Martin Luther King Jr.’s home and its street to receive historic designation from Atlanta
By David Pendered
The street where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. moved his family in 1965 is slated to become Atlanta’s newest historic district.
The Sunset Avenue Historic District would protect all houses on the street, including the King home, from developments and alterations that are not in keeping with the community’s historic nature. Other dwellings were home to civil rights leaders and some of the city’s earliest European settlers.
“This will bolster tourism traffic and trade in the area, and it will memorialize the giants who put their life on the line, and their families who sacrificed so much,” said Atlanta Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr.
The Sunset Avenue designation is occurring amidst a flurry of proposals to commemorate persons who have played significant roles in the city’s development.
Two civil rights leaders are to be honored by having their names affixed on various sites. Plans remain in the works to honor renown Atlanta architect John Portman.
The Atlanta City Council intends to rename the Oakland City Park to the “Rev. James Orange Park at Oakland City.” Another proposal calls for Xerona Clayton to have memorials including a portion of Baker Street to be named in her honor, and a yet-to-be-determined tribute to her in Hardy Ivy Park, which is located at the intersection of Peachtree and Baker streets.
On Monday, the Atlanta City Council is slated to approve a proposal that will defray the city’s cost of creating the Sunset Avenue Historic District. Those costs include notifying property owners and filing papers in Fulton County Superior Court.
Young and Councilman Michael Julian Bond have offered to split the $1,200 cost. They will shift money from their council accounts to the city’s planning department. The item is slated for approval without discussion.
Young said Sunset Avenue was home to civil rights leaders including former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson; Julian Bond, a 20-year member of the Georgia Legislature and chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1998 to 2010; and one of the city’s first health centers – the Neighborhood Union Health Center.
Sunset Avenue – located a half-mile west of the Georgia Dome off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive – also was the home of Edward Wachendorff, a German immigrant who moved to Atlanta and helped open a nursery and seed store in 1876, according to a history of the area published at www.vinecity.net.
“So many sacrificed their quality of life so all humanity can live in a spirit of equilibrium, harmony and peace,” Young said. “As evidenced recently in Egypt – where you saw after 30 years of power and politics, a regime simply rolled over to nonviolent struggle in a very Gandhi-like, King-like way.”
The proposed Sunset Avenue Historic District already has been approved by the city’s Urban Design Commission. The commission voted Feb. 9 for the proposal, which was submitted by Doug Young, the commission’s executive director.
Atlanta’s program of historic districts aims to protect the nature of significant communities. Once designated, property owners in historic districts who want to make substantial changes to structures must get approval from the board that oversees the Urban Design Commission.
“There’s a lot to be learned here that’s relevant today,” Young said.