Bye-bye Burge Apartments. My first home is being demolished in that familiar Atlanta way

The Burge Apartments at 210 North Avenue is being dismantled — removing pieces of my past brick by brick.

For the first 14 years of my life, my parents, my sister and I lived in the Burge Apartments in Apt. 71. The eight-story, H-shaped building has stood across the street from Georgia Tech’s administration building since 1947, built as a home for married students and faculty members.

My parents moved in the two-bedroom apartment in 1948 when Papa began teaching architecture and city planning at Georgia Tech. We lived there until 1970 when we moved to a home in Midtown, which felt as though we had moved to the suburbs.

The Burge Apartments on North Avenue with Coca-Cola's headquarters in the background.

The Burge Apartments on North Avenue with Coca-Cola's headquarters in the background.

So many memories. The Burge Apartments was sandwiched between Georgia Tech and Techwood Homes — giving my sister and I an amazing contrast in cultures and communities.

As children of Georgia Tech faculty, Elena and I (as well as the other children living in the Burge) were able to attend Spring Street Elementary School instead of the Fowler School, only a few yards away from the Burge (an elementary school that served the children living in Techwood Homes).

But in the afternoons, we often would hang out at Techwood Homes and go to the public library located in the first public housing project built in the United States. In those days, there was simply an unlocked gate that separated Techwood Homes from the Burge Apartments, allowing free access back and forth.

(After we had moved, I went back to the Burge and saw that the gate had been replaced with a tall chain-link fence complete with barbed-wire).

Our 7th floor balcony. The trees have grown to hide the view of Grant Field.

Our 7th floor balcony. The trees have grown to hide the view of Grant Field.

Our apartment had a balcony that overlooked the Georgia Tech administration building and Grant Field. We could even watch football games from our balcony, but often we would walk across the street and attend the game.

Today's view of Midtown from the rooftop of the Burge.

Today's view of Midtown from the rooftop of the Burge.

My favorite part of the Burge Apartments was its rooftop, an open air space with a canopy to protect part of the roof from the sun. Today, that rooftop would be a lawyer’s nightmare, but for us, we could go to the edges of the building and inhale a 360-view of Atlanta.

The rooftop of the Burge used to have a ping pong table under the canopy — providing hours of enjoyment.

The rooftop of the Burge used to have a ping pong table under the canopy — providing hours of enjoyment.

There was a ping pong table on the roof, giving us hours of fun. There were a few other families with children, namely the DallaValle family with three boys — Henry, William and John. Oh the troubles we got into. We would drop matches from the roof (among other things) and watch them light when they hit the pavement.

We would play spy games on people coming and going, running up and down the stairwells, hiding in the cavernous basement area with storage cages for each apartment.

And there was Mr. Smith, the security guard, who became our enemy and vice versa. We were not allowed to have pets at the Burge, so we got a dog — Medor — who lived at the School of Architecture in a dog house under a majestic tree.

But Medor was too smart for his own good. He figured out where we lived (at least half a mile away), and he would get on the elevator and wait for someone to hit the button for the 7th floor. We then would hear Medor scratching our front door. More than once, Mr. Smith threatened to shoot Medor if he saw him on the grounds.

The view of today's downtown from the rooftop of the Burge Apartments.

The view of today's downtown from the rooftop of the Burge Apartments.

We had turtles as pets. One walked off the balcony, falling down seven floors. We found it alive a couple of weeks later living among the bushes near the front entrance. We had a wild bird that had broken its wing, and we nursed it back to health. Pudgy stayed with us for weeks, joining us at the dinner table and pecking off our plates. And then one day, while enjoying the outdoors on our balcony, Pudgy flew away.

The Burge Apartments was full of characters. There was the elderly lady, Cora, and her grown son, George, an English professor, who lived across the hall. They had a parrot that spoke just like George’s mother. And when we would hear a screech — Geeeorgge — we didn’t know if it was the parrot or Cora.

Visiting professors also would stay at the Burge, including poet James Dickey, who gave my sister and I the creeps when he would come over for dinner.

Our living/dining room with the door leading out to the balcony. Trash is left over from last tenant.

Our living/dining room with the door leading out to the balcony. Trash is left over from last tenant.

