mid Marietta Street Artery (Bellwood District)

An intact pocket of buildings on Marietta Street and Means Street is the location of industrial and retail historical structures with high tales to tell. Known at the turn of the century as the Bellwood District, this region of the Marietta Artery from the 1880s until the 1950s was a lively community of industrial, retail and residential buildings in a symbiotic relationship. Click buildings and text on both maps for further information.

Fairlie-Poplar Historic District Castleberry Hill New Techwood Proposed Business Park Lower Artery Georgia Institute of Technology Credit For Rendering
Engineering Bookstore Allied Warehouse #2 Block Candy The Carriage Works Nextus Contemporary Art Center Hotel Roxy Georgia Institute of Technology
Historical Building Activity
The Civil War created an urgent need for the agrarian south to rebuild as a well developed industrial entity. Atlantans responded to this new cultural pressure with the substantial industrial manufacturing facilities that began appearing in the 1880's along the arterial transport of the railroad. These buildings were well designed to withstand the sustained use of manufacturing and constructed with fire insurance protocol in mind. Also created was a huge middle class of workers. A high volume of people began moving up and down Marietta Street riding the trolleys to and from work.

Means Street, plotted in 1869, was named for early landowner Alexander Means. Original plans for the surrounding Bellwood area included large industrial developments as well as small lots for workers' homes. The brick warehouses still existing in the mid Artery were typical of those which dominated what was once Atlanta's industrial corridor along the Western and Atlantic Railroad.

Bellwood's reputation was a rough one, almost from the start. In the parlance of Old Atlanta, a "tough guy" was someone who "drank Red Rock, ate Stone cakes (a pun on the name of a local bakery) and lived on Means Street." Bellwood's reputation did not change at the turn of the century, when Means Street became the home for Standard Oil Company's original Atlanta offices (now part of the Nexus complex), and Atlanta Buggy Company, manufacturers of the White Star "horseless carriage."

During and right after the Civil War this area was mostly residential wood construction, but by 1900 Marietta Street's transition into a lively amalgamate of industrial and retail buildings, surrounded by working class neighborhoods of industrial workers, was well into motion.

Although not easily discernable today because of demolition and cultural change (see before and after photos below), the mid Artery was at one time teaming with retail storefronts built as a convenient and profitable component to residential neighborhoods and industries, all pulled together by the trolley. Atlantans going to and from work at manufacturing facilities would tug the trolley 'stop' and shop for needed items. The majority of people utilized this expansive trolley system and did not have cars.

 

Starting in 1882 trolleys were the major form of transportation for people living and working along the Marietta Street Artery and throughout Atlanta. The first were mule pulled trolleys which became electrified lines in 1894. The last trackless trolley, powered by the aerial lines still seen in the 1950s photos at the bottom of this page, disappeared totally from Atlanta on September 27, 1963 when the city became fully a motorized bus system (Carson O.E., The Trolley Titans-A Mobile History of Atlanta). According to the researcher of the Hotel Roxy National Register Nomination, the last streetcar ran down Marietta Street in 1949.

Much of the residential housing once following Marietta Street has also been demolished. Georgia Tech's expansion into what used to be Home Park has removed literally 1000s of houses. When the Exhibition Cotton Mills was demolished in 1971 at least 700 units of

IMAGES AT TOP: Trolley Track layout of the City of Atlanta in 1882-1891and 1933 (Carson, O.E., The Trolley Titans-A Mobile History of Atlanta ,Glendale California, Interurban Press , 1981. Library of Congress # 388.46.)
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mill housing went with it. As stated by Renee Kemp-Rotan, the acting director of the City of Atlanta Department of Housing and Community Development, in order for an area to come alive the resident body count has got to be high - which it was when this area was in it's heyday. Inflexible zoning ordinances of the 60s, 70s and 80s may also have canceled out the life-giving urban factors of residential maintenance and growth.

As illustrated in photos below, our changing culture and the resulting population shifts have taken their toll of what used to be a lively retail and residential area along Marietta Street. When industry began leaving the area in the late 50's and early 60's, retail also left the area and the dead world of urban blight rolled like a dense blinding fog down Marietta Street.

