We need to preserve our historic treasures on Peachtree Street

By Maria Saporta

Be on the lookout.

Several historic buildings along Peachtree in downtown and Midtown are in jeopardy – facing an uncertain future as development encroaches on Atlanta’s most famous street.

Take the Peachtree-Pine building at 477 Peachtree St.

Peachtree-Pine

Architectural detail enlivens the Peachtree-Pine building (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Most recently, the building served as the home base of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. The shelter, which had been acquired by the downtown business group Central Atlanta Progress, closed its doors in August 2017.

In December, CAP sold Peachtree-Pine to Emory University. The building is across the street from the Emory-Midtown hospital (formerly Crawford Long Hospital). Emory has not yet decided whether it will renovate the building or tear it down.

“A lot of this remains to be seen,” Robin Morey, Emory’s vice president and chief planning officer, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “We are going to start a conditions assessment on the property to determine the mechanical, electrical and structural capacity.

“If there are opportunities to preserve it, we plan on doing that,” Morey said. “It has to fit in with the programming of the site and really what the site can bear… But any development we embark on will honor and respect the past of what that site has meant to Atlanta.”

Peachtree-Pine actually is three different buildings – expansions that took place over time. The most historic building was built nearly 100 years ago as one of Atlanta’s first automobile dealerships.

Peachtree-Pine

The Pine Street view of the Peachtree-Pine building, which shows the different expansions (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

In the fall of 2000, the Atlanta Historical Society wrote an article about the early days of the city’s “Automobile Row” – auto-related businesses concentrated near the 400 block of Peachtree Street.

“Noted architect A. Ten Eyck Brown’s United Motors Service Building (c. 1920-21) is one of several survivors of this early automobile district,” the Journal stated. “Its decorative banding adds a bright note of color to the otherwise ordered and restrained classicism of the building, and it looks forward to the polychromatic patterns of Art Deco, the premier style of the Twenties.”

Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, called it one of his “favorite buildings on Peachtree” and in Atlanta.

“It’s a magnificent Egyptian revival – art deco design that needs to be preserved. It’s of statewide significance,” McDonald said. “The artistry is top-notched with its façade. It’s very related to the early automobile age.”

Despite its role in Atlanta history and its architectural significance, the Peachtree-Pine building does not have “Landmark Status” from the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. If that were rectified, it could help Emory decide in favor of preserving the building.

Big Brothers Big Sisters

The historic residence that currently serves as the headquarters for Big Brothers Big Sisters (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Another building without “Landmark Status” is the current headquarters of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta – one of the few remaining historic mansions on Peachtree Street.

The nonprofit announced on Jan. 11 that it is putting up its headquarters – at 1382 Peachtree –for sale. Midtown’s hot real estate market has made it an opportune time to sell the building, which includes the Peachtree-facing historic residence built around 1902. The architectural firm of Perkins + Will built out the adjacent expansion a couple of decades ago.

Kwame Johnson, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters, said the future owner of the property, which totals .6 of an acre, will decide whether to redevelop the site or incorporate the historic residence as part of a future development.

Big Brothers Big Sisters

The modern expansion behind the historic residence that is part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters prospective land sale (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

“That’s one of the last three or four historic residences remaining on Peachtree,” McDonald said. “That’s a very valuable building.”

The other historic residences are Rhodes Hall, where the Georgia Trust is based; the Atlanta Women’s Club at 1150 Peachtree St.; and the Rufus M. Rose House at 537 Peachtree St., which currently is boarded up – begging to be preserved.

Also, the buildings that once housed the Pleasant Peasant and Mick’s Restaurant in the 1970s also need to be preserved and given a new purpose.

Then there’s the Medical Arts Building, which has been vacant for years and years. Although plans exist to turn the building into a hotel, nothing appears to be happening. At least it is listed as a “Landmark” by the city of Atlanta, and its façade is owned and protected by Easements Atlanta.

One of the other threatened Peachtree landmarks is Rhodes Center South. The Georgia Trust placed Rhodes Center South, across from Rhodes Hall – its headquarters, on its most recent “Places in Peril” list.

Rhodes Center

Rhodes Center South (Photo by Halston Pitman / Nick Woolever / MotorSportMedia)

“Rhodes Center South is one of the oldest strip shopping centers in the state of Georgia,” McDonald said. “I don’t think it has Landmark status. But that needs to be a priority.”

