In 2018, I successfully earned my Masters of Heritage Preservation from Georgia State University, with honors. Native Atlantan, with a love of historical buildings, events, places, and things. Part-time artist, business owner, baker, animal, and lover of music, books, museums, and history.
When I am not working, I enjoy reading and watching anything historical as well as researching fascinating facts about my hometown - Atlanta, GA
If you utilize my research, please ensure that I am cited in your works. I also run a sister site on WordPress based entirely on Forgotten APS Schools (https://apsforgotten.wordpress.com/) .
In a previous post from March of 2017, I began researching the large, ornate early 20th-century abandoned building on Forsyth Street. Listed as the Upton Hotel on the Atlanta Preservation Center’s website, it appears that the building was never a hotel, to begin with. This would explain the near impossibility of locating any historical documents mentioning an “Upton Hotel,” it’s as if it vanished into thin air. Initially, construction was planned for a hotel in 1905 to take advantage of the newly constructed Terminus train station nearby.
Apparently, these plans never took place and the “hotel” became a rented space for various businesses over the years. Kudos to local historian Kyle Kessler for revealing the truth behind the “Upton Hotel.” Over the years, the building served anywhere from a 1930’s trunk repair shop, 1970’s pet shop, Dunbar & Sewell brokers firm in 1920, to a 1919 Jos Sykes Bros card clothing company. Occupied by renters in the early 2000’s, the building was destroyed by a fire in 2002, leaving only a weakened shell.
Below you will find a series of photos detailing the many changes that occurred over the past 80+ years regarding the abandoned, burned shell of a building on Trinity Avenue, Atlanta, GA.
What caused the developers to change their minds concerning the initial plans for a hotel? Why did the building go through various vacancies and short-lived leased businesses in its 91 years of operation? Perpahs the location did not prove itself to be as fruitful as the developers had hoped.
Black History Month has revealed the faces and names of notable African-American’s and their contributions to American history. Black History Month also manages to omit the names of quite a few more African-American’s that deserve recognition, even if they are relegated to being “hometown heroes.” David Tobias Howard deserves recognition during the month of February and beyond.
Through research, I’ve discovered that David T. Howard was quite accomplished and well known throughout the city of Atlanta. As a successful undertaker, Howard was lauded as premier Negro undertaker or funeral services owner, enjoying over 50 years in service.
It appears that David T. Howard was a smart businessman when it came to capitalizing off of racial segregation within the city of Atlanta. On March 3, 1901, The Atlanta Constitution posted an article stating David T. Howard’s decision to bury all Negro paupers who otherwise could not afford funeral services. Howard’s decision allowed the poor to be buried in dignity. It was quite interesting to also see a mention of the historic Southview cemetery as well. Howard outbid two other funeral homes to win the contract at $1.24 per body. Seems kinda morbid, but it obviously worked.
Just 19 years later, the Atlanta Constitution published another article lauding the success of Howard’s business. It reads as a “rags to riches” story and a bit autobiographical as well. Howard recalls how it felt to be a free man, and how he ultimately became the owner of the fourth largest funeral home in Atlanta. As per usual, the discussion quickly segways into the political and social commentary territory. Given the era, I’d have to give Howard a pass, but if his words were spoken in today’s era they would certainly be considered controversial. His opinions on race relations and equality are similar to Booker T. Washington’s ideas where he seems to place the responsibility of racial harmony upon the backs of African-American’s. Perhaps I am misunderstanding his comments, but these comments may have sparked criticism from W.E.B. DuBois at the time.
On April 18, 1935, David T. Howard passed away. The Atlanta Constitution featured a lengthy and positive write up about the successes of David T. Howard. He’s described as a great loss to the African-American race, as well as the business world. Upon his death, several tributes to David T. Howard were conducted throughout the city, including notable performances by the Morris Brown College choir as well as the David T. Howard Highschool sextet. David T. Howard’s funeral company would eventually be taken over by his daughter Eleanor B. Murphy as mentioned in a 1942 The Atlanta Constitution article.
