By David Pendered
The rejuvenation of Auburn Avenue is expanding, this time in the preservation of five houses on the same block as the Martin Luther King, Jr. birth home, through a grant provided by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The grant is part of an effort to restore and preserve five National Treasure sites that are located in or near national parks. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site includes a portion of Auburn Avenue.
The preservation grant was announced just a month after the historic Big Bethel AME Church, located on Auburn Avenue, announced its plans for a $120 million redevelopment in the area. Big Bethel is partnering with two Atlanta companies, Benoit Group and Russell New Urban.
The grant is to fund the preservation of five Victorian or shotgun houses along King’s childhood street, according to a statement released by the National Trust. All five homes are owned by the National Park Service.
The addresses of the houses are:
- 503 Auburn Avenue;
- 514 Auburn Avenue;
- 473-474 Auburn Avenue (one structure);
- 476-478 Auburn Avenue (one struture);
- 487 Auburn Avenue.
Sweet Auburn once was a vibrant business district and home to some of Atlanta’s leading black-owned businesses. It fell on hard times after the Downtown Connector was built, heralding a migration to neighborhoods west of Downtown Atlanta.
Since then, Auburn Avenue has the dubious distinction of making its way twice to the list of the nation’s most endangered historic places. The National Trust named the district to the list in 1992, for threats to its residential area on the eastern portion, and again in 2012 for threats to its commercial district.
In 2006, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation included the Auburn/Edgewood commercial on its list of Places in Peril.
At the announcement in 2012 of Auburn Avenue’s inclusion on the list of most endangered places, David Brown, the trust’s executive vice president, said: “By placing it on the list in 2012 … we’re offering to be part of the solution. Sweet Auburn needs to be preserved, and needs to be part of Atlanta in the 21st century.”
In announcing the grants, Stephanie K. Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust, said in a statement that the five projects will help preserve a wide array of historic places.
“The parks receiving these generous grants from American Express reflect important chapters in our nation’s rich history, from Negro League Baseball to architectural Modernism, and the railroad boom to the Civil Rights Era,” Meeks said. “American Express’ timely support of these preservation projects at such diverse places will give more Americans access to appreciate these National Treasures for generations to come.”
Timothy J. McClimon, president, American Express Foundation, cited the diversity of places the grants will help preserve.
“As the presenting partner of the National Treasures program, American Express has pledged to save and sustain historic places that represent our country’s rich history,” McClimon said. “The sites we have selected to receive funding reflect the great diversity of the American experience. By preserving these sites, we are helping to ensure their legacy and cultural significance for future generations.”
Here are the other four sites that received funding, according to the statement:
- “Hinchliffe Stadium (Paterson, New Jersey): Opened in 1932, the cast concrete, art-deco style stadium is one of the few remaining sports grounds in the country associated with Negro League baseball. In 1997, the stadium closed because of a lack of funding and structural issues. This grant will preserve two original ticket booths at the entrance to the complex.
- “Pullman Historic District (Chicago, Illinois): Built in 1880, the nation’s first model industrial town attracted skilled workers to the Pullman Palace Car Company, where the first African-American labor union was born. Today, the district is a National Monument, and showcases a revitalized historic neighborhood that honors the important role the town’s residents played in American history. This grant will restore the original multicolored, stained-glass windows at the Hotel Florence.
- “Painted Desert Community Complex (Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona): Completed in 1963, the collection of steel, glass, and masonry buildings, designed by modernist architect Richard Neutra, are one of the earliest examples of modern architecture in a National Park. The complex is still in use today, but limited funding for repairs and maintenance have impaired the condition of the buildings. This grant will restore the glass storefront of the Oasis Building.
- The fifth grantee is to be announced at a later date.