Atlanta church, bar, cemetery joining national historic registry
By Maggie Lee
Atlanta’s getting a little more historic, with national recognition for the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, Manuel’s Tavern and Westview Cemetery.
The first two officially joined the National Register of Historic Places last week, and Westview’s application isn’t far behind.
Nominations depend on the public, and anybody who thinks they have a historic resource can research it and submit an application, explained Stephanie Cherry-Farmer, who manages the national register program for the state of Georgia.
There are rules — like a site’s significance has to include a time at least 50 years in the past. And researchers have to come up with a lot of documentation. But that’s the point.
National registry status doesn’t protect a building. Instead, it’s a vault.
The registry is “a framework for getting together that information, and researching properties and telling those stories that you might not otherwise ever know,” Cherry-Farmer said.
And what people want to preserve is changing, said Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, who’s been working in preservation for decades. It’s not just the Monticellos or the Washington Monuments of the world that are seen as right for listing.
“We’ve gotten where we were understand that ordinary buildings that contribute to the character of the country also deserve a place on the National Register,” McDonald said.
First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta
Back in 1919, when 16th Street was still a leafy distance from Downtown and Ansley Park was new, builders finished the brown sandstone home of the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.
Peachtree Street was the third home for a congregation that began Downtown in a shared building in 1848.
The now-century-old sanctuary evokes a time eight hundred years before that, when architects first created the “Gothic” mix of stone, pointed arches and starkly vertical columns, buttresses and towers that all lead the eye toward heaven.
First Presbyterian has all three of those architectural elements. That makes it a good example of early 20th century Gothic Revival church architecture in the south, said church member Moncure Crowder, who led the church’s work to apply for the national registry.
Stained glass is a jewel at First Presbyterian as much as it is in the churches of Gothic Europe. But with the innovation of an American artist.
The studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany created six of the twelve biggest windows in the church. It’s because of the way Tiffany layered and painted glass that his windows capture subtle shades, even down to realistic-looking flesh.
The church commissioned the windows as they could afford them in their first decades in Ansley Park. Jesus’ Resurrection came first, followed somewhat out of order with the installations of windows like the Abrahamic Covenant and the birth of Jesus.
Church tours are on hold until at least August while the church is closed due to Covid-19. After that, for tour opportunities, check the church’s website or call 404-892-8461.
“I’m dying to get back to the church,” Crowder said. “I love to give tours of the historical areas of our church and especially to talk about our beautiful Tiffany windows.”
The walls and booths and people at Manuel’s Tavern tell why a Virginia Highlands bar is on a national historic registry. Police patches and pins collected over decades. The martial arts students who have become grey-haired teachers in the years they’ve been drinking after class. The woman who shows off her baby on his first visit. The memorial plaques for regulars who have gone to their reward. And all those campaign posters, photos of Democrats and the picture of JFK in a place of honor above the bar.
If Democratic presidents come to town, this is the bar they visit. Heck, it’s where then-governor Jimmy Carter announced he would run for the White House.
Manuel’s history starts with the man who opened it and continues with everyone who’s made it their watering hole of choice. Plenty of politicians, reporters, theater folks, students, professors, neighbors, and others have favored it since Georgia was entirely Democrat-run and DeKalb County was dry.
That is to say, since 1956, when Manuel Maloof started a bar in Fulton County, conveniently close to DeKalb.
As his bar grew, so did his political resume. In 1974 he was elected to the DeKalb County Commission and later became the county CEO.
“There are so few things that last that long anymore, and yet this place has made it into the next generation, the next time frame, the next era,” said Walter Brown, who at Green Street Properties is one of the team who documented Manuel’s ahead of its 2016 renovation. With so many changes around Manuel’s, he said, it’s still going on and it’s still loved.
Over six decades it’s become iconic, said Steve Selig, CEO of Selig Enterprises, the company that now owns the site. “It is recognized as a place that politicians and celebrities make appearances but it is also a welcoming place for all members of the community.”
The names carved in stone at Westview Cemetery are a directory of the great and good of Metro Atlanta since the Civil War: Candler, Woodruff, Haverty, High, Hartsfield, Hollowell and Lowery. Just to give some of the most familiar names of the business people, philanthropists and civil rights leaders buried at the roughly 600-acre southwest Atlanta cemetery.
They share the Westview story with that of more everyday folks. Like say, the Irish horse-trader tribes: families who roamed the South doing business most of the year. But they’d have their funerals for the whole year at the cemetery on one day, said Westview President Charles Bowen, the the third-generation owner of the nonprofit cemetery.
Folks buried there share a resting place that’s a record of art, architecture and landscape design trends since 1884. The graves range from modest to massive in the gentle rolling landscape, while the abbey with its chapel and the mausoleum tend toward the serenely monumental. It’s enough history and art to literally fill a book.
One of the driving forces for getting on the registry, Bowen said, is to help save the gatehouse. It’s one of the oldest structures in Atlanta and it’s nearly on the BeltLine — so the cemetery does have a potential front door to curious passers-by. But the gatehouse is now boarded-up and mothballed, lacking lights and a bathroom. Even so, it’s a part of the Atlanta Preservation Center’s annual Phoenix Flies festival and tours, and Bowen said the cemetery is working with the center on preservation.
But on the morning he spoke to SaportaReport, Bowen had a funeral scheduled later on, and more the next day. It is still very much a working cemetery.
“Westview has a very rich history and culture and to make it available to the public, we’ve got to do that in a very respectful manner,” Bowen said. “And we want to do that.”