David T. Howard opened in 1947 (formerly an elementary school of the same name) as Atlanta’s second high school dedicated to the African-American community. The only other high school for African-American’s was Booker T. Washington high school which remains in use. At one point, David T. Howard high school housed over 2,000 pupils!
The Atlanta Consitution regularly posted graduation updates of David T. Howard every year of its existence as a high school. Notable alumni include:
Eldrin Bell – Former Chief of Atlanta Police Dept
Nathaniel Bronner, SR – Philanthropist and World renown leader in the black hair care industry. Every native Atlantan is familiar with his brand.
Clarence Cooper – Judge of Georgia Court of Appeals; Federal Judge of U. S. District
Walter “Walt” Frazier – Profession basketball player for the New York Nicks.
“Bitsy” Grant – Famous tennis champion who has a park named for him on Howell Mill Road.
Louis Johnson – Attended David T. Howard elementary became a Tuskegee Airmen.
Vernon Jordan – Accomplished former Executive Director of Urban League and close adviser to President William Jefferson Clinton’s.
Lonnie King – Civil Rights Activist
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Civil Rights Activist, minister, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Herman Russell – Millionaire Atlanta construction baron and distinguished member of 100 Black Men.
Carl Wright – Entertainer, TV, Movie, Radio personality
James Williams – Famous ParaOlympian
Margaret Matthews Wilburn – Georgia Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Olympic Bronze Medalist, World Championship gold medalist.
Despite the successes of David T. Howard High, poor attendance caused the school to shutter its doors forever in 1975. After peaking at over 2,250 students, the school’s attendance dropped to a little under 500. One could blame the rising crime in the area, but one could mostly assume that the desegregation of Atlanta Public Schools contributed to the decline of David T. Howard HS. With more options of schools to attend, African-American students enrolled elsewhere, making David T. Howard a relic of a forgotten segregated past.
Address: 551 John Wesley Dobbs Ave, Atlanta, GA 30312
Anyone passing through the Old Fourth Ward area of Atlanta couldn’t help but notice the large, brick building occupying a large plot of land on John Wesley Dobbs Avenue (formerly known as Houston Street). Not to long ago, this building served as Atlanta Public School’s archives and museum. However, today it remains fenced in and abandoned awaiting demolition or renovation.
The building itself appears to be in decent shape from the outside. I recall entering this building as a child and remarking at how large the building was, but also saddened by the peeling paint and rusty, dripping pipes overhead. The APC museum and archives have since moved, leaving the old high school without an owner. In typical Atlanta fashion, developers have thought of renovating the old high school and convert it into lofts. Similarly to Bass Lofts in Midtown or various other abandoned school turned loft projects throughout the city.
But what is the history behind the David T. Howard building and its name? Built in 1923, the David T. Howard building was initially utilized as an elementary school before converting into a high school sometime in the 1940’s. With famous alumni such as Martin Luther King Jr., Titus Turner, Lonnie King, and Herman J. Russell, you’d think the enormous brick structure would be designated as a historic landmark or at least marked by a historical marker. Alas, such is not the case.
The story of behind the school’s namesake is equally interesting. David T. Howard was named after David T. Howard, a former slave who amassed massive wealth. He became one of the few Negro millionaires in Atlanta, acquiring his wealth from being a successful undertaker. Not only was David T. Howard wealthy, he was also a philanthropist, devoting a large portion of his fortunes to the advancement of the African-American community in Atlanta; thus the David T. Howard building was created.
David T. Howard’s hard work and dedication to the community was recognized by the African-American newspaper named the Christian Recorder, January 3, 1878.The Christian Reporter newspaper, stationed in Philadelphia, listed David T. Howard as one of its illustrious laborer’s (Vol. XVI; No. 1), awarding him with 25 copies of the newspaper, possibly for distribution to the local Columbus, GA community. The Christian Reporter was an African-American newspaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, dedicated to providing the African-American community with religious and secular news pertaining to African – American’s.
