How did Portman do it?

The recent passing of John Portman has led me to a lot of thinking about what parts of Atlanta he saved and what he could be said to have destroyed. Arguably, downtown would have completely turned into cement bunkers, surface lots with no pockets of life left at all. Extremely ambitious projects that dovetailed back and forth, re-inforcing one on the other were his strange gift: he thought the largest wholesaling trade center in the South would be good for business, but you need world-class hotels nearby and the Henry Grady, Piedmont and Dinkler hotels weren’t gonna cut it, so build the enormous Hyatt Regency across the street. Piggy back on that with another block of marts and another full block of a hotel, then another than another. Sure, there were some elevated pedestrian tubes but you could argue those were as much to protect visitors from the summer heat as anything else.

OK, that gives you a bunch of out of towners mingling with the law firms that still called downtown home. By the time those firms started migrating to midtown and Buckhead, downtown was a real place again. A different place, a place dominated by cars and one way streets but still a place.

I have mixed emotions about what he did, but some of the things he did were ambitious in strange and very urban ways. The compact Rockefeller Center that is Peachtree Center had the Midnight Sun theater and restaurant complex and tons of class A office space at a time when most of downtown was at best class B. Sure, the theater and restaurant both folded but they succeeded in just the idea that those things could be tried downtown. Polaris lasted for 40 years.

It still amuses me that his first commercial design ended up as downtown’s Playboy Club in the eighties.

But back to how he did it, he sold magazines from street to street downtown in the 1920’s when downtown was at its pedestrian and streetcar zenith. He knew the store fronts, he knew the owners, the mixes of types of businesses. Not just of any city, this city. That tells me I should accept he did things for as much of the right reasons as are possible. My first thought was that his knowledge of those property owners in the 20’s and 30’s might have helped him assemble all those little properties into entire block spanning behemouths, but by 1949, they were already kind of starting to get assembled on their own:

About the only full structure still standing is the Capital City Club just left of center, but a surprising number of the old buildings were already long-gone by the time he started assembling parcels of land he would need. So he was already looking at a thread-bare rug-of-a-city when he walked these streets in the late fifties. Here are those same four blocks today:

Rationalized, certainly, but the only surface lot left is the one owned by the Capital City Club. Can’t blame him for it! For the record, he was a life-long member of the club and I understand each year he would submit a proposal to purchase the club’s property and each year they would vote to not sell. He was a complicated guy, he was loyal to the city.

You hear people say he ruined Times Square with his Marriott, he ruined San Francisco with the Embarcadero, Detroit with Rennaissance Center. I just don’t know. When he visited the made-from-scratch, completely planned Brazilian capitol in 1960:

At that time in my life I’d never anticipated anything with the kind of excitement I had for this trip. Well, when I got to Brasilia, I was devastated. It was heartless, lifeless, cold. Everything my teachers had told me was crumbling. Over and over, I thought, ‘We don’t need new cities, we need old cities restructured in such a way that they respond to human needs.’ So I started thinking about how different parcels of land up and down Peachtree Street might work when developed on a master plan. I also started thinking about new forms for buildings. The Merchandise Mart was just a simple cube. There had to be something different.

I guess, I’ll take him at his word and be happy for what he was able to do.

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MLK Day 2018

Here’s MLK Sr.’s entry in the 1935 Atlanta City Directory and a shot of the official planning map from the time with a large Ward “4”, the nearby original Morris Brown campus and a little stretch of the future Atlanta Beltline

Martin Luther King Jr.’s elementary school is “S.74” surrounded by Howell, Irwin, Randolph & Houston Streets. The building still stands and is getting a renovation to be a public school again! Here are two paragraphs from his 1958 masterpiece “Stride Toward Freedom”:

But it is still not too late to act. Every crisis has both its dangers and opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In the present crisis America can achieve either racial justice or the ultimate social psychosis that can only lead to domestic suicide. The democratic ideal of freedom and equality will be fulfilled for all — or all human beings will share in the resulting social and spiritual doom. In short, this crisis has the potential for democray’s fulfillment or fascism’s triumph; for social progress or retrogression. We can choose either to walk the high road of human brotherhood or to tread the low road of man’s inhumanity to man.

