In 1837 an army engineer named Colonel Stephen Harriman Long drove a stake into the ground and Atlanta began. A year earlier the Georgia General Assembly had voted to build the Western and Atlantic Railroad to provide a trade route to the Midwest. There had been several contenders to be “Terminus” but surveyor Long apparently liked the relative flatness here to enable trains to turn around comfortably.
The town that grew up on the railroad was first known as Thrasherville when Terminus was abandoned. John Thrasher led a work gang building the railroad and constructed houses and a general store for the workers. In 1842, when the population was about 30, the residents wanted to name the settlement after the sitting government Wilson Lumpkin but he asked them to name it after his daughter, instead, and Terminus became Marthasville. Just three years later, J. Edgar Thomson, the Chief Engineer of the Georgia Railroad,suggested that it be renamed to “Atlantica-Pacifica,” which was quickly shortened to “Atlanta.” In 1847 the town was incorporated as Atlanta, shortly after the first trains arrived.
Atlanta had fewer than 10,000 people when it became an important railroad and military supply hub during the Civil War. On November 11, 1864, after a four-month siege, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman ordered the town burned to the ground. The burning of Atlanta would be immortalized in Margaret Mitchell’s novel and film, Gone with the Wind, but Atlantans did not waste too much time wallowing in the drama. In 1868, Atlanta became the fifth city to serve as capital of Georgia. By 1870 the population had swelled to over 20,000 and the city was on course to becoming the business and transportation hub of the “New South.”
Along the way Atlanta decided to not to cling to its southern traditions in the way that its regional neighbors such as Savannah and Charleston did. Many of its modern downtown buildings sit on lots cleared two or three times of earlier structures. Our walking tour will begin where plenty of heritage buildings remain, however, and that is because they are underground...
Pryor Street and Alabama Street between Peachtree and Cnetral streets
Until the advent of the railroad all the great cities of the world grew up in the immediate vicinity of a body of water. Atlanta did not; the town sprung from a surveyor’s decision in 1837 after the State of Georgia decided it would construct its own railroad through the middle of the state to the Tennessee River and allow the proliferating private lines to link in to it. Atlanta grew around the Western and Atlantic Railroad and after the devastation of the Civil War the rebuilding began around the railroad tracks. Within fifty years Atlanta had become a very congested place. To better move the new horde of automobiles through the city a flurry of viaducts was constructed over the railroad tracks. Through the years as the city exploded above the viaducts the original trackside buildings became entombed along with the fortunes of the railroad. In the 1980s these abandoned structures were redeveloped into a nationally prominent retail and entertainment district. Under the Central Avenue viaduct, between Alabama and Wall streets can still be seen the original Zero Milepost of the the Western and Atlantic Railroad, inside one of the hundred-year old buildings. This isn’t the exact location of the beginning of Atlanta but, after several trips around town, it is very close.
MAKE YOUR WAY TO THE SURFACE AT ALABAMA STREET AND CENTRAL AVENUE.
Georgia Railroad Freight Depot
Central Avenue and Alabama Street, adjacent to Underground Atlanta
This Italianate freight depot is the oldest standing structure in downtown Atlanta, constructed in 1869 to replace the Georgia Railroad station destroyed by Union troops in the Civil War. Architect Maxwell V.D. Corput, who landed many important commissions during the Reconstruction era, did this work for the railroad.
WITH YOUR BACK TO DEPOT WALK THROUGH THE PLAZA ALONG CENTRAL AVENUE ON YOUR RIGHT TO THE CORNER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING DRIVE.
Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
48 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SE
Atlanta’s first Catholic church, a wooden meetinghouse, was raised here in 1848. During the Civil War, Father Thomas O’Reilly, serving as pastor, interceded with Union troops to save this church and others from destruction. After the war the congregation moved the church to the back of the lot and began work on this Gothic-style brick church that was dedicated on December 10, 1873. In 1982, in the clean-up following a fire, the long-forgotten crypts of Father O’Reilly and another pastor, Thomas Cleary, were discovered under the main altar of the church. They rest there today.
TURN LEFT ON MARTIN LUTHER KING DRIVE. TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON STREET.
Central Presbyterian Church
201 Washington Street
This is the second building to serve the congregation that was organized in 1858 with 39 members. The English Gothic style meetinghouse was crafted in 1885 of bricks with rough-hewn limestone used on the main facade. Stained glass, plaster and wainscoting inside are all original.