Bellwood- Rebirth of a Historic Neighborhood

In the 1920s, west-reaching Bellwood Avenue was changed to Bankhead Avenue in honor of Governor Bankhead of Alabama. Bellwood's gritty industrial reputation began to wane when the Atlanta Buggy Company went out of business in 1913. This building and others on Means Street began to be converted from manufacturing enterprises into warehouses which lasted until the 1980's. The fact that the area was now only two blocks from the campus of Georgia Institute of Technology made an anachronism of what had once been a vital manufacturing hub.

A return of the population to the conveniences of the city at the turn of the millennium is beginning to have a positive re-impact on this area. These hearty old retail and industrial buildings have given rise to an unusual neighborhood environment in which one can live, work and be right in the middle of Atlanta . Buildings like The Allied Factory Warehouse #2, the Engineering Book Store, Nexus Art Center, Hotel Roxy (National Register of Historic Places-1997), Atlanta Carriage Works (National Register of Historic Places-1992) , Block Candy Company Factory (National Register of Historic Places-1995) and other structures of this area are examples of the metamorphosis of fresh new ideas and well constructed old buildings.

As arts organizations and business continue to be attracted to Means Street, the revitalization of Bellwood will be ensured. Since 1988 Nexus Contemporary Art Center, the Winter Group of Companies and W.T.G Properties have been leaders in renovating abandoned, but architecturally outstanding warehouses on Means Street, into exciting contemporary spaces.

Nexus chose a group of warehouses built between the 1890s and the 1950s as a permanent home for its acclaimed contemporary art programs including Gallery, Press, Studios, and Performance. A successful capital campaign allowed Nexus to purchase the property in full and to complete renovation of the existing buildings in 1992. At the same time, the Winter Group of Companies set out to renovate the 1903 Buggy Works building, now known as The Carriage Works, into splendid office space for its own organization, as well as other businesses interested in being part of this exciting downtown scene. At the present Winter Properties is expanding The Carriage Works to include The Dux (tobacco) Mixture Hardware Building and the Ruben & Ruben Body Shop Property (original carriage shop). In 1993 W.T.G properties purchased the Allied Warehouse #2 and skillfully renovated this interesting old building into 10 live/ work lofts plus other spaces.

Comparison of 1940s/1950s photographs to 1998

Ancient cities have many layers of buildings created, destroyed and rebuilt to suit the current culture. As Atlanta matures, buildings signifying different periods of our culture have begun to form visible and invisible layers along the mid Artery. There seem to be 4 major waves of transition in the mid Artery :

(Wave 1) 1880s -1910 : FIRST MARIETTA STREET TRANSITION : By the early 1900s Marietta Street had expanded its building types from largely residential to include industrial establishments. The Exposition Cotton Mills and many other industrial organizations along the Marietta Street Artery had their inception during this time frame (shown on the local maps and index). This activity was abetted by (1) intense industrialization due to post Civil War culture (2) the convenience of the Western and Atlantic Railroad (3) the extension of the electric streetcar line down Marietta Street.

(Wave 2) 1910 -1950s : SECOND MARIETTA STREET TRANSITION : To better serve the teaming life of the largely blue-collar Artery population, the early 1900s brought further expansion of the Marietta Street building types.These ameliorated from largely industrial and residential buildings to include a raucous and lively retail element.

Below is the corner of Marietta Street and Bankhead Ave. looking south towards the Hotel Roxy in the 1950s and 1999. Note the trolley aerial wires in all the early photographs. The original metal tracks have been covered with asphalt at this point. It's interesting how a culture based mostly on public transportation forms a much denser, complex and more European scaled building fabric than one based on the inclusion of the automobile, as in the 1999 photo.
Although this original configuration of space is very inviting, Europe didn't have the incredible amount of land and cars at their disposal as did Americans in the 50s, 60s, and 70s when the destruction and construction changes seen below were taking place. Europe has been working on her building and rebuilding for 1000s of years and Atlanta is just beginning. Logically, but not humanistically, the stretched out space of the 1999 photo is a very natural evolution of the forces at large. Today with hindsight into what creates lively communities, developers try to design closer to the 1950s spatial configurations. (See Atlantic Steel.)