History has thrust upon our generation an indescribably important destiny — to complete a process of democratization which our nation has too long developed too slowly, but which is our most powerful weapon for world respect and emulation. How we deal with this crucial situation will determine our moral health as individuals, our cultrual health as a region, our political health as a nation, and our prestige as a leader of the free world. The future of America is bound up with the solution of the present crisis. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of a faltering democracy. The United States cannot hope to attain the respect of the vital and growing colored nations of the world unless it remedies its racial problems at home. If America is to remain a first-class nation, it cannot have a second-class citizenship.

This is near the end of his description of the events in Montgomery and his suggestions for a path forward. Beacon press recently published a beautiful new edition of this powerful book.

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Last post of 2017

A little holiday cheer left at Krog Street Market

Young and old, good crowds and good food!

Krog City Market opened in 2014 in a complex of buildings that for years was used by Barbizon (the modeling and acting company) then most recently as Tyler Perry’s main studio. The old building that houses The Collective store on the corner of Waddell and Lake was moved east about 80 feet from its original location in the middle of the block. They moved the historic home on two long steel rails and they completely rebuilt the foundations when they renovated it. The main market is going through some turnover in restaurants but remains a strong mix of concepts. The one I miss most was the restaurant that the Spotted Trotter folks had (Cockentrice), not missed as much was the Luminary. This seems so much more vibrant than Ponce City Market’s food hall but maybe I haven’t caught it on the right day. Awesome that we’re keeping all of these unusual historic buildings!

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Atlanta cleans up at #GABF2017

Atlanta had it’s best year yet at the Great American Beer Fest in Denver this weekend. Awards went to Sweetwater, Monday Night Brewing on the westside, Max Lagers downtown and Torched Hop on Ponce.

And down in Savannah, Moon River won for best mid-sized brewpub

Congrats to everybody who won!

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Bookstore memorabilia

I loved the quote on the Border’s bookmark (this was where party city in Buckhead is now); that’s the original location of the Science Fiction & Mystery bookshop: it was on Cheshire Bridge for 10 years or so then briefly over by I-85 and Shallowford — Steven, are you still out there??

OK, Charis is still in Little Five, but about to move over by Agnes Scott in Decatur.

I goes without saying how much I miss Oxford Books. I was just thinking about their magazine section the other day. It was sooo amazing and I had been to the old news stand in Harvard Yard many times as well as the one in Grand Central Terminal a lot in the 1990’s so I know whereof I speak. For those who never got to experience the store on Pharr Road: it was in an old car dealership and the east corner was a giant bulbed-out windowed cylinder: I think they used to call those “dazzle corners” or something in the auto trade. The magazine and newspaper section filled the whole thing and was always kept nice and neat and stocked with hundreds and hundreds of periodicals and even scholarly journals. Of course, nothing of the sort could exist today but it was great to have while we could. Peachtree Battle store was also pretty amazing and, of course, the used bookstore “Oxford Too” was a jewel as well. OK, I’ll shut up now 🙂

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City Fabric in a Book?

Looks like Tim Keane and co in the planning department have joined up with Ryan Gravel to put together a practical guide to achieving Atlanta’s aspirations for a knitted together fabric of a city. I love the idea. From Amy Wenk’s article in the Business Chronicle:

“The book lays out a vision and identity for the city,” said Gravel… “It’s an aspiration for the city’s future.”… quite unusual for a city government, said Tim Keane, Atlanta’s planning commissioner. “It’s a design for the city. This is something that Atlanta has been missing. We need to understand Atlanta as a physical place… The highways have so impacted Atlanta and broken the fabric of neighborhoods and between nature.”

And here’s a link for an article on SaportaReport

It’s due at the beginning of November 2017 and should be over 400 pages. I’m pretty pumped. Chicago is putting together something of the sort but geared towards students going to city schools. It’s called “No Small Plans” and should be out early fall. Here’s what the drawing style will be:

There was a successful Kickstarter campaign and my copy should be coming in a month. Excited!

