Architectural groups urge GSU to save the Bell Building

By Maria Saporta

The campaign to save the Bell Building in the heart of downtown is gaining steam.

The Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Atlanta) and the Georgia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Georgia) sent a compelling letter to save the building to Brad Ferrer, an executive at CNN who holds influential positions at Georgia State University.

Bell Building

Bell Building proudly stands among its taller neighbors (Photos by Kelly Jordan)

GSU has disclosed plans to demolish the historic Bell Building and replace it with a surface parking lot. It has received a significant grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation to transform several buildings on that block – including the creation of a new multimedia center across from Woodruff Park.

“On behalf of the 2,100 members of our organization, we ask you to reconsider the GSU Foundation’s plans to demolish the Bell Building,” the letter stated. “AIA Atlanta and AIA Georgia are ready to stand with you and the GSU community in exploring options for the preservation of the Bell Building before the decision to demolish this structure is finalized.”

The letter was signed by Melody L. Harclerode, 2015 president of AIA Atlanta; and Gregory Walker, president of AIA Georgia. Ferrer currently serves as president of the Georgia State University Alumni Association; he also serves on the GSU Foundation and on the board of advisors for the GSU Robinson College of Business. Lastly, Ferrer holds a bachelors degree in business administration GSU.

According to the leaders of our local AIA chapters, the Bell Building holds great significance in the evolution of Atlanta.

Bell Building

Entrance of the historic Bell Building

“This historic structure from the Southern Bell Company holds the distinction as the oldest telephone-related building in the City of Atlanta with construction over two phases in 1907 and 1922,” the architects wrote. “The Bell Building epitomizes Atlanta as a longtime telecommunications leader in the South. Partially designed by Atlanta architect Thornton Marye, the building housed ‘machine-switching’ technology introducing the local residents to the one-time revolutionary sound of a dial tone. While cutting-edge technology has evolved over the decades, the Bell Building remains a timeless beauty showcasing rhythm, charm, and a contextual scale to nearby properties along Auburn Avenue.”

The architects also said they have admired GSU’s physical expansion into underutilized buidings, such as 1 Park Place and the former Atlanta Life Building as well as the thoughtful way it has addressed new construction.

“The AIA has long supported the reuse and revitalization of buildings with cultural significance in the city, such as the Flatiron Building and the Ellis Hotel,” the letter stated. “We believe that the Bell Building meets those criteria.”

Bell Building

Another view of the Bell Building

The AIA Chapters also offered their expertise and suggested holding a one-day charette to discuss and explore possible ideas to save the building.

“We are prepared to handle the planning of this event,” the letter stated. “A sustainable approach that conserves the Bell Building, while accomplishing the overall objectives of the University, will give a new generation of GSU students, faculty, and administration the opportunity to use and enjoy this historic landmark.”

Copies of the letter were sent to GSU President Mark Becker and Hank Hukaby, chancellor of Georgia’s Board of Regents.

The letter to Brad Ferrer was sent earlier this week.

“We have not heard back from Mr. Ferrer yet, and we will follow up with him next week if necessary,” said David Southerland, executive director of AIA Georgia. “But we sincerely hope that the architecture community is given the opportunity to assist GSU in this matter and find a solution that works better for everyone than simply demolishing a classic building.”

The AIA letter follows a Change.org campaign that is underway to “Save the Bell Building.” The online petition had 2,025 signatures as of Thursday night as well as more than 100 comments – all asking the powers that be to Save the Bell.

Bell Building

Image from the Change.org website that shows how the Bell Building could look if restored (Special: Save the Bell Building on Change.org)

“Old structures like this add authenticity to city streets — something that has been lost in much of Downtown Atlanta due to rampant demolition over the years,” the petition read. “We can’t afford to lose anymore.”

The petition goes on to state that “there is potential here for an adaptive reuse project that would compliment other projects nearby such as the Atlanta Daily World building (once slated for demolition, now apartments and shops), the Flatiron Building (currently undergoing renovation), the Candler Building (set to become either hotel or residences), and the Olympia Building (undergoing a major restoration project, to become a Walgreens).”

In closing, the petition recognized that there appears to be a pro-preservation movement underway.

“The current trend of giving new life to Downtown Atlanta’s precious remaining old buildings– and of cherishing the authenticity they provide to the city’s historic center – should be continued with the Bell Building. Let GSU know that we want this one saved, not destroyed!”

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.

8 replies
  1. Nina Gentry says:

    My great grandfather, William T. Gentry, was president of Southern Bell from 1909-1919 and is credited with having built the telephone system in our City. His home on East Lake Drive was designated as a landmark building several years ago by the City of Atlanta. GSU must not destroy the Bell Building.  Our City, known as the City to Busy to Hate has become the City to Busy to Save Our History.  We learn and grow from history and must save our beautiful structures for the generations to come. Shame on GSU for even considering demolishing the Bell Building.  Nina E. GentryReport

    Reply
  2. Chad Carlson says:

    Since GSU has a well regarded masters program in historic preservation, how great would it be to see them housed in this building? It could be a beacon for preservation in the city and the state. We need to look at this in terms of the environmental cost as well–filling up yet another landfill and allowing more people to drive cars into campus.Report

    Reply
  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    Notice that none of the architects offer to work pro bono to “explore options for the preservation” of the building. That’s commitment for you.Report

    Reply

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