By John Ruch
Two City departments disagree on the fate of Adams Park’s historic clubhouse, with Parks and Recreation seeking its demolition while the Historic Preservation Studio wants a chance to save it.
“It would be irresponsible and short-sighted to demolish this structure before exploring all other options,” wrote Matt Adams, interim assistant director of the Historic Preservation Studio, in an Aug. 10 memo to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, which will review the demo request.
The 86-year-old Cascade Community Clubhouse at 2371 Wilson Drive in Southwest Atlanta is a contributing structure to the New Deal-era park’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been left vacant by the parks department for roughly a quarter-century, and the parks department said in its request that the building is now a threat to health and safety.
“The clubhouse at Adams Park has been unoccupied for more than 20 years and currently is in disrepair,” the parks department said in a written statement issued after this story’s initial publication. “The City received requests to remove the structure and assess opportunities to repurpose the property. The City of Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation is collaborating with the Urban Design Commission to further assess plans for the building and property.”
The building has long drawn community complaints about its condition and there’s no rescue plan in sight. Corliss Claire, co-chair of the Adams Park Foundation, said her group has long talked with both City departments about the clubhouse while its condition worsens. She said she understands the preservation office’s concern and noted the parks department’s years of “neglect.” But last year, she said, the foundation finally pressed the department on the issue.
“The conversation we had with Parks was, you either have to restore it or take the building down,” Claire said, adding that recent discussions have focused on a demo that might salvage parts of the building for reuse and make its lot useful to the park and its City-owned Alfred “Tup” Holmes Memorial Golf Course.
Claire said the golf course might use it as “extra parking, a gathering spot — I don’t know. The possibilities are there. But we know the community can’t just have a building that continues to just sit and fall down.”
But Adams’ memo noted that the parks department made its demo request without any documentation proving the clubhouse can’t be saved. Private preservationists want a closer look, too.
“The Atlanta Preservation Center would like to partner with the City to do more due diligence, including exploring avenues for rehabilitation and working more closely with the community to try to save this building,” said that nonprofit’s executive director, David Yoakley Mitchell. “This building represents a time in Atlanta’s history that, if not preserved, will remove a part of this community’s experience and story.”
The 154-acre Charles R. Adams Park — named for a Fulton County commissioner who developed much of the surrounding neighborhood — was built in the 1930s under the Works Progress Administration (WPA), one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. Its designer was the prominent landscape architect William Monroe — the namesake of Midtown’s Monroe Drive — who also designed Buckhead’s Chastain Park for the WPA around the same time.
Adams Park was dedicated in 1940, but some of its structures were completed earlier. That includes the cottage-like clubhouse – also known historically by such other names as the Adams Park Clubhouse, which was built in 1936.
The clubhouse had many uses over the decades, such as hosting educational lectures and garden club meetings. In the early years, it housed a Carnegie library until a new structure was built for that in 1942. In the 1950s, it was used for some overflow classes from the nearby Cascade Elementary School, with which it still shares property.
Public use of the clubhouse came to an end around 1978 when a new recreation center was built. The clubhouse then was used for parks department offices. A historic gym behind it was — and still is — used as a parks department maintenance facility.
When the parks department stopped using the clubhouse for offices, it simply left the building vacant, said Claire.
“The building was never mothballed,” she said, referring to a practice of securing and protecting a vacant structure to limit long-term damage while a new use is found.
And it got worse over time, including roof failures that led to “extensive water damage,” said Claire, who was among the foundation members who took a look inside during the application for the National Register listing about a decade ago. She said people have broken into the clubhouse, apparently for shelter, and pointed to a WSB-TV news report from about four years ago that highlighted poor conditions, despite the parks maintenance facility right next door.
“It’s just been a bad situation for several decades,” said Claire.
Claire recalled that, around the time of the National Register listing, the parks department conducted an assessment of rehabilitating the clubhouse. “And it was well into six figures,” she recalled, saying the City deemed that too expensive at the time. And the building has since gone through another decade of weathering.
Claire said the parks department is now talking with the foundation about a careful demolition, though without any detailed plan at this point. The idea, she said, is to preserve a concrete area and garden space, and generally to make the property usable to the public.
“And there may be even some saving of the stones that make up the facade, the fireplace,” she said. “So we’re looking for this to be carefully done. Because it is a pretty piece of land. It was once really pretty. And it could be pretty again even without the building.”
In his memo to the UDC, Adams acknowledged the “deteriorated” roof and the likelihood of “extensive water damage.” But, he said, the parks department request lacked even basic photos of the building, let alone an engineering report to back up the claim of the “threat to public health and safety” or the impossibility of restoration. He said the department indeed stated “a goal of salvaging portions of the structure,” but also showed no plans for doing so.
Adams wrote that the department should partner with the community on the reuse of the building and its site “to continue to serve the community in new and innovative ways.”
Some similar structures in Atlanta parks have survived demolition concerns in recent years. The clubhouse at Buckhead’s Bobby Jones Golf Course was on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Places in Peril” list in 2015 following a controversial land swap that put it under state ownership as part of renovation that would replace its uses. The City leased the clubhouse back in the hopes of a nonprofit musical organization using it, and at Chastain Park, an American Legion post backed off a plan to demolish its longtime home in a building likely erected by the WPA and instead rehabilitated it. But neither of those structures had been left vacant.
In the staff memo, Adams said the era is an important one to remember.
“Staff cannot support the demolition of such a significant piece of the history of the New Deal and the Works Progress Administration,” Adams wrote. “Given the sweeping demolition of buildings associated with this era and the WPA that occurred between 1980 and 2010 in the city of Atlanta, serious consideration needs to be given before all traces of this significant part of our city’s history disappear altogether.”
Update: This story has been updated with comment from the City Department of Parks and Recreation.
It was made by the famous mapquest directions landscape architect William Monroe, who also made Chastain Park in Buckhead for the WPA around the same time. Monroe Drive in Midtown is named after him.
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