Georgia State Capitol
206 Washington Street
The capitol building was created in 1889 in the image of the United States Capitol as Atlanta was poised to assume the mantle as the “Capital of the New South.” Architects Willoughby James Edbrooke and Franklin Pierce Burnham of Chicago provided the faithful rendition in Indiana limestone although plenty of native Georgia marble is in evidence inside. In 1958 the dome, surmounted by a female statue of Freedom, was covered in gold leaf from Dahlonega, Georgia. This site has historically been occupied by the government; Atlanta’s first city hall was here before the land was donated to the state when Atlanta became the permanent capital in 1877.
TURN RIGHT ON MITCHELL STREET.
Atlanta City Hall
68 Mitchell Street SW
Early in Atlanta’s history if you needed to transact business with the town government you had to seek out officials in their offices in local hotels and grocery stores. In 1854 the first official city hall was constructed where the Georgia State Capitol stands today. When the state capital moved from Milledgville it actually did duty as the state capitol. That two-story brick structure was demolished in 1885. The current City Hall came from the pen of Geoffrey Lloyd Preacher, a major figure in southeastern architectural history, in 1930. Preacher made his reputation with large-scale hotels but his creation of the elaborate Gothic-inspired Art Deco City Hall is probably his best known design. The building rises 14 stories with setbacks from the soaring, cathedral-like entrance. Preacher covered the reinforced concrete building with cream-colored terra cotta tiles. In 1864 the home of Georgia attorney and jurist Richard Francis Lyon stood here when General William Sherman took it as his headquarters during the Union occupation of Atlanta. The house was one of the few that Federal troops did not destroy on the way to Savannah.
TURN RIGHT ON CENTRAL AVENUE. TURN LEFT ON MARTIN LUTHER KING DRIVE.
Fulton County Courthouse
160 Pryor Street, SW at Martin Luther King Drive
Albert Anthony Ten Eyck Brown was born the son of an architect in 1878 in Albany, New York. Brown based his own practice in Atlanta where he became an important designer of public buildings. Here, in tandem with Thomas Morgan and John Robert Dillon, Brown created the largest courthouse in Georgia in 1914. The monumental granite Beaux Arts confection was also the first time Georgia ever spent more than a million dollars to build a courthouse.
CONTINUE TO FORSYTH STREET.
Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building
77 Forsyth Street SW at southwest corner of Martin Luther King Drive
This splash of Art Deco came to the Atlanta streetscape in 1933 as the main city post office, courtesy of Depression-era funds. Albert Ten Eyck Brown provided the stripped-down classical design in contrast with his previous work at the county courthouse from twenty years earlier. In 1988 this became the first federal building to be named after the slain civil rights leader.
TURN RIGHT ON FORSYTH STREET. TURN LEFT ON MARIETTA STREET.
Walton Place (Georgia Railway and Power Building)
75 Marietta Street NW
Thomas Henry Morgan led Atlanta ever upward as a prominent architect at the beginning of the 20th century. This brick building with stone decoration was constructed in 1907 for the Georgia Railway and Power Company that began running streetcars in Atlanta in 1902.
Atlanta Journal Constitution Building
72 Marietta Street
The Atlanta Constitution put out its first editions in 1868 and within three years the upstart had run the more established Daily Intelligencer out of business, becoming the town’s only newspaper. The Atlanta Journal began publishing in the evenings in 1883 and the two papers became fierce rivals, even after being yoked to the same corporate management when Ohioan James Middleton Cox purchased the Constitution in 1950; he had bought the Journal eleven years earlier. The two papers merged into a single publication, Atlanta’s only daily newspaper, in 2001. The papers operated from this nine-story office building from 1972 until it was donated to the city, along with a four-story printing press building, in 2010.
190 Marietta Street
In the 1970s Ted Turner took profits gleaned from his father’s outdoor advertising firm and purchased an unpromising over-the-air UHF television station. He rented space on a communications satellite and transformed the little local station into America’s first national “superstation.” In 1980 Turner created the 24-hour news cycle by launching CNN, the first 24-hour news network. In 1987 Turner Broadcasting moved all its operations here, into a 1976 facility that had met with little success up to that point. The complex includes a company-owned Omni Hotel and is connected to the Philips Arena, home to the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association, a franchise Turner purchased in 1977.
