Auburn Avenue’s long-awaited history, cultural project moving forward

By David Pendered

A walk along Auburn Avenue can be described as inspirational, even spiritual. Soon the words educational and attractive may be added. A highlight of a pending beautification project is a huge mural and 10 big light boxes that are to tell the corridor’s history.

The Auburn Avenue History and Culture Project has been in the drawing books since at least 2013. Atlanta issued a request for bids on Aug. 28 to construct the project, which stretches from Peachtree Street to Old Wheat Street. A pre-bid conference is scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Bids are due Sept. 28.

auburn, parade

The era of fedoras and bow ties on Auburn Avenue is to be portrayed in a pending series of history markers and a mural to be installed along the corridor. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The story of Auburn Avenue is one of great achievement. In 1956, Fortune magazine described Auburn Avenue as, “the richest Negro street in the world.”

The mural showcases Auburn Avenue over a 40-year period. A gallery of black and white photos portrays a history that begins in 1918 and culminates in the 1950s, by which time the corridor was known as “Sweet Auburn.”

Beneath the images, seven blocks of text and photos detail slices of history. Here’s their order in the renderings:

  • World War 1, Parade, 1918;
  • Atlanta Life Building, 1932;
  • Butler Street and Houston Street, circa 1950;
  • Yates and Milton Drugstore, circa 1920s;
  • Big Bethel AME, circa 1922;
  • View down Auburn Avenue with gas station, 1950s;
  • Sweet Auburn, 1954.

The mural is to stretch 267 feet, 7 inches along the underpass. It is to reach as high as 21 feet, 11 inches. Images will be printed on an aluminum that’s to be high gloss white. A protective laminate is to be applied to the mural from the base to a height of 8 feet.

The light boxes are to be 12 feet long and 1 foot high. White letters on a dark background are to be 6 inches high. The renderings clearly state that the names on the light boxes will not duplicate the mural. Here’s their order in the renderings:

 

West East
John W. Dobbs Book Depository Prince Hall Masonic Temple
Atlanta Daily World Wheat Street Baptist Church
Rucker Building Ebenezer Baptist Church
The Royal Peacock Fire Station #6
Odd Fellows Building Cox Brothers Funeral Home
Herndon Building Auburn Branch Carnegie Library
Butler Street YMCA Haugabrooks Funeral Home
Atlanta Independent Newspaper WERD Radio Station
Top Hat Club Bronner Brothers Beauty Supply Company
Citizens Trust Bank Southern Christian Leadership Council

 

In addition to the mural and lightboxes, the project includes the installation of wayfinding signage, historic markers and decorative lights.

auburn, underpass, rendering

This preliminary rendering illustrates the appearance of the light boxes and mural to be installed in the Auburn Avenue underpass. The names on light boxes have been changed and the mural now is to include seven blocks that address specific highpoints of the corridor’s history. Credit: atlantadowntown.com

Atlanta will own the project. Construction costs are being provided by the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, an affiliate of Central Atlanta Progress, and the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Here’s how the ADID described the current appearance of the corridor in a 2013 statement:

  • “Existing historic markers and signs along Auburn Avenue are damaged, inconsistent and uncoordinated. They lack a cohesive neighborhood identity and character. The Auburn Avenue History and Cultural Information Transportation Enhancement (TE) project is being funded by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District and seeks to create a consistent character along the corridor.”

The existing historic markers are to be reviewed for the content of their message. Additional information will be added to new signs, as needed, to tell a more robust story. Existing signs that are damaged are to be replaced with additional content, as appropriate.

 

auburn, mural, hunger

Buildings along Auburn Avenue are marked with images that speak to the concerns of those who frequent the area. Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

auburn, mirror

Auburn Avenue is soon to undergo a face lift to improve the pedestrian experience. The project boundaries reach from Peachtree Street on the west to Old Wheat Street on the east. Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

auburn, fantasy

Images, both living and unworldly, share space on the fabled Auburn Avenue. Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

auburn, signage

Historic markers are to be 8 feet, 2 inches high and 28 1/2 inches wide. Credit: Atlanta

 

auburn, signage

Gateway markers are to narrate four themes: Civil rights; entrepreneurs and businesses; institutions; and lifestyles. Credit: Atlanta

 

auburn, bazaar, crowd

The concrete wall of the Auburn Avenue underpass is to be covered with a mural that tells the history of the corridor. Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

auburn, mural, hope and grief

Hope and grief live side by side in some of the thoughts displayed along Auburn Avenue. Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

auburn, rendering, light boxes

This rendering shows how the light boxes will appear and where they will be installed to the ceiling of the underpass. Credit: Atlanta

 

auburn, rendering, mural

This rendering gives a sense of the appearance of the mural. Note: Small text is difficult to read even in the original material. Credit: Atlanta

 

Materials on the fascades of buildings along Auburn Avenue speak of the structures various iterations over time. Credit: Kelly Jordan

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 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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