Because my parents had immigrated from Europe and spoke a half dozen languages, they became the local hosts for all the foreign students attending Georgia Tech. There were students from South Korean, India, Chile and countries all over the world. We all had one thing in common. We were foreign.

How many Atlantans can say they grew up in a highrise close to downtown? And we were different. We spoke French at home and we had wine (watered down) at dinner. We didn’t get a television until I was 12 or 13 years old — making me an oddity at school.

Oh the memories.

My friends at Georgia Tech knew of my special relationship with the Burge Apartments, and they invited me to go on a final tour of the building last June. Yes, a demolition permit had been issued for the building, which had been vacant since 2007. Since then, it has been used by Homeland Security for training purposes, probably with the same kind of hide-and-seek imagination we used as children.

This was the bedroom that I shared with my sister until I was 14.

This was the bedroom that I shared with my sister until I was 14.

On our tour, we climbed the seven flights of stairs to my apartment (elevators were not functional). Everything seemed small. The room that my sister and I shared seemed almost claustrophobic as did the kitchen, the bathroom and my parent’s room. But the spacious design of the dining/living room opening up to the balcony allowed me to close my eyes and time travel back to my first home.

One big difference was that the trees across the street had grown taller, blocking our balcony view of Grant Field.

We then climbed up to the roof, where we could see a much different skyline than the one that existed when we lived there in the 1950s and 1960s. The feeling of exhilaration was still the same.

The Burge was designed by by Flippen David Burge and Preston Standish Stevens Sr. (now Stevens and Wilkinson), the same firm that had designed Techwood Homes. The firm was credited with bringing modern design and construction techniques to Atlanta. Burge, the architect, died while the eight-story apartment building was under construction, and so it was named in his memory.

According to Georgia Tech’s archives, the Burge “offered the experience necessary to meet the college’s demand for permanent housing with few luxuries which could withstand abuse and require little maintenance.”

(When designed, the Burge was not supposed to house families with young children).

Homeland Security prepares for training exercises in the vacant Burge Apartments.

Homeland Security prepares for training exercises in the vacant Burge Apartments.

Looking back, it was a wonderful place to grow up. Georgia Tech was our front yard. Techwood Homes was our back yard. And that provided a kind of equilibrium for us.

The world has changed. Techwood Homes is gone. An ugly parking garage has replaced an landscaped parking lot. The building is obviously worse for wear, a victim of neglect that comes with vacant structures.

This past Wednesday, demolition of the Burge began — starting with the roof. The building will be torn down floor by floor, and the site will become a parking lot for now. Another one bites the dust.

Thanks for indulging with a smattering of my memories of 40- 50 years ago. Once again, a building where I’ve lived is being demolished. Once again, I feel the impermanence of Atlanta, a fluid city that often doesn’t know what it has until it’s gone.

A postscript:

After this story ran, a friend of mine went by the Burge Apartments to see the demolition in progress. He took a photo with his cell phone and sent it to me. Seeing the photo actually brought on a whole new wave of sadness.

Photo by Kelly Jordan

Photo by Kelly Jordan



I sent the demolition picture to my sister, Elena, and she sent me back an email saying:

“Another 18-20 year chunk of my life gone missing! Wow, whatever happened to the lovely cherry laurel trees and formosa azaleas that hugged the entire base of the building? And what about the 90′ high water oaks on the other side? Very sad indeed. We’ve got to keep on planting to counteract all the craziness!”

Second postscript:

Courtesy of Georgia Tech’s Jim Fetig, this is how the Burge Apartments looked on March 11, 2010. What an eerie image.

Burge Apartments

Third Postscript

Here is what was left of the Burge Apartments as of March 26. As Jim Fetig wrote when he sent me the photo: “Going, going….”
photo

Fourth Postscript

The Burge Apartments is now just a pile of rubble. Here is the most recent photo that Jim Fetig sent my way on March 30. You now can see Coca-Cola’s headquarters behind the trees.

burge photo–03-29-10

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.

