Save Atlanta’s Olympic Cauldron, move it to Centennial Olympic Park

By Guest Columnist NICK STEPHENS, a writer and Atlanta native, interested in historic and environmental preservation

Over the last few weeks, as the 20th anniversary of Atlanta’s Olympic games came and went, much of the discussion of this city’s Olympic legacy naturally focused on the successful continuing use of so many of the games’ facilities, a rare feat for any city. But in an Aug. 8 interview on WXIA-TV, Olympic organizer and former Atlanta Mayor Andy Young admitted that one crucial component of the Olympic infrastructure was never as great as it could have been – and remains an under appreciated and mostly ignored relic.

Nick Stephens, edit

Nick Stephens

Atlanta’s Olympic cauldron is, he lamented, “an embarrassment.” In a city whose seal represents our triumph out of fire, it’s time to give a second thought to the home of Atlanta’s Olympic flame.

For the last two decades, the sculptural (or scaffolding-esque) structure that supported the inextinguishable Olympic flame for two weeks has stood like a lonely sentinel over a nondescript intersection and an asphalt sea of parking lots. Besides the homely hotel in whose morning shadow it sits (and for many years the state sanctioned trailer park cum DMV) there is nothing around. Besides a small flood of traffic and tailgaters for 81 games a year, it is a minor intersection.

All that, of course, is set to change.

As the Braves prepare to abandon Turner Field, city officials, the surrounding communities and Georgia State University have engaged in a spirited and sometimes testy debate over the future of the massive site. But largely lost in the multitude of plans and proposals is the fate of the cauldron and its attached bridge bearing the five gold rings.

Even in the sleek Atlanta Design Studio on the second floor of Ponce City Market, where the city hopes to engage its citizens in planning their shared future, the cauldron is absent on all four of the table-sized blueprints – inexplicably omitted. Most of the plans GSU has released also appear to simply erase the cauldron.

Centennial Cauldron rendering

This rendering shows a gateway to Centennial Olympic Park if the Olympic Cauldron were moved to the park. Credit: Nick Stephens

It’s just the latest chapter in a story that has continually found new ways to embarrass. A quick Google search of “Atlanta Olympic flame” reveals about as many results for the one-time tourist trap by The Varsity on North Avenue as for the real thing. A recent Creative Loafing article on Young’s comments used an incorrect photo before commentators pointed out the error.

There’s never been a better time than now, before the redevelopment of the site begins, to correct this undignified condition and ensure that the cauldron doesn’t suffer another debacle as misguided as the first time it was moved to its current location, during the Olympic stadium’s conversion to the Ted.

The best option? The structure should be moved to Centennial Park, where it can (appropriately) span Andrew Young Boulevard and become a cherished part of the physical memory of the event that catapulted Atlanta into international renown. In a poll on the Curbed Atlanta website taken August 11, over 70 percent of the respondents agreed the best resting place for the cauldron is the park, “where the tourists are….”

The relocated Olympic Cauldron could add to the dynamic tourist attraction now on show in Centennial Olympic Park. Credit: flicr.com

The relocated Olympic Cauldron could add to the dynamic tourist attraction that is Centennial Olympic Park. Credit: flickr.com

Centennial Park has become the epicenter of a revitalized Downtown tourist district. It’s a defining urban planning success story, largely escaping the haunting memory of its place as the site of Atlanta’s own terror attack. And with major renovations set to start later this year (much of it aimed at increasing revenue from concerts and special events) the park continues to become a greater and greater attraction. The relocation of the cauldron would bring completion and wholeness to a site that is as much an homage to this city’s ability to reinvent itself as it is to sports greatest event.

With a little creativity, the structure could become Atlanta’s most defining tourist attraction, our very own Statue of Liberty, in a way that the SkyView Atlanta Ferris wheel can never be.

The cost to disassemble and move the structure could be offset in the coming years by finally reattaching the walkway to the ground and allowing tourists the opportunity to climb to the top for a couple bucks, just as the flame rose during Muhammad Ali’s immortal lighting. Or, perhaps, just charging for its use during the many concerts that will be held in the park in the coming years.

Far too many times, great Atlanta monuments, from our grand terminals to the Fox Theatre, have faced or narrowly escaped destruction. The Olympic cauldron has already spent enough time in a state of disregard. It’s not too late to change that.

21 replies
  1. letmesaythis says:

    You failed to mention it has already been moved once.
    It was originally attached to the Olymipic stadium (Turner Field), then after the games were over, and the stadium was converted into the Braves stadium the city (or some group) had it moved to its present location.

    Why not reattach it to Turner Field…that would be the best way to preserve history accurately.Report

    Reply
  2. The Boges says:

    I never thought it was an eyesore or “embarassment” as Mr. Young claims.  It should be preserved and in a location fitting for its history.  Either leave it where it is as a part of the new GSU/private redevelopment or move it to Centennial Olympic Park, or other similar venue.  As with anything, though, get a private underwriter or raise funds privately for its restoration and preservation.  It never was a taxpayer icon.Report

    Reply
  3. junehodges says:

    Burroughston Broch  
    IZZY was mercifully put down the moment the Olympics came to an end.  And (mercifully) he/she/it is NEVER to be seen again for all of eternity. (We can only hope.)Report

    Reply
  4. Susan Roe says:

    Part of me wants to honor the place of the stadium. The other thinks that a move to the other gathering place from the games would be fitting.Report

    Reply
  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    He was gone before the games were over. The blue line along Peachtree to mark the matathon run route was made by dragging Izzy out of town.
    But some politician will want to glorify Izzy at public expense.Report

    Reply
  6. Jim Connelly says:

    A lot of folks hated (and still hate) it. But I always thought the metaphor behind it was nice. And it is unique, recognized and an authentic piece of our changing history, It certainly should remain and be renovated. I love the idea of being able to walk up & through it, which the sculptor noted when he designed it. That stained glass ‘house’ about half way up is a great idea and nod to our hospitality. I agree that the optimal place is Centennial Olympic Park.Report

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  7. Jim Connelly says:

    and I think it’s one of those public structures that will be appreciated more in the future. The parisian’s, remember, hated the Eiffel Tower initially.Report

    Reply
  8. JBVick says:

    It should definitely be moved. It has no real connection to where it is now and it has NO connection to GSU. Leaving it where it is is simply wasting its value. 
    I say put it on the small piece of city property at the Williams Street exist of the downtown connector. That is a very visible piece of property. That way everyone who passes thru Atlanta will see it  but move it YES.Report

    Reply

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