Midtown Atlanta has had a volatile history although it began peacefully as a pine forest north of the city. In 1848 most of the land above North Avenue - which was just that, the northern boundary of Atlanta - was purchased by Richard Peters to provide fuel to power his downtown flour mill. Over the next 40 years Peters subdivided the cleared forest lands and platted out residential lots; he built his own home at the corner of Peachtree and 4th streets.
A few blocks north Peachtree Street looped around a thirty-foot ravine that came to be called “Tight Squeeze” for ne’er do wells and thieves that inhabited the area and made it a “tight squeeze getting through there with your life.” In the 1880s the ravine was filled in and the riff-raff herded out which cleared the way for wealthy Atlantans to move in. By World War I the blocks between West Peachtree Street to the west and Piedmont Street to the east above 8th Street housed the city’s elite.
After World War II, however, the march to ever more distant suburbs began in earnest and the area was once again in decline, best described as “seedy.” The pendulum swung back again in the 1980s and Midtown rebounded into the second most important financial district in Atlanta, with many of its skyscrapers. Alas, in the streets along the Peachtree Corridor, very little is left over of the area’s original architecture including single-family homes and mansions. Our walking tour of Midtown will begin on that long-ago northern boundary of Atlanta, looking up at the highest of the high-rises...
Bank of America Plaza
600 Peachtree Street NE
When this 1,024-foot tower was constructed in 1992 for NationsBank it was the ninth tallest building in the world. Although it has now slipped out of the top 50 it remains the tallest building in America found outside of New York City or Chicago. Crowning the dark red granite-faced tower is an open-frame steel pyramid that tapers to an obelisk-like spire mimicking the shape of the Art Deco-inspired building. Much of the spire has been slathered in 23-karat gold leaf.
ACROSS PEACHTREE STREET ON THE SOUTHEAST CORNER OF NORTH AVENUE IS...
North Avenue Presbyterian Church
607 Peachtree Street Northeast
The North Avenue Presbyterian Church was established in 1898 as a church in the “suburbs” at the time. Architects Alexander Bruce and Thomas Henry Morgan delivered a Romanesque church rendered in gray Stone Mountain granite for the congregation which held its first services here on Thanksgiving Day 1900. Additional wings were added in the 1920s and the 1950s and the sloping terrain of the lot disguises the five stories of the church.
WALK NORTH ON PEACHTREE STREET, CROSSING NORTH AVENUE (THE BANK OF AMERICA TOWER WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT).
Ponce de Leon Apartments
75 Ponce de Leon Avenue at southeast corner of Peachtree Street
This has been called “the city’s most famous intersection” and celebrated architect William Lee Stoddart created a grand apartment building worthy of its corner in 1913. The Ponce de Leon billed itself as “the South’s most luxurious apartments” and the second through ninth floors contained only two nine-to-ten room apartments per floor. The city’s first penthouse graced the apartment roof. With a dining room serving three meals a day and shops lining the street level, the Ponce de Leon was a city unto itself. Stoddart outfitted his symmetrical building with Beaux Arts details, many of which remain. The facade curves to follow the line of the trolley tracks that once ran out front defining what was at one time the northern edge of Atlanta.
Georgian Terrace Hotel
659 Peachtree Street NE
This is the kind of hotel where Clark Gable, F Scott Fitzgerald, and Calvin Coolidge would sign the guest register. Architect William Lee Stoddart designed the Georgian Terrace two years before he tackled the Ponce de Leon across the street and he used the streets of Paris as his model. Executed in tan brick, marble and limestone, the hotel boasts turreted corners, floor-to-ceiling Palladian-styled windows and wide wrap-around columned terraces. Look up to see a fanciful cornice rendered in terra cotta. In the 1920s, Arthur Murray, who was then a student at Georgia Tech University, started teaching dance classes in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom, lessons that would become the foundation for America’s most famous franchise of dance schools. In the 1970s that ballroom was converted into the Electric Ballroom and hosted the likes of Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith and Fleetwood Mac. In 1991, the hotel was converted into a luxury apartment building and a new 19-story wing, complete with a roof-top pool, was built to resemble the original 10-story, Beaux-Arts hotel. In 1997, the apartments were vacated and the property reopened as a luxury hotel.