As the surrounding neighborhood grew more crime-ridden and dangerous, and with the addition of desegregation of Atlanta PublicSchools, David T. Howard’s enrollment (now a high school) sharply declined in the 1970’s causing Atlanta Public School’s to shutter its doors in 1976. Fast forward to the 21st century, David T. Howard is encased in a black metal fence, forever shut out from the public. Currently, the surrounding fields are utilized by local soccer teams, however, the building itself remains unused.
Location: Intersection of Decatur Street and Cornelia Street
While traveling near the Inman Park-Renoyldstown neighborhood a few weeks ago, a detour from my normal route brought me to a very narrow street named Cornelia Street. Initially, I was drawn to the colorful art on the weather-beaten fence, but my eyes were immediately drawn to the weathered bricks and stairs. The old walls and stairs appear to be remnants of homes from the earlier 19th and 20th century. Using the Sanborn Fire Maps as well as the Atlanta City Directory, I was able to not only determine that homes once occupied these abandoned lots, but also found the names of the occupants.
From the Sanborn Map of 1899 above, as you can see the homes were labeled house number 14, 12, 13, 3. 5 and 6 with shops faces Decatur Street. According to the Atlanta City Directory from 1899, residents that occupied Cornelia Street were apparently desegregated, though it is unknown what occupations the residents held. In 1899, a resident by the name of I.D. Simpson occupied #5 Cornelia St. What I found most interesting was the names of the black residents who occupied houses number 8, 12 and 14. Their names were Amanda Crockett (#8), Katherine Crawley (#12), and Sallie McCall (#14). According to the Atlanta City Directory, Katherine Crawley did not have an occupation listed, while Amanda Crockett and Sallie McCall were listed as washerwomen. Apparently, this portion of Cornelia Street was a working-class segment of the neighborhood. However, it must have been unusual for the times to have mixed-race inhabitants in 1899 Atlanta, GA. P
The above maps details Cornelia Street in 1911, a decade later than the previous map above. According to this map, R.O. Campbell Coal Company occupied a large portion of this area. Which means the area must have been working-class and rather industrial. A stark difference in contrast to the suburbs of Inman Park located not too far from Cornelia Street. According to the Atlanta City Directory, the makeup of the residents of Cornelia Street changed as well. Not a single woman occupied Cornelia Street in 1911. What’s more, the racial makeup of Cornelia Street residents changed as well. Of the 12 homes listed in the directory, only one was occupied by a person of color. The Atlanta City Directory lists residents of the 12 homes on Cornelia Street as men, with one being a man of color. Where did the women of 1899 move to and why did they move? Perhaps for better employment opportunities? Could the gender and racial change in the residents of Cornelia Street have something to do with the new R.O Campbell Coal Company across the street?
If you’ve ever visited the downtown Atlanta area, it is hard to ignore the large abandoned building on the corners of Trinity Avenue and Pryor Street. The building itself still maintains the original 1905 architectural structure on the outside, however, the inside of the building is completely gutted. Literally, only a shell remains. If you google the address, this image is perhaps one of the most popular photographed abandoned buildings in downtown Atlanta.
So, exactly what is this building? According to the Atlanta Preservation Center, the Upton Hotel was completed and opened for business in 1905, after the completion of the Atlanta Terminal Station. The hotel served as a rest stop for travelers. Seems Atlanta have been a busy tourist town since the turn of the century!
Unfortunately, later on, the building was gutted by fire and it’s brick structure remains (supported by beams) intact.
Below, you will find the images of Sanborn Maps of the Upton Hotel location before the hotel was built and afterward. You will notice a change in the names of the streets for which the Upton Hotel was built upon. In 1886 Spring Street (which now know as Ted Turner Dr) was named Thompson Street; Forsyth Street was labeled as W. Forsyth Street and Trinity Ave. (the location of the Upton Hotel) was named W. Peters Street.
