"The major structural innovations of the twentieth century have been the products of concrete technology, and many of these have led to radical changes in the form and action of structural systems." 1
All the buildings of the North Yards complex were built of concrete, and the construction techniques used show the changes in concrete construction of utility buildings between the 1920s and the 1960s. The Roundhouse was built using the conventional post and beam method of concrete framing exposed reinforced concrete skeleton with brick infill forming the curtain walls, Of Interest is the way concrete construction was used to form the curved shape required by the use of the building. The builders merely adapted the post and beam configuration to the shape of the building like the spokes of a wheel. The forming and bracing of the posts and beams to accommodate a space big enough to house an engine was probably more of a challenge. Many other utility buildings in Atlanta were built between 1905 (the Atlantic Cotton Compress Warehouse on Auburn Avenue) and 1940 (Warehouse #8 at Fulton Bag & Cotton Mills) using exposed post and beam with brick infill.
After World War II, advances in knowledge of the behavior of concrete and
the scarcity of other materials, resulted in a different approach to concrete
construction. This is exemplified by the post war warehouse buildings at the
North Yards complex. Although the outer shells of the buildings are similar,
two different methods of interior construction were used in these warehouses.
The warehouses were constructed using an interim means of construction between
the conventional post and beam construction, and the technique of pre and
post stressed concrete construction that was developed in the 1960s. All of
the warehouses remain relatively unchanged since their original construction.
(See Attachments 913 21)
The first two warehouses, the Little House (1952) and the End House (1953), were built using a variation of the column and slab framing developed and patented by C. A. P. Turner of Minneapolis in the first decade of the twentieth century. This was the first building technique developed specifically for concrete construction in which flared (mushroom) columns and a thickened roof slab above the column distribute the force that would cause the roof to deflect.2
The 1939 Western Electric Building on Ralph McGill Boulevard is an excellent
example of this technique in Atlanta. In the one story 1952 Little House and
the 1953 End House, columns with no flare have replaced the mushroom columns,
but the slab is still present. Both warehouses were constructed using poured
in place concrete walls, and both warehouses have a flat pan ceiling/roof
structure. The fact that, nearly 50 years later, the exterior walls of these
two warehouses are still in excellent condition, indicates the builders were
aware of and used the latest technology in mixing, forming and curing the
The Big House, constructed in 1956, shows some of the (then) new advances in concrete building technology. It was designed by the architectural firm of Wells & Taylor, with William H. Armstrong, as structural engineer. In fact, the Big House is probably the most innovative building of the North Yards complex. The building is encircled by an opening below the roof, which permits a great amount of filtered light into the interior of the building without eliminating any warehousing space. For a large building, it has a remarkably airy feel. The opening is filled with a green translucent corrugated plastic. The roof is set on thin widely spaced rectangular concrete piers and appears to float. The dome pan ceiling has been pre formed in large slabs, which are joined at the location of the widely spaced columns. There are two rows of double columns, presumably representing the location of sliding expansion joints.4 This building is an example of an innovative solution to lighting a concrete warehouse without losing storage space , it however, never became a commonplace construction technique.
The fourth warehouse, the Long House, was built using the same general construction
techniques as the Big House, but lacks the long window opening. The Long House
was built in three sections, and has a small upstairs office on the southwest
corner, which features diamond shaped cutouts. The windows in the sections
differ somewhat, but are mostly small and located near the roof The first
or 1958 portion of the building was designed by Wells & Taylor, Architects.
The 1962 section was designed by Smith & Freeman Architects of Atlanta,
with William Edwards as structural engineer. Robert Mathews was the general
contractor. The 1965 portion of the Long House was designed by Pope Fuller,
The warehouses are shaped to allow for spur tracks on both sides of the buildings. Both the northern facades of the Big House and the Long House are shaped like the prow of a ship. All the warehouses have multiple loading doors and docks, often with the railroad spur track on one side and an asphalt area for trucks on the other. Goods could be off loaded from the trucks and stored for rail shipment or vice versa.
