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August 21, 2003

Remembering Atlanta

I've been reading with interest George's blogs about his trip to Atlanta (and not just because I appear as a major character). I was especially intrigued by his reflection on the transformations of Atlanta since he left during the "graduate school disapora" because I grew up just outside of Atlanta, and I've seen my hometown change considerably in the last few years (my old high school, for example, has been converted into loft apartments--no I don't really miss it).

George vividly describes the gradual disappearance of Ponce de Leon Avenue's "sleazy elegance" for something more generic, more commercial, less grungy. This erasure of its own history is something that Atlanta has faced for some time now. George mentions, for example, the recent sale of the Clermont Hotel and Lounge, Atlanta's "ironic" strip club (rumor has it that the hotel might be transformed into loft apartments). Atlanta has also seen the closing of Pilgreen's Restaurant, a landmark family restaurant and the closing and potential demolition of Paschal's Motor Hotel and Restaurant, a prominent loction during the Civil Rights Movement. All of these questions are emerging at a moment in history when several prominent politicians, Maynard Jackson, Lester Maddox, and Ivan Allen, Jr. (for whom Georgia Tech's College of Liberal Arts is named and who was also one of the first southern white mayors to openly support the Civil Rights Movement), have recently passed away, raising the question of how they will be remembered, and as this list implies, Atlanta's memory is very much tied to the multiple histories of race and economy, Civil Rights and urban development.

These questions of remembering the past are important to me, and they seem intimately tied to place. Like George, who has fond memories of meals at the Majestic Diner and slices at Fellini's Pizza, I don't want to see parts of the old Atlanta go, and these places seem to face being crowded out by the gentrification of these older neighborhoods. I've never been to several of these landmarks (the Majestic, Paschal's, or the Clermont, for example), but like Felicia Feaster, the author of the Creative Loafing article cited above, I can't help but feel a sense of mourning for these lost and disappearing places, all of which hold onto some important trace of Atlanta's past, whether personal or public (or both).

In a way, this seems a fitting way for me to revisit the identity thread one last time as well as George's call for a distributed writing project on growing up in (and returning to) the south. I'm struggling to bring my thoughts on this topic to any form of closure (I've been typing and deleting for some time now), and perhaps that makes sense, since I'm still here, or back here, making new memories, creating my experience and memory of Atlanta anew. Perhaps my reflections on Atlanta's sense of history and its attempt to "remember" itself point more toward the multiple Atlantas that are being invented, remembered, and forgotten every day.

Posted by chuck at August 21, 2003 6:43 PM

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Subjectivity and objectivity. I sometimes think it's hard to say what is a function of a particular place and time, and what is just a strong personal feeling. I'm sure there is a significant number of people in Atlanta who feel the changes taking place along Ponce are great.

And frankly, if I still lived there, I might be renting one of those loft apartments. I don't know much about what downtown Kansas City might have lost as a result of the loft-ification that took place here, and I do not feel a sense of melancholy about it. I would bet, though, that there are those who do.

Posted by: George at August 22, 2003 10:38 AM

I think that's why I commented at the end that there are multiple "Atlantas." I have at least three distinct experiences with the city (growing up in the 'burbs, getting my MA, and then returning to teach at Tech), and quite frankly, if I could afford it, I'd likely live in a loft in midtown.

It's also one of the reasons I'm ambivalent about the potential destruction of Pascahl's. It is an "historic landmark." Martin Luther King, Jr. regularly ate there, for example, but the property is going to be used for a dorm for Clark-Atlanta University. Now which is more important: preserving this part of the past or making a much needed improvement to Clark-Atlanta's campus? Are the two mutually exclusive?

In the past, I've talked to my architecture students here at Georgia Tech about these debates, and I find them fascinating, even if I'm no expert on the more practical problems (infrastructure, etc).

Posted by: chuck at August 22, 2003 2:11 PM

I also grew up around Atlanta and went to GA Tech... moved away and now live in Midtown. I am glad that so many of the empty lots are being filled in, although I don't usually like what they are putting there. However, we have lost a lot of the character of our city because of new development. George was talking about Freedom Parkway. I guess it's nice to have a park there, but it would be better if we still had the old houses and the complete neighborhood that they tore down in the first place (before they had funding to build something else, which is why it sat fallow for so long). The Metropolis building on Peachtree looks like a nice building, but I miss the Stein Club. Surely some of the people that are buying these lofts intown want to live there because of the character of the city, otherwise they'd live in the 'burbs. Maybe we have so many transplants now that there aren't enough people who remember these things, or care. Maybe we don't work hard enough to preserve our old institutions because we think they aren't really valuable. How many times have you heard someone say "we don't have anything old because Sherman burnt it all down"? But traditions and institutions are important to a city, whether or not they are housed in historically significant buildings. If everything is gentrified and loft-icized, how do we know we're in Atlanta and not Cincinatti, Houston, or anywhere else?

Posted by: Meg at August 28, 2003 4:14 PM

Holy crap! The Stein Club is gone!?!

Posted by: George at August 29, 2003 12:05 AM

Meg, you've really captured why I'd rather live inside the perimeter. I like the character of these older neighborhoods, and destroying old buildings threatens to eliminate some of those traditions and institutions. I can't believe the Stein Club is gone, and I really miss Oxford Books, especially the Pharr Road location. Just curious, how did you find my blog?

Posted by: chuck at August 29, 2003 7:49 PM

I found your blog just surfing, looking up something like "the majestic" I think. funny you mention Oxford, I used to work at the P'tree Battle location, and there's just no replacement. This is probably too late, you're on to different topics, but I'll try to keep up... you have very interesting ideas and links.

Posted by: Meg at September 20, 2003 11:50 PM

Thanks for the compliment--luckily, my most recent comments show up on my main page, so I'm able to find out if people leave comments after the entry disappears. Also, I'm always curious how people come across my blog, especially when it's this type of happy accident.

Oxford Books is a huge loss. I miss Turtles record and video stores, too. Even when I was a teenager, I thought of Blockbuster as the evil empire...

Posted by: chuck at September 21, 2003 12:31 AM


Does anyone have photos of these lost locations in Atlanta?: Oxford Bookstore on Pharr Road, Rio Mall with the frogs, Lindbergh or Broadview Plaza?



Posted by: steve at February 2, 2006 10:13 AM

Yep, the Stein Club is surely missed. Does anyone know what ever happened to the juke box?? It was the best eclectic mix I have ever come across. (The music and the Stien Club crowd.)

Posted by: BECKY at July 6, 2006 4:51 PM

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