660 Peachtree Street NE
This building began life in the 1920s as the Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque, decorated with Moorish onion domes and minuets. When the price tag started to outstrip their means, movie mogul William Fox stepped in to bail out the Shriners. The result was an atmospheric theater that transported movie-goers to an exotic Arabian desert night as they waited for the show to begin. The Fox Theatre could seat more than 4,000 for a performance and operated as a jewel in the Fox chain for decades. The movie palace met a familiar end in the 1970s, done in by suburban flight and television, but it escaped the wrecking ball and was rescued by Atlanta Landmarks, Inc.
683 Peachtree Street NE
This brick tower with a stone wrap at its base and Beaux Arts detailing opened in 1925 as the Cox-Carlton, a residential hotel for single men. This was the first of a handful of highrises designed in Atlanta by Francis Palmer Smith and Robert Smith Pringle who teamed up in 1922 and built numerous residences in Buckhead and Druid Hills. In addition to their landmark skyscrapers Pringle and Smith became noted for their work for Coca-Cola, designing bottling plants and mansions for company executives.
Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
731 Peachtree Street NE
The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer was founded in 1903 with 39 members in the shadow of the Georgia State Capitol. It was the second Lutheran church in Atlanta, but the first English-speaking congregation. The Lutherans obtained this property in 1937 and the current sanctuary was raised in 1952. Crafted of Tennessee quartzite and Indiana limestone, the low-slung Gothic structure was designed by Harold Wagoner of Philadelphia. Today, the congregation is the largest Cathedral-style Lutheran church in the Southeast.
Saint Mark United Methodist Church
781 Peachtree Street NE
The First Methodist Church established the Peachtree Street Mission in 1872 when this area was outside the city limits. That mission was located in a house on the east side of Peachtree Street just north of what is now Eighth Street. The congregation moved to this site with the new century in 1900 and the cornerstone for this Gothic-flavored church was laid in 1902. Crafted of gray Stone Mountain granite, this is one of three extant churches designed by noted Atlanta architect Willis Franklin Denny. Despite a career of only eight years that ended with his death of pneumonia in 1905 at the age of 31, Denny was influential in bringing Atlanta architecture from the picturesque Victorian era into the age of historically accurate revival styles.
Peachtree Manor Apartments
826 Peachtree Street NE
Georgia native Philip Trammell Shutze, who became the go-to architect for a wide range of projects in Atlanta in the first half of the 20th century, benefitted from several years of training in Italy early in his career. This brick Georgian Revival apartment house from 1923 was one of his earlier designs. Despite decades of neglect the stone details have survived in good order, including the rusticated Peachtree entranceway with “696 Peachtree” carved into it, a souvenir from the re-numbering of Atlanta’s main artery. Walk around the 6th Street side of the building to see the U-shape of Peachtree Manor, necessary to bring light and air into bulky buildings like this in the days before air conditioning.
Palmer House/Phelan Court Apartments
952 Peachtree Street NE at Peachtree Place
Sidney H. Phelan came from Alabama after the Civil War and made his money in the cotton business before turning his energies to development. On his homesite here he constructed two apartment buildings, one named for himself and the other for his wife, Palmer Graham. Phelan used Atlanta’s top architects for his buildings. The town’s leading Victorian architect, Gottfried Norman, designed the eclectic Flemish Revival Palmer Apartments along Peachtree Plaza (around the corner) in 1908. It stands today as one of Norman’s few remaining buildings functioning in its original role. The Phelan Apartments were developed after Sidney Phelan’s death in 1913 at the age of sixty. Norman was also not around for the new project, having committed suicide several years earlier. His successors Hal Hentz and Neel Reid worked on the plans. Also contributing design details was Philip T. Shutze who would become one of the leading architects in the Southeast over the next forty years. The elaborate classical doorway on the Peachtree Street facade is a Reid trademark.
