Protecting Atlanta’s icons: Two sites placed on Georgia Register of Historic Places
By David Pendered
Two Atlanta architects whose imprints have shaped the city’s landscape – John Portman and Henri Jova – have been honored through the listing of signature developments on the Georgia Register of Historic Places. The placement makes the properties eligible for state tax incentives and grants.
Portman’s Peachtree Center commercial complext was listed. Jova’s round bank branch, designed for the Trust Co. of Georgia and located along I-85 at Monroe Drive, was listed. The Georgia National Register Review Board voted at its Aug. 25 meeting to include the two Atlanta sites and four others in Georgia.
The two recognitions speak to Atlanta’s social and commercial philosophies, starting at the turn of the 1960s.
Civic leaders were focused on creating a modern city. The city’s airport was both booming and expanding. The city’s highway system was expanding and plans were being laid for the transit system now known as MARTA. Race relations were top-of-mind and lunch counters and schools began integrating in order to stem civil unrest.
In particular, the 182-page nomination of Portman’s Peachtree Center reads as a fairly concise report on the role the development this dense urban center played in Atlanta’s lifecycle in the boom decades that followed World War II.
That role includes fostering the Civil Rights movement, boosting the central business district, and creating a pedestrian environment via connections between buildings by a network of 24 sky bridges, sometimes called elevated promenades, according to the nomination.
Jova’s round bank opened in 1962 as a branch of Trust Co. of Georgia, alongside I-85 at Monroe Drive. More recently, it closed as the trendy Pie Bar, a pizza restaurant that offered Italian inspired share plates and entrees.
The nomination notes its design was intended to cater to the “motor banking” phenomenon that accompanied the city’s expanding highway system. The location addressed the bank’s desire to capture clients who frequented the explosive development along the Monroe Drive corridor.
The two sites now are eligible for the state to nominate them to the National Register of Historic Places, a program of the National Park Service.
Here are some highlights from the nomination forms.
The Peachtree Center Historic District
The district covers 24 acres. The district flanks Peachtree Street between Baker Street and John Portman Boulevard.
The district includes 15 historic or contributing resources, 11 structures, six art objects, and an assortment of structures that are not relevant to historic status.
Central Atlanta Progress nominated the district. CAP is an influential downtown business organization. CAP President A.J. Robinson is a former president of Portman Holdings, where in his 22-year tenure he oversaw developments in the U.S., China and Europe.
There’s intent to complete a tax incentive project at the 230 Peachtree Building (Peachtree Center Tower), owned by Portman Holdings. Other property owners have an interest in using tax incentives to rehabilitate their buildings.
“A nomination to the National Register will bring different benefits, but the most important will be raising awareness about Peachtree Center’s historical significance in design and architecture to its current owners. It is hoped that following this effort, a greater sense of history and sensitivity to the original design intent will be applied to future hotel and office building renovations. The potential use of tax credits for these buildings can be viewed as an incentive to preservation. The appreciation of this style of architecture, important in presenting the story of Atlanta, and Georgia, during this period of transition.”
Trust Company of Georgia Northeast Freeway Branch
Jova designed the bank when he was working with Abreu & Robeson.
The nomination does not note that Jova was a first cousin of Francis Abreu. Abreu is best known in Georgia as the, “society architect of Sea Island.” The Cuban descendant moved there at the behest of the Sea Island Co. after tapping into his wealthy relatives to become one of the foremost architects of Fort Lauderdale in the heyday of the 1920s, according to a report by The Georgian Revival.
The former bank building is located on a one-acre lot in the shape of an oval. The lot was the result of the creation in 1948 to 1952 of the Northeast Expressway, now knows as the Buford-Spring Connector that runs alongside the elevated I-85.
The property was nominated as a representative of New Formalism, an architectural style used at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, in New York. In addition, the nomination notes the buildings design to serve folks who could access bank teller services without leaving their vehicle.
“Its construction is a direct result of the confluence of several trends in the banking industry and development patterns and growth of the city of Atlanta during the mid-20th century: more liberal bank branch regulations and the popularization of car-centric “motor banking” dovetailed with the unprecedented suburbanization of the city as a result of highway construction.”
The property was nominated by its owner, listed on Fulton County tax records as Broward Pie Bar, LLC.