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Nurserymen of Atlanta

Here’s a sampling of city directory listings. The only ones I knew for sure were Hastings and Monroe (the road was named after the nursery)


(obligatory joke about finding bush on Cheshire Bridge Road)

  • Abbey View Greenhouse 2055 Gordon Rd SW (rear). John T Petran
  • Raymond Z Adams 2410 Stewart Ave SW (also his home with Nancy)
  • Boxwood Acres Nurseries 520 Parkway Dr NE. Thelma Swann (wid Marvin)
  • Cascade Spring Greenhouses 2802 Cascade Rd SW. John H Zaring Jr (owned spring water company too, the spring house is still there)
  • Curray (George P) Nursery & Landscape Co 499 McAllister SW (2365 Sewell Rd SW home)
  • Golden State Nurseries 3616 Roswell Rd NE. Jay O and Mrs Ellen B Herring
  • HG Hastings Co
    • 434 Marietta NW, Telephone WAlnut 9464 (store and main office)
    • 64 Pryor NE, Telephone WAlnut 9464
    • 2350 Burford Hwy NE, Telephone EXchange 0377
  • Henry Grady Homes Nursery 100 Bell SE. Mrs Theresa W Bragg, teacher-in-charge
  • Monroe’s Landscape & Nursery Co 1898 Monroe Dr NE. William L Monroe (pres & treas), Jr (v-pres), Evelyn M Ellis (secretary)
  • William Moore & Co (sales office) 2140 Peachtree Rd NW
  • Geo C Newberry & Sons Nursery 2040 Cheshire Bridge Rd NE (home with Wm S)
  • Parker Nurseries 2173-75 Cheshire Bridge Rd NE. Grady W Parker (home in Chamblee)
  • Shannon Green House 1611 W Paces Ferry Rd NW. Wm W Shannon (also home)
  • Southern Bulb Co 225 Moore SE. Louise C Goldfinch (pres)
  • Symmes Nursery 3173 Roswell Rd NE. John C and Gwendolyn J (home 3198 Mathieson Dr NE)
  • Vines Greenhouse 2032 Cheshire Bridge Rd NE. J Walter Vines (hah!)
  • Wm H Wallace Landscape & Nursery Co (rear) 1825 Piedmont Rd NE (house in Decatur)
  • Young & Son Nursery Co 4285 Roswell Rd NE. Lucius E Young (also home)


(wow, two on Mitchell Street!)

  • Ashford Park Nurseries 44 Broad NW R802
  • Dahl C A Co The, 150 Ponce de Leon av NE, Tels WAlnut 2937-2938; Branch 167 Peachtree NE, Tel Walnut 2935

  • Hargrove May E 1154 Euclid av NE (currently Criminal Records)
  • Hastings H G Co, 178-80 Mitchell SW, Tel Walnut 9464
  • Hines John W 3358 N Whitney ave (H)
  • Lakewood Nurseries Pryor rd RD 1
  • Log Cabin Nurseries 1110 Boulder Crest dr SE
  • Midgett Clarence K 173 Mitchell SW
  • Monroe Landscape & Nursery Co 1896 Bouldevard NE
  • Murphy Geo M 734 Boulevard NE
  • Sill Benj W 2300 Gordon rd SW
  • Sirron Nurseries 3118 Peachtree rd


  • Atlanta Nurseries, 815 Equitable Building, William D Beatie proprieter, home 468 Capitol Ave (old street numbering, keep in mind at this time there were many large, fashionable houses on that block of Capitol)

The only landscape designer I know of back then, Edith H. Henderson, lived with her husband James R. Henderson, Sr. at 1028 Amsterdam Ave in the 1930’s when she was working in the garden department at Rich’s downtown and he was a salesman at Hastings Nursery. In the 1950’s, they lived at 250 Brighton Rd NE when he was a department manager at Spratlin Harrington & Co (insurance?) and she’s listed as a Landscape Architect. I get to visit her garden design at First Presbyterian Church this week at 16th and Peachtree next to the High Museum. [Update: here’s a post about my garden visit]

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