FAIRLIE-POPLAR DISTRICT

Credits

Farlie-Poplar Home Page - http://www.farlie-poplar.org/mainmenu2.htm

 

N-89-33 through 70

District 14, Land Lot 78

Proposed Nomination: Fulton County, City of Atlanta Landmark District

Existing Zoning SPI-1

National Register listed: 1982

BOUNDARIES

The Fairlie-Poplar Landmark District lies in the heart of Atlanta's Central Business District, in Land Lot 78 of District 14 in Fulton County, bounded on the southwest side by Marietta Street, on the northeast side by Luckie Street, on the southeast side by Peachtree Street, and on the northwest side by Cone Street. Contributing structures lie along all of the perimeter streets but the best concentration of historic resources lies along the interior streets--especially Fairlie, Walton, Poplar, and Broad Streets. There are few noncontributing structures in the district : one contemporary office tower sits within the district boundaries; three historic buildings have been altered irreversibly; and one building has one original facade and one altered facade. Otherwise, all the other buildings retain their original materials and integrity of design. (The accompanying maps show the district boundaries, the contributing and noncontributing structures, and dates of construction.)

HISTORY

According to the text of the National Register nomination for the Fairlie-Poplar District, the area contains the "largest and most concentrated intact portion of Atlanta's late nineteenth and early twentieth central business district." Fairlie-Poplar represents the expansion of commercial and office functions of an expanding downtown north and northwest of Five Points.

Atlanta's commercial center arose along Whitehall Street (now Peachtree Street SE) and Alabama Street (now part of Underground Atlanta) in Land Lot 77 south of the Central of Georgia railroad tracks and to the north of the tracks in Land Lot 78 along Peachtree Street and Marietta Street. In the years following the Civil War some commercial development stretched north along Peachtree Street, running from the railroad tracks north and east to the point of land where the First Methodist Church stood (on the site of the present Candler Building) and across from the triangle now known as Margaret Mitchell Square. The 1878 Hopkins Atlas of Atlanta shows commercial development along Peachtree and also along Marietta Street between Peachtree and Fairlie and along North Broad Street between Marietta and Peachtree. East, west, and north of these intersections lay the city's residential sections, including the other streets now comprising the Fairlie-Poplar commercial district. Cone, Fairlie, Poplar (called Grubb) and Luckie were residential streets until the turn of the century. Thus, the eastern section of-the Fairlie-Poplar District is associated with the years of commercial rebuilding after the Civil War. The remainder of the District is associated with the transition in commercial development which occurred during the turn of the century and the first four decades of the twentieth century.

The 1892 construction of the Equitable Building designed by John Wellborn Root (since demolished, but originally located on Park Place were the banking lobby of the Trust Company Tower now sits) signaled a new urban form and commercial direction in Atlanta, modeled on developments in Chicago and other northern cities. This structural experiment in fireproofed skyscrapers dwarfed its masonry neighbors and offered an office building precedent for developers and office managers to follow. The erection of other steel frame, concrete reinforced skyscrapers north of the railroad tracks in the late 1890s signaled the opening of new territory for commercial expansion--not only out, but up. Buildings twice as high as any yet built in Atlanta popped up north of the railroad tracks on land which had been used commercially but not yet with such intensity. Lawyers and brokers who had had their offices on Alabama street moved to the new luxuries of the Flatiron, Empire (C&S), and Grant Buildings as well as to others, abandoning the older office blocks. In 1904 the very center of town itself moved when the Union Passenger Depot, "always" located at the Central Avenue crossing over the railroad tracks, was relocated west of Forsyth Street. The heart of Atlanta moved north of the tracks and continued to move north along Peachtree Street, a direction of commercial development which has to this day not abated.