Margaret Mitchell House
990 Peachtree Street NE
This building was known as the Crescent Apartments when Margaret Mitchell and her husband John Marsh lived in Unit #1 the 1920s. Mitchell, who worked as a newspaper reporter, would scarcely recognize the restored 1899 Victorian building today; she called the place “The Dump.” By the time the Marshes moved out in 1932 only one other apartment in the run-down nine-unit building was occupied. It was in this house that Mitchell wrote most of the manuscript for Gone with the Wind and that is the reason this building was never razed, like nearly every other home in the neighborhood. Mitchell would be killed in 1949 at the age of 48 by a reckless driver while she was crossing Peachtree Street three blocks north of here.
TURN LEFT ON 10TH STREET AND HEAD TOWARDS WEST PEACHTREE STREET. AS YOU WALK, THE TOWER VISIBLE ON YOUR RIGHT IS...
One Atlantic Center
1201 West Peachtree Street NW
When this 820-foot tower was completed in 1987 as a regional headquarters for IBM, it was the tallest building in the Southeast. Its arrival triggered the rebirth of Midtown Atlanta as its pyramidal top served as a beacon for new development. The building is dressed in Spanish pink granite and sports Gothic flourishes, especially as it rises to its crown, which is topped by a gold peak.
TURN LEFT ON WEST PEACHTREE STREET NW.
Academy of Medicine
875 West Peachtree Street NW
Science-oriented medicine in Atlanta traces its roots back to before the Civil War when the town wasn’t even ten years old. In 1854 the Atlanta Medical College and the Brotherhood of Physicians, soon after known as the Atlanta Medical Society, was organized to discuss medical techniques and practices. The Academy led a peripatetic existence around town before moving into this Neoclassical home in 1941. The beautifully proportioned, temple-fronted building is another design by the acclaimed Philip T. Shutze.
Atlanta Biltmore Hotel and Biltmore Apartments
30 5th Street at West Peachtree Street NW
The proliferation of the automobile untethered grand hotels from America’s train stations and downtowns in the 1920s and nowhere is there a better example than the block-swallowing Atlanta Biltmore. The local point man for the six-million dollar hotel was William Candler, son of Coca-Cola magnate Asa Candler, who developed the complex in association with the New York-based Biltmore hotel chain. The Neo-Georgian red brick hotel opened with great fanfare in 1924 with a symbolic parade of 1,000 cars making a sweep around the property. Beginning in 1925, WSB, the South’s first radio station, broadcasted for more than 30 years from its studios on the top floor and the illuminated radio towers on the roof spelling out “BILTMORE” became landmarks on the city skyline. Like most of its grand urban hotel cousins the Biltmore suffered spells of neglect, ownership shifts and vacancy. Extensive renovations came along in the 1990s.
AT&T Midtown Center
675 West Peachtree Street NW
Southern Bell erected the town’s third tallest building for its headquarters in 1982. Architects Skidmore, Owings and Merrill of Chicago, known for their facility with tall towers, provided the plans. The building took a star turn in RoboCop 3, standing in for the futuristic Detroit headquarters of the evil mega corporation O.C.P. Most of the buildings seen in the film were slated for demolition to make way for facilities for the upcoming 1996 Olympics.
All Saints Episcopal Church of Atlanta
634 West Peachtree Street NW at northwest corner of North Avenue
Mary Jane Peters, whose husband Richard owned and developed most of land of today’s Midtown, donated this land to the Diocese of Georgia in 1901 for “church purposes.” The first chapel here was a wood and stucco affair designed by Harriett Dozier, a pioneering woman architect. The present sanctuary was dedicated on Palm Sunday 1906 and sprung from the pens of Thomas Henry Morgan and John R. Dillon, who donated their services.
TURN LEFT ON NORTH AVENUE.
Fire Station 11
30 North Avenue NE
Alexander Bruce and Thomas Henry Morgan were Georgia’s leading architectural firm of the late 1800s. They were responsible for scores of public buildings, including this brick firehouse in 1907. The Station #11 Company was the first to respond to the fire in the Winecoff Hotel down Peachtree Street in 1946 that remains the worst hotel fire in American history to this day, claiming 119 lives. Many died leaping from the blazing hotel’s upper floors. Today the century-old building has been adapted as a restaurant.
WALK ACROSS THE STREET TO BANK OF AMERICA PLAZA AND THE START OF THE WALKING TOUR.