By Maria Saporta
Friday, October 23, 2009
Imagine going back in time to the 1930s when Martin Luther King Jr. was growing up on Auburn Avenue.
Thanks to a partnership between the Trust for Public Land (TPL) and the National Park Service, people from across the world will no longer need to use their imagination. Nearly the entire block that contains the birth home of the civil rights leader now is in public hands.
The Trust for Public Land will transfer ownership of a key corner house at 530 Auburn Ave. at the Howell Street intersection to the National Park Service during a commemoration on Oct. 28 with a 1930s-style celebration.
Guests will include Will Rogers, the national president of the Trust for Public Land; U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who worked alongside the Rev. King during the Civil Right Movement; and Christine King Farris, King’s sister, who remembers growing up on the street in the 1930s.
“There’s great significance in getting this piece of property,” said Judy Forte, superintendent of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
“It is one of the last of three pieces of the birth-home block that had not been preserved.”
The home almost got away. There was a private contract to buy the home, and the park service approached the Trust for Public Land to see if it could provide a backup offer to buy the property. The initial deal fell through, and the TPL bought the property about a year ago.
“We take great pride at TPL at being an at-risk conservation buyer,” said Helen Tapp, the Trust’s Georgia director. “This is living history. The significance of having one more intact house is enabling this neighborhood to be the way Martin Luther King saw the community as a young boy.”
Joining forces with King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, the TPL saw the merit in preserving the neighborhood around the King birth home three decades ago. In 1980, it purchased five homes in that critical Auburn Avenue block and later transferred them to the National Historic Site.
In all, the Trust has spent more than $2 million to buy 13 properties on the block and permitted the National Park Service to double its holdings in the National Historic Site. As the Park Service is able to raise funds, it then buys those properties from the Trust.
“We will fix it up to the time Dr. King was living here, and then we allow people to live here,” said Forte of the renovated houses on the block. “Structurally, it’s in pretty good shape.”
Forte said it could take five years before the Park Service could secure the money to restore the property. “We do not have the funds to renovate any of these properties. Right now the best we can do is stabilize them.”
The MLK district is only one of three “livable” national parks that preserve the historical and cultural qualities of a place while it continues to thrive as an ongoing community.
Forte also hopes that the street can be transformed into being less of a thoroughfare and more of a residential, pedestrian-oriented street, much the way it was when King was growing up there. She would love to see streetlights and landscaping that would become even more of a tourist and educational destination.
“You really can’t put a dollar value on these homes,” Forte said. “Once it becomes a part of the National Park Service, the value is for the American people because it becomes their property.”