Buckhead’s The Galloway School is proposing a campus renovation that could spell changes to — maybe even the end of — its historic, trademark Gresham Building.
The private school has been based in the 112-year-old former Fulton County Almshouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, since its founding in 1969. Preliminary documents filed with the City this month call for a new building and propose demolition of the Upper Learning building, which is the Gresham’s main educational use. But the school says no specific decision has yet been made pending a formal announcement expected in mid-November.
“We are still in the planning stages of what the outcome of the Gresham Building will be,” said school spokesperson Meghan Stauts in an email. “We have filed paperwork to allow us several options, and we continue to work with our architects, our construction firm, and our Board of Trustees to decide the best course of action. However, the scope of the project has not been relayed yet.”
The school is located at 215 Chastain Park Ave. on an 8.2-acre campus nestled within the City’s Chastain Park. The street address was West Wieuca Road until a 2019 name change, but the expansion-related filings in the City system continue to use the old name. It currently enrolls 750 students in grades pre-K through 12. The Gresham Building — a brick, column-fronted Neoclassical Revival structure — is its main entrance and also the administrative center.
Stauts said the concept of campus changes comes from lengthy discussions.
“During the pandemic, we quickly realized how limited we were by our existing buildings and our 8.2-acre campus footprint,” she said. “Post-pandemic, we began having several internal conversations about how we can provide the best education environment for our 750 students, particularly our Upper Learning students (roughly 330 students). We quickly identified the need for an upgraded space for our largest learners, who are currently housed in our smallest space (The Gresham Building), as well as updates to existing facilities, such as playgrounds and dining spaces, that will serve our entire school community.”
On Oct. 3, the school filed several planning documents with the City. They include a rezoning application to allow a “new building” and a revision of a special use permit for a “new site plan.” Another application is for a meeting with the City’s Concept Review Committee, in which the concept is described as “proposed demolition of existing upper learning building and development of new upper learning building and associated hardscape amenity area on site.”
Demolition or other major change would be significant to local and Fulton County history, with the Gresham Building just placed on the National Register in 2014 in an application championed by the school and partly written by its head librarian.
The Atlanta Preservation Center, a nonprofit preservationist organization, declined comment. Officials with the Buckhead Heritage Society and the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation could not immediately be reached for comment.
Laura Dobson, a preservation advocate who won a Buckhead Heritage award in 2021 for helping to save a historic book bindery and bookstore on Peachtree Road, said she hopes the Gresham Building will remain.
“I have always admired The Galloway School and hope they will commit to renovation or continued adaptive reuse of the iconic National Register [listed] Gresham Building,” she said. “It would be a tremendous loss to the City of Atlanta as well as historic preservation if such an important part of Atlanta’s history was destroyed. The building was listed by the school itself less than 10 years ago.”
Opening in 1911, today’s Gresham building at the time was one of two neighboring almshouses, meaning institutional homes for poor people, typically seniors or people with disabilities. Because of Jim Crow racial segregation, there were two almshouses to keep people racially separated. The Gresham building was for white residents, while the other almshouse at 135 Chastain Park Ave. was for African-American residents. That neighboring almshouse also survives and is now used by the Chastain Arts Center.
The white almshouse was designed by the prominent architecture firm Morgan and Dillon and operated until 1963. The National Register file says it is significant in terms of social history, architecture and women’s history. The latter category refers to Jessie Clark Boynton, who served as superintendent from 1932 to 1963, a role that the file says was “unheard of for a woman at that time.”
After it closed in 1963, the building served as an annex for Tuxedo Elementary School until 1967, according to the National Register filing. It also served as set storage for Chastain Park’s Theater Under the Stars and was home to Atlanta Civic Ballet dance classes. It was condemned in 1968.
Then along came John Elliott Galloway, a teacher and coach from Buckhead’s Westminster Schools and Sandy Springs’ Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. He established The Galloway School in the building in 1969 and maintained an office there until his death in 2008.
The National Register file says the school made few alterations to the historic building internally, and the exterior is largely original. “The former almshouse has been preserved and rehabilitated, and thus retains most of its historic character-defining features, along with excellent integrity of design, workmanship, and materials,” it says.