WALK INTO THE PARK ACROSS MARIETTA STREET FROM THE CNN CENTER.
Centennial Olympic Park
Marietta Street at Centennial Olympic Park Drive NWThe 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park was created as the “town square” of the 1996 Olympic Games. The park retains several legacies to the Games including an interactive fountain in the shape of the Olympic Rings, symbolic Olympic torch columns and a statue of Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic movement.
EXIT THE PARK AT CENTENNIAL OLYMPIC PARK DRIVE AND LUCKIE STREET. WALK DOWN LUCKIE STREET.
152 Luckie Street NW
In 1898 a pastor from North Carolina, whose determination was matched only by his ambition, arrived in Atlanta to head the Third Baptist Church. Almost immediately Leonard Gaston Broughton set his sights on a massive new church near the center of town. Broughton’s efforts led members to break away from the congregation and start their own church. When his Board of Deacons declined to buy the property he was eyeing Broughton bought it himself and gave it to the church. The cornerstone for “Broughton’s Tabernacle” was laid in 1910 and plans by Chattanooga architect Reuben Harrison Hunt, who designed churches across the South, called for a church and three other buildings, including a hospital. Broughton was also a physician who started the Georgia Baptist Medical Center and nursing school here. The red brick church building trimmed in granite was constructed in the Neoclassical style with a monumental Ionic facade. The Third Baptist Church grew to over 4000 members as Reverend Broughton moved on to Knoxville, Tennessee. Through the 20th century the congregation dwindled until, with fewer than 100 members, the building was sold in 1994. In the years since it has been redeveloped into an acclaimed performance hall.
TURN LEFT ON SPRING STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CARNEGIE WAY. THE LARGE CIRCULAR TOWER ON YOUR LEFT IS...
Peachtree Plaza Hotel
210 Peachtree Street NW
The official Georgia Governor’s Mansion was once located here. That Victorian house was brought down in the 1920s. This cylindrical glass tower came along in 1976 and was Atlanta’s tallest building for a decade. When the Peachtree Plaza opened it was the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the world and is still the second tallest hotel in America with more than 1,000 rooms under its 723-foot high roof.
TURN LEFT ON ELLIS STREET.
133 Carnegie Way at Ellis Street
This 12-story brick and limestone building began life on April 11, 1929 as the Wynne-Claughton Building. Morgan T. Wynne started his real estate career in Atlanta almost 40 years earlier in the 1890s and cleared the old Ewell Hotel for this office building. Architect G. Lloyd Preacher provided the Chicago Style skyscraper with a flurry of Beaux Arts decoration and distinctive curved corners to fit into the triangular building site. Most people came to know this as the Carnegie Building, only because it faced the Andrew Carnegie Library across the street. Even after the library was razed this was still called the Carnegie Building, although the one-time richest man in the world never had anything to do with it. Most recently it has been converted into a boutique hotel.
TURN RIGHT ON PEACHTREE STREET.
Winecoff (Ellis) Hotel
176 Peachtree Street NW at Ellis Street
William Lee Stoddart was an architect who made his career building high-rise urban hotels, often in mid-size cities where his buildings were the tallest in town. Stoddart’s practice was in New York City but he married an Atlanta girl in 1898 and established an office in town from which he directed the construction of many hotels around the Southeast, including this one in 1913. The Winecoff became nationally known - in a tragic way - on December 7, 1946 when 119 people perished in a fire here. Several dozen guests leaped to their deaths from the 15-story tower in what remains the deadliest hotel fire in American history. At the time the building had neither fire escapes, fire doors, nor sprinklers. The disaster at the Winecoff brought about many changes in American building codes. The hotel reopened in 1951 as the Peachtree and spiraled downhill over the years into a residence for the elderly and then vacancy. It was restored as the Ellis Hotel in 2007.
ON YOUR RIGHT, AT AN ANGLE, WHERE CARNEGIE WAY AND BROAD STREET JOIN PEACHTREE STREET IS...
Atlanta-Fulton County Library
One Margaret Mitchell Square
The county library system launched in 1902 on the back of a grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie, one of some 2,500 public libraries he funded. The building was replaced in 1980 with this cantilevered creation from Marcel Breuer, the last project completed by the 80-year old leader of the Modernist Movement.