Southern Railway Company
The Southern Railway Company was formed in 1894 from a merger of several East Coast lines including the Richmond & Danville, Georgia Pacific, East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia and the Atlanta & Florida. Led by Samuel Spencer, a native of Columbus, Georgia, Southern soon became one of the largest rail companies in the United States.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, eager enthusiasts established the first local rail lines to provide better transportation to their communities. By the start of the Civil War, many of the local lines had already joined together to serve entire states. Many of the small rail lines merged into centralized management systems serving entire regions as part of the rebuilding of the South after the Civil War. By the turn of the century, the South boasted an efficient, if lean, rail system without the excess baggage that would later prove a torment to overbuilt railroads in the Northeast and Midwest. With the rebuilding of the South, Southern Railway emerged as one of the major industries and largest employers of the region. In Atlanta, records indicate Southern had a turntable and yards located on the North Yards site as early as 1911.
The decade of the 1920s was a time for major improvements and extensions to the Atlanta division of Southern Railway. Heavier and more powerful locomotives were added, requiring strengthening of more than 1,000 miles of track. Bridges and trestles were rebuilt or replaced, automatic signals and telephone dispatching equipment installed. Passing tracks were built to handle the longer freight trains. In Atlanta, a roundhouse and shops were built to handle the growing passenger traffic carried by the railroad. The stated goal of the company was to improve its facilities and add equipment to increase its capacity and efficiency in handling the growing business in the South.5 The company headquarters was located in Washington, D.C., but the second biggest operation and the site of the large shops was Atlanta. In addition to the North Yards area, Southern's Atlanta operations included the Inman Yard Roundhouse, since demolished, and the Pegram Shops, which are still in use.
North Avenue Yards
It was during the prosperous 1920s that additional passenger train service was added to the Southern schedule. The Piedmont Limited, Ponce de Leon, and the Southern Crescent, all serving Atlanta, were added in a two year period. 6 During this time, in 1925, the Roundhouse at North Yards was built to service passenger trains for the company. All of the Southern passenger trains were serviced at the North Avenue Roundhouse and Shops, light repairs were made and excursion trains assembled, A turntable in front of the Roundhouse allowed for an engine to be put in any of the bays inside. The steam engines were watered, and coal loaded. Five tracks ran from the front of the building to the rear coach yard where the trains were turned around. Several small buildings, adjacent to the Roundhouse, provided shops for activities such as repainting and upholstery work.
Cementing Atlanta's position as the leading automobile distribution center in the South, was the construction of an automobile terminal at North Yards in 1924. Cars arrived daily from Cincinnati, were unloaded on the platform and driven to the showrooms on Peachtree, West Peachtree, and Spring Streets.7
All of Southern's heavy repair work was done at the Pegrarn Shops on Windsor Street, and the freight trains were assembled at the Inman Yard Roundhouse.8 The Inman Yard Roundhouse was demolished in the 1980s; the Pegram Shops are still being used today. In the early 1950s the Pegram Shops began servicing the new diesel engines that were rapidly taking over the railroad industry, and the North Avenue Roundhouse was closed to passenger trains. Shortly after, a series of concrete warehouses were built adjacent to the Roundhouse; the area has served as a bonded, public warehouse since that time.
In the years following World War II, Southern Railway's development of its network served the rapid growth of the South. A 1946 map of Southern's system shows the high concentration of southern cities served by the railroad. Southern was the first major railroad to convert entirely to diesel engines, and to build specially designed freight cars to serve specific needs. Passengers, freight, mail and express shipments all traveled the Southern's 10,000 miles of lines during this post war era. By the 1970s Georgia ranked first in all areas served by Southern in terms of miles of track, employment and local spending. Atlanta has also figured prominently in Southern's history because so many of the key activities of the railroad were centered here.9
As the twentieth century progressed, the increased use of personal automobiles reflected the growing prosperity of the South, and resulted in declining use of rail travel. The decline in passenger service and other changes led to a merger on June 1, 1982 with the Norfolk and Western Railroad that was headquartered in Roanoke, Virginia. Today the railroad operates as the Norfolk Southern, with headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.
A complex of warehouses was built around the North Avenue Roundhouse in the 1950s and 1960s. With the decline in passenger traffic and the growing competition of the trucking industry in the freight business, changes were made to the railroad yard at North Yards to increase its efficiency and to offer new ideas in storage capability.
The Roundhouse, no longer used to assemble passenger trains, was altered for a new use as a warehouse. Train access doors were converted to loading docks, where trucks could receive goods that had arrived by rail, and the turntable, no longer necessary, was removed. Southern ]eased the Roundhouse to Southern Bonded Warehouse Company in the early 1950s.