The city's growth brought with it a tendency toward specialized land uses in which certain economic functions or types of enterprise located themselves together in certain areas of the city. This specialization was not so rigid as the appearance of craft/guild districts and ghettos of the medieval cities in Europe but was pronounced enough to be noticeable. For example, government functions clustered around capital hill; banking houses located themselves along Marietta and Alabama Streets. Whitehall and South Broad Streets were the centers for retail establishments, while hotel "rows" sprang up adjacent to the old and new depot locations and along the Peachtree corridor above Luckie Street and below Cain. Increasing racial segregation created not only black residential sections but a black business district along Auburn Avenue, Old Wheat Street and some parts of Decatur. Warehousing and light industries followed the railroad tracks along Marietta Street, DeKalb Avenue, and Peters Street to the outer limits of town. And, as the automobile began to have impact on Atlanta businesses and traffic, car sales and service centers sprang up along the edges of the central business area, including Cone Street and Spring Street near Fairlie Poplar. In this same way, office blocks, buildings, towers were built along Peachtree Street and along all its neighboring streets, especially--but not exclusively--in and around the district now identified as Fairlie-Poplar.

This kind of land use specialization can be found in most cities of any size, but the difference in Atlanta lay in its development in the first part of the twentieth century as the "capital" of the southeast and the center for regional economics. Atlanta attracted all manner of enterprise--industry, retailing, branch offices, warehousing and services, but it prided itself most often on being the South's commercial and distribution center--a city of railroads and office buildings. The Atlanta City Builder reported in March of 1926 that Atlanta had now 44 office buildings with more than two million square feet of rentable space. According to the records of the National Association of Building Owners and Managers, reported in the same article, Atlanta was twelfth in the country in rentable office space and the only southern city besides New Orleans to place within the top twenty office building cities. (New Orleans was twentieth.) Furthermore, Atlanta had only half the population of all the other cities except two (Omaha and Portland), evidence of Atlanta's success in promoting herself as on office center and of her strategic location within the national railroad system. Of the eleven office buildings featured in the City Builder article only six are still standing, three of them - the Healy, the Grant, and the C & S buildings-are located within Fairlie-Poplar. The other three-- the Candler, the Hurt and the Glenn Buildings-are in close proximity to Fairlie-Poplar.

The Fairlie-Poplar District therefore represents the development of Atlanta as a nationally recognized economic center, the South's primary office center for the first half of the twentieth century.

ARCHITECTURE

The Fairlie-Poplar District is filled with commercial buildings from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The earliest buildings date from the 1880s, possible earlier. These are structures on the block between Walton and Poplar facing Peachtree Street to the front and Broad Street to the rear. These buildings match the building footprints and other descriptions shown on this block on the 1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. map. (The same block configurations show up on the 1878 Atlas, and it is possible that these are among the oldest buildings in central Atlanta.) There are no extant building permits for the construction of buildings at these addresses and no record of replacement buildings being built, except for Muse's. The youngest building in the district sits at 82-4 Broad Street, which replaced the music conservatory at that site in 1937.

The Fairlie-Poplar District contains structures and spaces which are all functionally related because all are office buildings. Most were built with retail spaces on the first floor and office space above; one was built with office space below and lofts above; several have housed small factory operations, but all have the office function in common as part of their original use and continuing life. There are no structures standing within the district which were built for another primary purpose. At one time there were several theater/office buildings in the area; these have either been demolished or renovated beyond recognition and none are included in the landmark district. All of the nineteenth century residential structures have been replaced; there are therefore no anomalous, old, free standing single or multiple family housing units within the district. One building has been converted to apartments, but it was built as an office structure and retains part of its office uses on the first floor.

Fairlie-Poplar District includes, as stated above, few intrusions or non contributing structures. The First American Building (formerly the National Bank of Georgia Building) on Peachtree Street is the single intrusion in the area, having been built in the early 1960s. The other contributing structures were built in the historic period but have been remodeled; in three instances the facades have been altered beyond recognition; in one instance the building faces two streets and has an historic facade on one street and remodeled facades on the second. In two instances buildings which had been sheathed with aluminum paneling have been rehabilitated and their historic facades revealed and renewed.