133 Peachtree Street NE
On this site once stood Loew’s Grand Theater which had its roots in an 1893 performance house and where the world premiere of Gone with the Wind was held. The theater, designated an historic property, held its downtown site as its property value soared and its movie revenues collapsed through the 1960s and 1970s. The theater burned, some thinking all too conveniently, in 1978 and this million-square-foot-plus office tower rose in its stead. The stepped tower clad in Georgia pink marble was opened in 1982 on designs from Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, a Chicago architectural firm responsible for some of the tallest towers in the world. This headquarters for Georgia-Pacific was Atlanta’s second tallest building for a spell. Georgia-Pacific, a leading pulp and paper company, was founded by Owen Robertson Cheatham in 1927 in Augusta as the Georgia Hardwood Lumber Company.
134 Peachtree Street NW
Amos Giles Rhodes was born in 1850 in Henderson, Kentucky. Laying crossties for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad brought Rhodes to Atlanta in 1875. He was soon operating a small furniture store but most people in Atlanta were still too poor to afford his goods. Rhodes hit on the concept of weekly installment payments which revolutionized the rebuilding of the war-devastated South and launched his own empire. Rhodes died in 1928 as this building was being planned for his company and fellow furniture magnate J.J. Haverty. When the 21-story building with Byzantine and Art Deco elements was completed in 1929 it was the tallest in Atlanta and would reign as the city’s sky king for a quarter-century. The Neoclassical wrap at the base is a later addition; it is now a hotel.
127 Peachtree Street NE
Asa Griggs Candler was 35 years old in 1887 when he pooled $2,300 from his drugstore and patent medicine sales to purchase a beverage formula from fellow druggist John Pemberton. By 1894 Candler was selling his Coca-Cola in bottles and by 1904 he was constructing the tallest and most modern office building in the city. Much of architect George E. Murphy’s lively Beaux Arts details can still be seen on the century-old tower. The stonework was carved from north Georgia Amicalola marble, personally selected by Candler and Murphy.
east side of Peachtree Street NE
This park opened in 1973 on land purchased and donated by Robert W. Woodruff, who headed Coca-Cola from 1923 until 1954. The park, that includes two fountains, a performance pavilion, and several monuments, was originally four acres but now covers six.
84 Peachtree Street NW at Broad Street and Luckie Street
Why waste a perfectly good sliver of land where Broad Street runs into Peachtree Street when you can erect a skyscraper there? And that is what Bradford Lee Gilbert did in 1897 with this 11-story classically inspired tower. Gilbert is credited with constructing the world’s first steel-framed building in New York City in 1889. His narrow triangular landmark building here predates the similar and more famous Flatiron Building in New York City by five years. Originally called the English-American Building, this was the second skyscraper constructed in Atlanta, preceded only by the Equitable Building planned by high-rise pioneers Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root. When the Equitable was brought down in 1971 the Flatiron Building was left as the city’s oldest heritage skyscraper.
TURN RIGHT ON LUCKIE STREET, IN FRONT OF THE FLAT IRON BUILDING.
Rialto Center for the Arts
80 Forsyth Street at Luckie Street
The original Rialto opened in 1916 as the largest movie house in the Southeast and once boasted the biggest electric marquee found anywhere south of New York City. That building was torn down in 1962 and replaced with this Rialto which operated until 1989. It was later revived by Georgia State University as a performance venue.
TURN LEFT ON FORSYTH STREET.
Tuttle Federal Courthouse
56 Forsyth Street NW between Poplar and Walton streets
For the better part of 150 years the only dealings most Americans had with the federal government was with the post office. This monumental Beaux Arts post office of rusticated Georgia granite that occupies a full downtown block was constructed in 1908. Rising five stories and with a loading dock crafted of cast iron and glass, this was the first million-dollar building in Atlanta. The heavy cornice makes the building’s low roof invisible from the street. When looking at such a massive stone pile it is useful to remember that it is not a solid block - without a light court in the center in the days before air conditioning the occupants of any interior offices would probably suffocate were that the case. The post office moved on in 1931 and judicial business has dominated the building in the years since.
57 Forsyth Street NW
Thomas G. Healey moved south from Connecticut in 1846 and started making bricks. The bricks led to construction and then to real estate and following the destruction wrought by the Civil War Healey became one of Atlanta’s wealthiest men. This skyscraper was raised by a Healey son, William, in 1913 and it would remain in the family until 1972. The 16-story tower, constructed of stone and highlighted by Neo-Gothic terra cotta tile, was planned as a block-filling two-tower project but the twin was never built. As it is, this building brought down the curtain on what is regarded as Atlanta’s first skyscraper era from 1893 to 1918.