Southern Bonded Warehouse Company
Southern Bonded Warehouse Company grew out of a cartage business that was begun in the 1920s on Spring Street in Atlanta by John and Mamie Rooker. John Rooker began his career with Morrow Transfer Company in 1902. Their son, William A. Rooker, began the public warehouse business, Southern Bonded Warehouse Company, around 1953. As the warehouse business grew, Southern built additional warehouses connected to the Roundhouse. All of the buildings were serviced by rail. 10
The concept of the public warehouse, where shippers could warehouse their freight until ready to reship, was a new idea in the 1950s and provided an advantage to the business owner in cost savings of labor and space. The business owner had flexibility in the size and volume of what he stored. Southern Bonded Warehouse had many clients in the food business Nabisco, Frito Lay, Nestle, and Lipton among many others.
Southern Railway had a large real estate department and looked for ways to
maximize its resources. At a time when many railroads were having trouble
staying solvent, Southern invested in other ways, including warehousing, to
provide income for its rail lines. These warehouses produced a large volume
of rail traffic for Southern Railway. Southern Bonded Warehouse Company remained
in the North Yards until 1971 when they moved to a new location in Morrow,
This complex, basically unchanged since it was constructed, represents an era of great change in the railroading business during the twentieth century and is an important part of the history of Atlanta.
Physical Description of Site and Buildings
The complex is bordered by Norfolk Southern Railway tracks on the east, North Avenue on the north, Gray Street on the west and John Street on the south. This area was once the North Yards of the Southern Railway, precursor of Norfolk Southern, where passenger trains were assembled and light maintenance performed. Historically the area was covered with a maze of railroad tracks. Today this site is a large warehouse storage and shipping area. Three abandoned spur lines run into the center of the area from the north. Other tracks, which currently are operating, abut the property on the entire eastern edge next to the Long House. As late as 1947, the only buildings on the site were a Roundhouse, a long narrow shed, used as an automobile terminal and several smaller structures housing boilers and repair machinery. Today several large warehouses, constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, have replaced much of the maze of railroad tracks that covered the space. Only the Roundhouse and the Warehouses remain today. There are large expanses of concrete and parking areas, and much overgrown volunteer vegetation and kudzu especially along the western edge of the property.
Roundhouse (Building #1)
The 1925 Roundhouse was designed by the in house Southern Railway architect according to the building permit. It is post and beam construction with brick cladding. A small protrusion on the northwest comer of the building seems to be original and was used as the office according to the Sanborn Maps. The tracks leading into the building and the turntable have been removed. Each bay on the east side has a wood loading dock door. (Photos # 18, 19) On the west facade, many of the door openings have been infilled or covered over. There are large metal multi light windows along this elevation also. The handsome red brick northeast facade is five bays wide, with a stepped gable. Window and door openings appear to have been altered. Some of the openings have been filled with concrete block or new smaller windows. Some of the large multi light metal windows still exist. (Photo #70) On the south facade the openings in the three central bays have been infilled with concrete block where the building is attached to the End House. The roof is flat.
The interior of the building is divided into 15 bays. The floors and ribbed ceiling are concrete. Pilasters and square concrete columns have a triangular capital on which the supporting cross beams rest. (Photo #61) All wiring runs exposed. A clerestory runs the center of the building, lengthwise. The clerestory windows have been blocked in. (Photo #63) On the northeast comer a narrow platform connects this building to one of the 1950s warehouses, the Little House. (Photo #71)
A small bump out on the northwest comer housed the two story office. There is a single run set of concrete stairs leading to the upper floor. The upper floor is probably not original to the structure. The perimeter walls are concrete block on this floor. (Photo #69) The first floor office space has faux wood paneling in both rooms. The floor is concrete.
End House (Building #2)
The End House is attached to the south wall of the Roundhouse. (Photo #20) It is asymmetrical in shape, and was constructed in 1953. It is poured in place concrete construction throughout. The east facade has eight loading doors. The roof is flat. (Photo #2 1) The south end has a single metal door. The exterior walls are scored in a horizontal pattern. There are no windows on the south facade. The west facade has three loading doors and two small windows. (Photo #28)
The interior is divided into bays by round concrete columns. The columns have a flat slab system for support. (Photo #47) Ceiling is flat. All wiring runs exposed. The floor, ceiling and walls are concrete. (Photos #49 5 1) On its north end, the building is attached to the Roundhouse. (Photos #55 57) Two openings connect the End House to the Roundhouse. (Photos #55, 57)
Little House (Building #3)
A platform connects the Roundhouse to the Little House. It has a brick wall, flat roof and round metal support columns. (Photo #16) A small brick room, most likely a supervisor's office overlooks the spur tracks, is located on this platform.