The strip shopping center used to include the Rhodes Theater, but the buildings have been vacant for years. McDonald is concerned the buildings, which are owned by developer John Dewberry, are suffering from “demolition by neglect.”

That said, McDonald said the Georgia Trust “is willing to help anyone who wants to rehabilitate these building by using historical tax credits,” he said. “These are powerful incentives.”

Preserving historic structures helps make Atlanta a more enticing city. The architecturally significant intersection of Peachtree and Ponce  – with the Fox Theatre, the Ponce de Leon Apartments and the Georgian Terrace – shows how preservation can anchor a city.

Rufus M. Rose mansion

The boarded up Rufus M. Rose mansion on Peachtree (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Tim Keane, the city of Atlanta’s planning commissioner, recently said the city must preserve the precious few historic buildings it still has.

“I think Atlanta has enough old buildings that if we save them, we still have enough fabric to build around them and make a distinct city,” Keane said. “What we are struggling with is the quality of the new buildings that fall around the historic buildings.  So far we haven’t been able to build to consistent design quality buildings that stand up to the test of time.”

All the more reason for the city of Atlanta to give these Peachtree treasures “Landmark” status. We need to  reinvigorate our historic fabric – not just by saving our oldest buildings but by filling them new life and vibrancy.

It’s time to preserve our past along Peachtree.

Medical Arts Building

A dramatic view of the Medical Arts Building (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Medical Arts building

A juxtaposition of Atlanta’s old and new architecture – the Medical Arts Building and the Peachtree Summit building (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

5 replies
  1. Avatar
    Elizabeth Rainwater says:

    Maria – Thanks for this. May I add another endangered Peachtree Street apartment-turned-condo building: Huntington Arms at 1765 Peachtree St. I understand that the architect of this 1929 building was a young Wilmer Heery. The developer of the property to the north of 1765 has already purchased more than half of the condos in Huntington Arms. It’s a gem. Will be a shame to lose it too.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    deb says:

    Atlanta needs to keep the past alive to maintain their heritage and identity. If we tear-down old buildings, we tear down the character of this city. What will be left for the future generation? Historical buildings reveal a style and craftsmanship that we must cherish.

    Architectural speaking, old homes and old buildings connect me to my ancestors who built homes and worked on historical buildings. As a residential appraiser in Atlanta, I find it appalling that one home a week is torn down for new construction. It would be a shame to lose anymore N. Reid or Philip Shutze structures.

    It’s difficult to comprehend that Atlantan’s let the Loew’s Grand be torn down where Gone with the Wind premiered. Thankfully, we still have the gorgeous Fox Theatre.

    I miss several old haunts of mine that have been torn down over the years — guess the destruction flame is still burning in Atlanta — and you can’t blame it on Sherman anymore.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Constance Raines says:

    I used to work on 17th street in a beautiful old historic home that was the offices of Quantrell Mullins Interior Design. The neighborhood included several of these buildings mentioned in the article, including 1382 Peachtree St. (the current Big Brother, Big Sister headquarters) and the Rhodes Center South. There also was a beautiful old hotel on Peachtree between Rhodes Center and 1382 Peachtree that had a great lunch time restaurant. The neighborhood was truly a vibrant neighborhood because of the mix of old and new buildings that made up the area and the mix of business with residential living. That neighborhood was destroyed when the old hotel and several other buildings north of 1382 Ptree were demolished. I am not even sure if anything was ever built on the opposite corner of 17th and Peachtree and that was a long time ago.
    What developers and city leaders seem to not understand time and time again, is how demolition and an entire area being insensitively redeveloped for the sake of the almighty dollar can wipe out an entire neighborhood and without these small little neighborhoods a city is lacking of a soul, which has happened repeatedly in Atlanta and other cities as well.Report

    Reply
  4. Avatar
    Alison Tyrer says:

    Thank you for being a consistent supporter of historic preservation, and for pointing out that it’s not just the individual buildings that are affected, but the very fabric of the city – what makes Atlanta “Atlanta.” New skyscrapers and cutting-edge architecture certainly have their place, but can live with the existing structures of our past, that are notable not only for their architecture, but for the stories they tell about how we got to where we are today. Kudos to the Atlanta Preservation Center and the Georgia Trust, which both work hard to preserve our history on Peachtree Street and throughout the city.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.