By 1882 the trolley was well established to transport workers into the Artery and the old photograph above is of the retail buildings that gradually formed around this secondary form of transportation. Laundry services, kitchen manufacturing, furniture, clothing, shoes, hardware, groceries etc. served the residential neighborhoods burgeoning behind these storefronts. People from all over Atlanta may have very well shopped here for bargains. The brick construction (VS wood construction) in the 1950s Pullen Archive photographs indicate prosperity, a popular style and the city enforcing fire-codes.

(Wave 3) 1950s - 1990 : THIRD MARIETTA STREET TRANSITION :This area began transitioning a third time beginning in the late 1950s when the circulation needed to keep it alive was cut off with the demise of trolleys, industrial jobs and surrounding residential neighborhoods. Cities are like ecological systems -- if one or two parts are killed off, the whole thing begins to die.

Below is the corner of Marietta Street and Bankhead Ave. looking north away from the Roxy Hotel in the 1950s and 1998. In the old photo one can see the trolley tracks wearing the asphalt as well as overhead wires. This area is in the core of Atlanta and land value, post-industrial technology, 50s, 60s, & 70s popular social values, means of transportation and then prevailing architectural modernist theory all worked together for the demise of this area's original organization of space and function.
The majority of the east side of Marietta Street towards Georgia Tech has been torn down to make room for businesses with parking lots and Georgia Tech has expanded into a residential area once located behind the demolished storefronts. The west side of Marietta Street in this area is more intact although the residential neighborhoods once located behind these storefronts are mostly gone.

The commercial building ecology along the Marietta Street Artery and other negatively impacted urban transitional areas in Atlanta can be likened to a forest where a pesticide suddenly kills off a basic component of the system - perhaps a vast majority of the insect population are decimated. Eventually the entire eco-system will go into a major decline as starvation works its way up the food chain . Comparatively, when this areas' industries and retail shifted their operations to other locations in the late 1950s and 60s, abandoned and under-used structures appeared causing an urban slump. Storefronts and many working class homes were subsequently bulldozed to make more valuable commercial property.

During the 1960s the national social trend was to flee the city to the suburbs. The automobile became the preferred form of transportation and the great American highway infrastructure was developed in place of the railway and trolley systems. The little stores lining Marietta Street became obsolete to suburban strip malls and shopping centers designed around the car and the suburbs.

Also during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, signage and the 1950s visually charming street edges forming comfortable 'rooms' scaled to the human being throughout the United States were destroyed to reflect a car culture--fast moving and parking lot oriented. Space designed to the car becames stretched out to fit the car. Wide open spaces (parking), large commercial signage designed so a fast moving car can read it, and a resulting lack of building cohesion creates the stretched out look of this area in 1999 and of many of the urban "spawl" areas around Atlanta's edges.

(Wave 4) 1990 - present : FOURTH MARIETTA STREET TRANSITION : People are returning to the conveniences of the city in the Millennium and there is a definite trend noticeable in building developments to bring back the intimate, inviting scale of pedestrian based buildings, forming public 'rooms' that people enjoy, as well as create adequate space for transportation. These 'neighborhood' based developments include everything from a grocery to the car repair shop.

Everything close and convenient adds hours to peoples free time, developes a healthy sense of community trust (further reducing stress), as well as greatly reduces car exhaust pollution. Govenor Roy Barnes' policies, major corporate employers such as Bellsouth Corp. and the hightech companies of Mindspring Enterprises Inc., iXL Enterprises, ISS Group Inc., WebMD Inc., and Cox Interactive Media Inc. among others, are all following this economical and humane philosophy of locating intown and using public tranportation. Northyards Business Park and Atlantic Steel as well as countless projects along the Peachtree Street corridor are developing to fill these needs.

The photos below are taken at 794 Marietta Street (present day Post Office) looking north towards the old fire station. In the old photo one can see the trolley tracks wearing through the asphalt and the overhead electric wires.The trolley was also a nonpolluting way to travel.

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