The Little House has a mostly rectangular footprint. It was constructed in 1952. It is constructed of poured in place concrete, scored in a horizontal pattern. The roof is flat. The west and north facades have numerous loading doors. (Photo # 13) The north facade has a single metal door that exits onto the concrete platform. The east facade is covered in kudzu. There are numerous loading doors. (Photos #76, 78)
The interior is divided into bays by round concrete columns. The columns have a flat slab for support. (Photos #74, 78, 80) The ceiling is flat. There is a small concrete block bump out on the east wall. (Photo #76)
A long concrete ramp, built when the Big House was constructed, connects the Little House to the Big House. The connector building has a loading door, a single metal door and a small window. Vertical concrete strips provide ornamental relief On the interior, the floor is concrete and the ceiling is a dome pan ceiling. (Photos #11, 81 84)
Big House (Building #4)
The Big House has a rectangular footprint with a pointed prow at the north end. (Photo #1) It was constructed in 1956. Drawings indicate plans for a partial second story that was never constructed. (Attachment # 15) The entire building is tilt up concrete with a flat roof The structural system is a flat slab with one way concrete joists and beams. Both of the long ends of the building, the east and west facades, have loading doors throughout, some covered by metal awnings. A row of clerestory windows currently covered by green plastic, lines all facades of the building. (Photo #9) The north facade has a single loading ramp, covered by an awning.
The interior of the Big House is divided into bays by round concrete columns. (Photo #87) The ceiling is a pan dome ceiling. The ceiling appears to float over the building. Flat concrete piers divide the wall space, while supporting the ceiling and providing ornamental relief throughout. (Photo #91) A row of clerestory windows provides light without interrupting the wall space. Two small concrete block bump outs are located on the south end of the east wall. (Photo #85) Other bump outs are located on the south wall, and on the east wall at the north end. (Photos #86, 95)
Long House (Buildings #5 and 6)
The Long House has irregular massing and was constructed with tilt up concrete in three stages: 1958, 1962 and 1965. The earliest building (1958), Building #5, is concrete with a flat roof A diamond patterned decoration is located above the door at the comer of the south and west facades, and marks the location of a small second story office area. A flat concrete awning covers the door entry area. (Photo #99) This is significant since Mr. Rooker used John Street as the address for his warehouse business. The decoration marked the office, which would have been the first stop of the truckers using his business. An additional single entry door is located on the south elevation. (Photo #100) The south and east facades have several small metal multilight windows. Loading doors exist on the east facade along the railroad tracks. Some of the loading doors have been blocked in. (Photo # 104) The southern portion of the west facade has six large metal multi light windows located on the second story in the office area. (Photo#132) There are six loading doors and several small metal multi light windows along the west facade. (Photo #130)
The interior is divided into bays by round concrete columns. There is a dome pan ceiling. (Photos #140) A concrete block wall separates the interior into two sections on the first floor. A raised office area is located above this portion of the building, thereby preserving warehouse space. (Photo #142)
The second portion of the building (Building #6) was constructed in 1962 and is connected to Building #5 by a concrete platform open on the west elevation. The east wall is constructed of concrete block. (Photo # 107) The platform has round concrete columns supporting a dome pan ceiling. A small concrete block bump out exists on the east perimeter wall. (Photo#138)
Building #6 is constructed of tilt up concrete. There are loading doors along
the entire east elevation adjacent to the railroad tracks. The 1962 or middle
portion of the building has a single row of small metal multi fight windows
at the top of the building. (Photo #110) The northernmost or 1965 section
has rectangular metal multi fight windows. (Photo #113) The north facade has
a single door. (Photo #115) The west facade has the same window configuration
as the east facade. (Photo # 119) There is one single entry door. (Photo #
122) The western elevation of the 1965 section extends beyond the 1962 section
forming an open trucking platform. (Photo# 126) The 1962 or lower portion
of the west facade contains several loading doors and the small multi fight
The interior of both portions of Building #6 is divided into bays by round concrete columns. A small concrete block bump out exists on the west elevation of the 1962 portion of the building. (Photo #146) A small office area exists on the west perimeter wall of the 1965 portion. (Photo #149) A brick wall divides the 1965 building into two sections. (Photo #153)