City of Atlanta moves to protect three historic buildings

By Maria Saporta

The City of Atlanta is designating three historic buildings to be protected from demolition, according to Tim Keane, the city’s planning commissioner.

Keane made the announcement Thursday evening at the Atlanta Urban Design Commission’s  40th annual Awards of Excellence.

141 Walton

The building at 141 Walton St. NW is one of the two buildings in Fairlie-Poplar that will be protected by the city’s move (Photo by Kyle Kessler)

Two of the three buildings are 141 Walton St. and 152 Nassau St. in the Fairlie-Poplar district, and the company interested in developing a Margaritaville restaurant and bar has wanted to demolish those two buildings – at least in part.

The developers have been partnering with the Skyview Ferris Wheel next door, and they have wanted to construct other rides next door as part of a vertical amusement park as part of a Margaritaville development.

“Both were constructed in 1920 and were part of Atlanta’s early film history,” according to Kyle Kessler, who has researched the origins of those buildings.

“Well-known film exchanges on Walton Street during this era (1920s to 1940s) included Fox, MGM, Pathé, United Artists, Universal, and Warner Brothers — all taking advantage of proximity to the nearby post office (now a federal courthouse), theaters, and rail connections,” Kessler added.

152 Nassau

The second building in the Fairlie-Poplar district at 152 Nassau St. that will be protected by the city’s move (Photo by Kyle Kessler)

The third building the city is protecting is Briarcliff Plaza shopping center, which includes the Plaza Theatre. It was Atlanta’s first strip-shopping center with off-street parking. It was designed by architect George Harwell Bond, and it opened in 1939.

The shopping center was recently purchased, and the city wanted to be sure the buildings would be protected.

City Councilmember Kwanza Hall worked with the community to make sure the city found a way to protect the shopping center in case it was threatened by a new development plan.

Keane said the new status will protect the buildings immediately.

“We put the protection in place so they cannot demolish those buildings,” Keane said. “It now goes to the Urban Design Commission to be designated as historic.”

If approved by the commission, developers would have to go before the body to get permission to change or demolish any part of the structures.

Plaza Theatre

The Plaza Theatre on Ponce de Leon has been a cultural icon in the city for nearly eight decades (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

The two downtown buildings are important because they sit in the area that connects Centennial Olympic Park and Woodruff Park.

“It is the northwest edge of Fairlie-Poplar,” Keane said. “Fairlie Poplar is a neighborhood where really good, historic fabric buildings are important. Every block is important, and we have to be extremely careful about the future of that portion of the city from Centennial Olympic Park to Peachtree Street.”

The moves signal a more pro-active attitude on the part of the city to save Atlanta’s historic buildings.

“We will be working on a new preservation strategy for the city so we are not reacting constantly to challenges and threats to our buildings,” Keane told the dozens of people attending the AUDC Awards of Excellence ceremony at the Georgia Freight Bureau.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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