16 replies
  1. ACC 12 Booster says:

    Doggone it Maria, you took the words right out of my mouth! I was getting ready to assume that the building would be replaced with none other than a parking lot. What else could a historic structure possibly be replaced with in Atlanta?Report

    Reply
  2. Terry says:

    Wonderful. I was at Tech at the end your stay at the Burge. The top floor of the Y next door was the girls dorm. Undergrads never really know what happened at the Burge. Thanks for your memories.Report

    Reply
  3. Alicia Mollitier says:

    Great story. I work nearby Tech, and have notice this building a lot over the years. Sadly, it has become an eyesore, and it undoubtedly would have taken a lot of money to refurbished. Hopefully resident memories will remain, but it was time for Burge to go.Report

    Reply
  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing. I lived at the Burge 1998-2002. It was a great experience living with other married students and visiting scholars in the same building. Occasional parties at the roof top, seeing GT football crowd on Saturdays and fireworks from the Centenial Olympic Park were special for Burge residents.Report

    Reply
  5. Eda says:

    Oh Burge.
    I grew up there too! Except more recently than you. This is after the barbed wire gate was put up and Mr. Smith had moved away. My best friends lived right below me and we’d sneak out and meet each other on the roof. Maybe we didn’t always get hot water, and maybe the building was falling to pieces, but it was a wonderful place to grow up.Report

    Reply
  6. Sally Flocks says:

    I walked by the Burge Apartments today on my way back to the North Ave. MARTA Station after CNU’s Urban Lab at Coca Cola Headquarters.

    I wish the City would ban new parking garages within 1/2 mile of MARTA stations. Car travel and parking are tremendously underpriced in Atlanta. Until this ends, people will continue to drive to destinations that within easy walking distance of transit and cars will continue to consume most of Atlanta’s urban space.

    I also wish the Atlanta Regional Commission would ask the legislature to approve a region-wide $1 / day surcharge on parking, with a 25+ year sunset. This would be a great source of funding for transit operations.Report

    Reply
  7. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing your memories about Burge! It was fun reading your stories about Burge. I too have many fond memories of Burge! My two favorite are having my daughter and my son! Thanks again for sharing!Report

    Reply
  8. Leita Cowart says:

    Maria,
    i remember seeing your family walk thru Techwood and wondering who you were. My family lived on Merritts Ave. just across from the library and Fowler St. School.The library was my refuge after school. The kids i grew up with all had a club in one of the garages where we played board games and chess til dark. Maybe our paths crossed at the Techwood theatre on saturdays back then. Remember the woman who sold tickets there forever?
    Enjoyed reading your story. I too wish Atlanta would stop tearing down its history.Report

    Reply
  9. Jenn says:

    I will forever have a place in my heart for burge! It was the sole place of my fond childhood memories like watching the Simon and Garfunkel concert on the roof top and washing Nick’s ar drinking Mello Yellow. I will never forget my life growing up there.Report

    Reply
  10. Dave says:

    I lived there from 1980 to 1984. I had so many memories there as I turned into a teenager. I met so many wonderful people that I never saw again. We lived on the 6th floor and our balcony overlooked Grant field. I can remember playing football and baseball with my buddies from Techwood on Grant field. The football team would come out and we would sit and watch practice. They would get run off and my white priviledge was working. Skateboarding in the stadium was killer. So many wipeouts. I watched that Simon & Garfunkal concert from my room. I went to every home football game. If I didn’t have a ticket I knew right where to sneak in. If we weren’t in the stadium we were playing basketball in the burge parking lot. I have so many memories from Burge. I used to go on the roof and walk along the edge, my guest would look over oneside that was a free shot to the bottom while I pretend to fall over the opposite edge and I would land on that ledge. People would FREAK thinking I fell off. So good. I know I probably made people angry but we used to stop the elevator and climb out of the thing on top and play in the shaft. Waiting for the Bus in winter on the corner with my friends from the Wood. Missing the bus cause we were goofing off and having to walk all the way to Grady H.S. Lotta of wonderful memories in the building, in that neighborhood and on campus. Loved the movies, the Varsity, the old sporting good store and the Fox theater. Charlies pizza, Pippins and the Student center where my go to places. Now that neighborhood is just not alive. Miss the Burger apartments.Report

    Reply
  11. Maria Saporta
    Maria Saporta says:

    Dave, thanks for sharing your memories of living in the Burge Apartments. My friends and I also played that game of jumping on the ledge from the roof – taking pictures acting as though we were hanging on for dear life. We used to get in trouble with the security guard on the property. Of course, we moved in 1970 – so our time did not overlap – but our memories sure did. MariaReport

    Reply

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