The Fairlie-Poplar District contains material and visual integrity in its architecture while the buildings demonstrate a wide range of architectural styles. The buildings have retained their original character and design elements along with much of their original fabric in the buildings. Together with their setting they create a unique urban environment in Atlanta. Street improvements made in the early 1980s added some amenities to the street scenes (benches, potted shrubbery) and reintroduced some older building materials to the streets--curb stones and brick pavers. The structural and decorative materials include brick, stone, cast iron, pressed metal, and terra cotta. Several of the largest buildings have steel frames and poured or cast concrete skins; the smaller buildings were built with loadbearing masonry walls or stone wall. The styles reflect changing tastes in the years of commercial development and include Victorian Eclectic, Chicago, Georgian Revival, Renaissance Revival, Art Deco, Neoclassical, Gothic Revival and early 20th century commercial vernacular. Though some of the buildings are simply styled, none is truly plain, ordinary, or without some architectural detailing. The array of architectural details and the site lines following the facades along Walton, Poplar, and Fairlie are exactly as they have appeared for the past fifty years. The same is true for parts of Forsyth, Broad , and the west side of Peachtree.

Individually these buildings constitute some of the finest late Victorian, turn-of-the-century and early twentieth century commercial and office buildings in Atlanta. Almost all of the extant early skyscrapers are located in Fairlie-Poplar along with other important types of commercial buildings--e.g., the storefront and commercial loft forms. The evolution in exterior or construction technologies is represented in the district in the presence of buildings which range from masonry construction to steel and concrete framing; and the revolutions in interior constructions are present in early elevators, air-conditioning systems, and fireproofing. A half dozen of the buildings in Fairlie-Poplar are the finest examples of their kind in the city; their architectural value has been recognized by individual listings in the National Register of Historic Places. These six buildings are as follows:

1.The United States Post Office and Customs House at 56 Forsyth, listed May 2, 1974

2.the English-American/"Flatiron" Building at 74 Peachtree Street, listed March 26, 1976

3.the Healey Building at 57 Forsyth, listed August 12, 1977

4.The Empire/C & S Building at 35 Broad Street, listed August 18, 1977

5.the Prudential/W.D. Grant Building at 44 Broad Street, listed January 8, 1979

6. the Retail Credit Company Home Office Building at 42 Fairlie Street, listed January 8, 1980

The District itself was determined eligible for the National Register in 1980 and listed on September 9, 1982.

Local interpretations of national architectural styles, as described above, were carried out by some of Atlanta's premier architects. Among the architects represented are Walter T. Downing, more noted for domestic architecture in Atlanta than for commercial; Alexander C. Bruce, Atlanta's first member of the AIA and a partner with his apprentice, Thomas H. Morgan; P. Thornton Marye, most famous locally for the Fox Theater. Also represented are Neel Reid and Philip Schutze, Atlanta's most distinguished Beaux Arts and Classical architects. The firms Ivey and Crook and Smith and Pringle also did buildings in the district which are still standing.

Seven of the structures were built by one of the firms associated with Thomas H. Morgan, Atlanta's preeminent commercial architect of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The buildings in the district span his entire career from the 1890s through 1930. Morgan was one of Atlanta's most prolific architects. He was in association with A. C. Bruce between 1882 and 1904, with John Robert Dillon between 1904 and 1930, and with his son-in-law Edward S. Lewis from 1919 to 1930 as well. Morgan followed the trends of the times and his buildings trace changing popular forms from the High Victorian, Renaissance, Romanesque, and Gothic Revival forms, on into utilitarian Commercial Style and emerging Classical Revival forms. He was also the founder of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the founding editor of The Southern Architect and Builder Magazine, and the chief chronicler of the history of architecture in Atlanta. He was known best professionally for his commercial, institutional and public buildings, some examples of which outside Fairlie-Poplar include: administration buildings at Agnes Scott and Georgia Tech, courthouses in Walton, Bullock, Floyd, Monroe, Newton, Paulding and Talbot counties; All Saints Church; school buildings for Converse College and Clemson University in South Carolina, courthouses in North and South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama; railroad depots in Georgia and elsewhere in the Southeast. In addition his firms designed dozens of residences throughout the region. During his long career he was recognized by his peers as the "dean" of Atlanta architecture.

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