A pioneering report on the city’s LGBTQ+ history is complete, laying the groundwork for further research and future preservation efforts.
The “Atlanta LGBTQ+ Historic Context Statement” covers the period of 1895 to 2000. It was created by consultant New South Associates on behalf of the City and the nonprofit Historic Atlanta, which advocates for underrepresented history.
The report, completed in August, highlights scores of buildings, sites and neighborhoods. Among its recommendations is, within six months, creating a prioritized list of buildings and sites that could be proposed for City landmark designations, a status that could give strict oversight of exterior alterations. However, there are no such proposals at the moment, according to Historic Atlanta, as it continues an initial educational rollout.
“The types of places that are considered historic [are] diversifying, and we hope this context statement will allow LGBTQ+ inclusion in Atlanta’s recognized historic resources,” says Historic Atlanta Program Manager Charlie Paine.
A fundamental challenge of LGBTQ+ historic preservation is that the cultures often lacked formal and public spaces due to bigoted repression by police, prosecutors, politicians and mainstream media. Identifying private homes or commercial businesses that doubled as LGBTQ+ community centers takes extra legwork. Thus, the report has some themes unusual in mainstream histories, such as a study of nightclubs that were home to various LGBTQ+ cultures and movements. It also covers history more recent than the standard 50-year threshold, as some obviously historic moments have been generated by the relatively recent progress in LGBTQ+ civil rights and the ability of the communities to express themselves openly and publicly.
The report begins in 1895. That’s when “female impersonators” were listed as performing at the Cotton States and International Exposition, a prominent business and cultural event in Piedmont Park, which the consultants say is the earliest documented LGBTQ+ activity.
Many apparent LGBTQ+ firsts for Atlanta are documented in the report. The Lounge, a long-lost bar at 79 Forsyth St. in Downtown, in the 1940s was the earlier known LGBTQ+ gathering space. In 1956, Mrs. P’s at 551 Ponce de Leon Ave. – which survives as the name of a newer restaurant at the same address – became the earliest known “social space” specifically intended for LGBTQ++ customers.
Charis Books and More was the first Atlanta bookstore to openly carry LGBTQ+ materials when it opened in Little Five Points in 1974; today, it survives in Decatur, a city whose own LGBTQ+ history is recommended in the report for further study. The private club bathhouse FLEXspas at 76 4th St. in Midtown is listed as “the oldest continually operating LGBTQ+ space in Atlanta,” having opened in 1969 as Club South Baths.
The Atlanta Barb (1974) and the Transsexual Voice (1981) are memorialized as pioneering LGBTQ+ media. The report delves into many other themes of community life, such as political activism, health and healthcare, and religion and spirituality.
Entire neighborhoods, such as Midtown, are highlighted as LGBTQ+ centers that could be worthy of historic designations or for updating existing ones with LGBTQ+ information.
Among clubs and venues highlighted as “case studies” in the report are Bulldogs, a Midtown bar popular with gay Black men that, after 45 years, is the city’s oldest LBGTQ+ bar still operating in its original location. Another is 1021 Peachtree St., a Midtown commercial building dating to 1921 that formerly housed Illusions, a significant venue for drag and female impersonator performers whose scene eventually produced such luminaries as RuPaul.
Paine says the report is valuable for highlighting the significance of such clubs and venues. But, he adds, also important is how it “clearly identifies that there are many other types of building forms and spaces that can be considered LGBTQ+ spaces.” They include private homes like 1714 Adolphus St. in Candler Park, which, starting in 1981, was the “Funtone USA World Headquarters,” home of “The American Music Show” on the City’s public access television channel, which featured LGBTQ+ performers, culture and news.
