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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!”
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.