

By David Pendered

One of the latest proposals to renew a current cornerstone of Buttermilk Bottoms – a fabled, now-demolished neighborhood of hardscrabble African Americans on the edge of downtown Atlanta – is to go Hollywood.

William B. Hartsfield at Buttermilk Bottoms, 1959

In 1959, Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield (right) takes a walking tour of Buttermilk Bottoms. Credit: Grey Villet, Life magazine, via: atlantatimemachine.com/downtown/buttermilk_life_02.htm

The Atlanta Civic Center site could be redeveloped “all together to rebrand the facility as a full-service production facility and catalyze neighborhood revitalization,” according to a statement from Mayor Kasim Reed’s office.

In 2004, the previous proposal to revitalize the Civic Center was to build a live-work-play community around it. That concept now seems as long-ago as Buttermilk Bottoms, the blighted neighborhood that was demolished, in part, to make way for the Boisfeuillet Jones Civic Center in the name of urban renewal.

The three proposals to renew the Civic Center complex were delivered by the same consultants who are reviewing Atlanta’s major urban renewal program – tax allocation districts.

HR&A is working for Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, to review the TAD program.

For the Civic Center study, HR&A was hired in January by Central Atlanta Progress to consider a three-part plan for the city-owned Civic Center, according CAP’s website. The results were to be presented within 90 days.

Buttermilk Bottoms, Boyd Lewis

Buttermilk Bottoms in 1971, with the since-demolished C&S bank tower. Credit: Boyd Lewis via atlantaphotos.com/product_info.php?pName=buttermilk-bottoms-neighborhood&=

HR&A’s recommendations, which Reed’s office released Dec. 6, include these three points:

  • “Maintain status quo—which would require an operational subsidy from the city;
  • “Expand the studio space for movie and television productions and consider alternatives for the theater;
  • “Re-develop the site all together to rebrand the facility as a full-service production facility and catalyze neighborhood revitalization.”

The proposal to retrofit the facility for the film industry was highlighted by Duriya Farooqui, Atlanta’s chief operating officer, in the statement from the mayor’s office:

“The Civic Center may be well positioned, with the right business strategy to strengthen Atlanta’s position in the global entertainment marketplace,” Farooqui said.

Meanwhile, the city-backed EUE/Screen Gems development at the Lakewood Fairgrounds is eliciting some negative comments from the Atlanta City Council.

EUE/Screen Gems does not appear to be hiring Atlanta residents, according to Councilmember Joyce Sheperd. The company in October received $496,500 from Invest Atlanta, based in part on the promise to create jobs and utilize small businesses.

“When you go by Screen Gems now, you’ll see a lot of folks working. But those folks don’t live near here,” Sheperd said last week at a council committee work session on TADs.

“Screen Gems is great in creating revenue, but for this community – when will it have an impact for this community?” Sheperd said.

Brian McGowan, Invest Atlanta’s president/CEO, responded that Invest Atlanta has applied for a grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission to find ways to bolster the area around the Lakewood Fairgrounds.

Buttermilk Bottoms is long past being bolstered.

The community had some 3,000 homes in the 1960s, according to a book by retired Georgia Tech professor Larry Keating – “Atlanta: Race, Class, and Urban Expansion.”

Many original residents of “the Bottoms” were African Americans who worked in the fine homes owned by whites along Peachtree Street and Boulevard Avenue. As those homes disappeared, Buttermilk Bottoms became a community of low income African Americans who rented their homes, according to a section on the Civic Center in Keating’s book.

Recollections of former residents periodically turn up in stories, including this one from 2006 in “Front Illustrated Newspaper.”

 

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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