Another example is the Winecoff Hotel at 176 Peachtree St. in Downtown. Today known as the Ellis Hotel, the 110-year-old building is already on the National Register of Historic Places as a local icon with a history that includes an infamous 1946 fire that had a national impact on fire codes. Research for the report discovered the hotel has LGBTQ+ significance that could be added to the National Register survey. Until the fire, it was home to a bar called the Cotton Blossom that was popular with gay men. And it was home to the earliest known gay-affirming church in the U.S., established in 1946 by one George Hyde.
Ansley Mall, a shopping center at Monroe Drive and Piedmont Avenue that is an epicenter of the LGBTQ+ community, figures prominently in the report. A movie theater there was the target of an infamous police raid of Andy Warhol’s movie “Lonesome Cowboys” on Aug. 5, 1969. The abusive raid triggered the birth of Atlanta’s LGBTQ+ civil rights movement and is sometimes known as the “Stonewall of the South.” The theater is shuttered, but the report suggests its space – now a cooking store – may be relatively well-preserved. The report suggests reviewing the entire mall for possible National Register listing.
Paine notes the mall as the type of location that could be threatened by development pressures. He says that its location along the Atlanta BeltLine puts it in “the hot seat for potential redevelopment, so I would advise that people be aware of that. It’s certainly on our mind.” To that point, the LGBTQ+ bar the Hideaway closed there this summer after 52 years. Paine says it was one of the few such bars that still had a rear-facing entrance, an artifact of when LGBTQ+ places often did so to avoid public scrutiny and abuse.
A vice president of commercial real estate leasing at Selig Enterprises, the mall’s landlord, did not respond to a comment request. Paine said Historic Atlanta has not contacted them or any other owners yet, as there are no solid proposals, and the report is still being rolled out to Neighborhood Planning Units and other community groups.
Currently, one primarily LGBTQ+ site is under City landmark protection: the former home of the Atlanta Eagle gay bar (which has since moved to Piedmont Avenue) at 306 Ponce. Along the neighboring “Kodak building” at 300 Ponce, it was landmarked by City officials in 2021. Historic Atlanta advocated for that landmarking, though later expressed concerns about whether it was protection enough amid a redevelopment plan for a medical center by Dr. Shahzad Hashmi, a Gwinnett County psychiatrist.
The redevelopment has stalled. Hashmi did not respond to an emailed comment request. Dennis Webb Jr., the attorney who represented Hashmi’s project at the time of the landmarking, said he has “not been involved” in representing Hashmi “for some time” and does not know its status. City permit files show that the Kodak building had a “small fire” in August and an unsecured door. The City Office of Buildings that month posted a stop work on the building for an “unsafe condition.” City officials say that order remains until the owner requests a fire inspection for some type of work permit, but none have been filed recently.
Meanwhile, both buildings remain vacant. Paine says that lack of use can be the biggest danger to historic buildings and notes the landmark status also prohibits so-called demolition by neglect. “So we do hope that they get someone in the building. That’s imperative,” said Paine.
The Eagle landmarking was a classic approach, giving status to a particular building. Paine says that many other approaches are possible, as suggested in the report. “Some cities, such as New York, have even created a historic district along routes of particular protests,” he said. “I think Stonewall’s a good example of that. So there’s a precedent for it.”
The report has several recommendations as well as suggesting further research in Atlanta and other metro areas:
- Undertaking a “comprehensive city-wide historic resources survey” targeted at and going beyond the spaces and places listed in the report.
- Developing National Register nominations for many specific properties listed in the report.
- Amending existing National Register listings as appropriate.
- Exploring the creation of new City historic or landmark districts.
- Within six months, establishing a prioritized list of potential City landmark buildings and sites.
- Considering the development of an LGBTQ+ history Interpretive Plan for the City with various tactics for raising awareness of historic sites and their preservation, such as Georgia Historical Society markers, exhibits and walking tours.
- Considering the creation of a Legacy Business program to assist “long-standing” businesses, with eligibility for LGBTQ+ businesses aged 20 years or more.
- Incorporating the report into the “Future Places Project” – the City’s overall historic preservation review – and into future City master planning efforts.