TURN LEFT ON WALTON STREET.
The Grant Building
44 Broad Street NW at southwest corner of Walton Street
This heritage skyscraper of limestone and terra cotta is a rare 19th century survivor in downtown Atlanta. Its large windows set in a grid are emblematic of the nascent Chicago Style of high-rise architecture. The building was completely renovated in 1980.
35 Broad Street NW at southeast corner of Walton Street
This was the city’s first steel-frame skyscraper when constructed in 1901. For most of its 100+ years the building has done duty as a bank under a parade of different nameplates but each retained the opulent banking floor seen inside today. In the 1930s, in order to project an aura of security, the ground floors were given a Renaissance-style facelift in stone by architect Philip Trammell Shutze.
52 Peachtree Street NW at northwest corner of Walton Street
George Muse came with his family to Atlanta from rural Alabama in 1869. He was only 16 years old but responsible for his mother and five siblings. It would take until 1887 before he was able to open the George Muse Clothing Company. In 1921 he commissioned this seven-story building constructed on the site of a one-time Confederate arsenal. Muse’s, “the fashion center of the South,” would remain here until 1992; after the clothier departed the building was converted into loft apartments.
TURN RIGHT ON PEACHTREE STREET.
32 Peachtree Street NW
This Five Points property was purchased in 1877 by Thomas G. Healey when it contained the store of Thomas Kile. This historic spot was where Atlanta held its first municipal elections in 1848. William and Oliver were Healey’s grandsons who developed this office building in 1930 for lawyers and business owners. The 16-story William Oliver Building was the first Atlanta skyscraper built completely in the Art Deco style and it remains the city standard-bearer for Deco. Francis Palmer Smith and Robert Smith Pringle had formed an architectural partnership in 1922 and built a reputation on classical mansions for Coca-Cola executives. This was their first foray into the stripped down classicism of Art Deco and they outfitted the building with flashy geometric patterning and stylized chevrons. The William-Oliver Building established Pringle and Smith as the go-to Deco architects in the town in the 1930s. In the 1990s the last commercial tenants exited the building and it was renovated into luxury lofts.
east side of Peachtree Street between Edgewood Avenue and Marietta Street
Atlantans picked up their first mail here in the store of George Washington Collier and the town’s first mayor, Moses W. Formwalt, had a tin and sheet metal shop here. More often townsfolk came here for cockfights and a drink. The den of undesirables who lived here came to take their name from a Tennessee murderer named John A. Murrell. The notoriety of the district had begun to fade when Union torches leveled the area during the Civil War.
TURN LEFT ON EDGEWOOD AVENUE, IN FRONT OF MURRELL’S ROW.
50 Hurt Plaza
Joel Hurt was born in a town named for his family in Alabama and came to Atlanta in 1875 where he organized the Atlanta Building and Loan Association, which he helmed for 32 years. Hurt built Atlanta’s first electric street line and anchored it with the town’s first skyscraper, the Equitable Building, in 1893. The flatiron-shaped Hurt Building, wedged into this building site in 1913, was one of the crowning achievements of Joel Hurt’s career. The classically flavored building was designed by prominent New York architect J.E.R. Carpenter in the prototypical Chicago-style three-part fashion to replicate a Greek column with a defined base, a shaft of windows laid on a grid and an ornate cornice. Entry came through a rotunda at the point of the property. The first tenants moved in during 1913 but the building was fiddled with and not completely finished until 1926, the year that Joel Hurt died.
BEAR RIGHT OF THE HURT BUILDING INTO HURT PLAZA. TURN RIGHT ON PEACHTREE CENTER AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON MARIETTA STREET. TURN LEFT ON PEACHTREE STREET.
State of Georgia Building
2 Peachtree Street NW
This was the tallest building in the Southeast when it was constructed as the headquarters for First National Bank of Atlanta in 1966; its antenna topping out at just a few inches shy of 600 feet. The International Style building of marble and aluminum incorporated parts of the bank’s building from 1903. First Atlanta itself was incorporated into Wachovia and disappeared in the 1990s. Today the building trundles on as state office space.
CONTINUE A FEW MORE STEPS AND YOU WILL REACH THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT UNDERGROUND ATLANTA.