Trinity Avenue in 1886:
Apparently, a few stores were located at the corner of Trinity Avenue during the late 1880’s.
Just to give an idea of what the area may have looked liked in 1905, here’s a picture of the Atlanta Terminus Station that the Upton Hotel serviced. The station was demolished in 1979.
The old English Avenue Elementary school I discussed a few days ago, began as Western Heights Elementary school and was originally built in 1910. Above, you can notice the exact location of the original school as it appeared on the Sanborn Fire Insurance map of 1911.
At this time, Western Heights Elementary was an all-white, segregated elementary school serving the all white, working class community residing on English Avenue. It’s neighboring neighborhood, Vine City was comprised of mostly of a working class African-American populace.
Though English Avenue appears to be in the state of decay in its present state, the history of English Avenue is rather interesting. Founded in the early 1900’s, English Avenue was named for the former mayor of Atlanta, James English. The area became a bustling working class white community, serviced by the popular street cars of the early 1900’s.
Toward the 1940’s and 1950’s, the English Avenue neighborhood began to change as white flight settled in. In the neighboring Vine City, the start of the Civil Rights movement began to emerge, with marches, protests, and key Civil Rights Movement figures (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) moving in. Western Heights Elementary was ultimately renamed as English Avenue Elementary in the 1950’s once desegregation occurred.
Thankfully, English Avenue Elementary will ultimately be restored and repurposed so that future generations can enjoy the rich history of the neighbor and the school itself.
If you have ever traveled in the city of Atlanta, you have traveled down Memorial Drive at some point in your commute. It is hard to ignore the many historical buildings on Memorial Drive that have managed to survive the city’s current obsession with curbside, overly priced apartments. One of the many historical buildings along Memorial drive is the now-defunct Tech High.
Built in 1922, the 54,000-square-foot schoolhouse was once named John F. Faith elementary school. In 1963, the school changed its name (probably after the desegregation of local schools). One of the coolest facts concerning the location of the defunct Tech High is that it is located on the site of The Battle of Atlanta, a notable Civil War related event. If you are ever nearby, take a moment to read the historical placard located at the front of the building. Additionally, the school is located in the National Register of Historic Places registered Memorial Drive Corridor.
Unfortunately, Tech High has closed and Atlanta Public Schools has voted to approved the local non-profit Wonderoot to take over the building. Luckily, the building will be repurposed and put to use by the community rather than being razed and replaced with tacky condos, and townhomes.
English Avenue, located in the up and coming Vine City neighborhood, houses the English Avenue elementary school. This 117-year-old elementary school officially shuttered its doors in 1995. This had to deal an incredible blow to the already blighted area. English Avenue is considered one of the oldest Atlanta public school system buildings. Perfect for any historian seeking original Atlanta architecture that’s almost impossible to find in a city that obviously does not cherish historical buildings.
English Avenue was established in 1891 as an all-white neighborhood, with Vine City being the neighboring, all black neighborhood. English Avenue elementary was built to serve the all-white neighborhood of English Avenue, and it remained as such until the 1950’s, when the neighborhoods demographics began to change. White flight and desegregation forever changed the English Avenue elementary student body.
Famous alumni of English Avenue elementary were musical legend Gladys Knight, former Presidental hopeful Herman Cain, and State Representative Mable Thomas.
Ironically enough, in 2010, State Representative “Able” Mable Thomas purchased the property with the assistance of the Greater Vine City Opportunities Program (GVCOP) in hopes of revitalizing it and providing the community with much-needed beneficial programs to service the youth. So far, GVCOP and State Representative Mable Thomas has continued to raise funds in hopes of saving the original building and eventually bringing those plans to fruition. It’s nice to know that Atlantans are attempting to preserve this historical building, rather than destroy it and replace it with over priced houses and apartments.
Alexan Apartments, currently located in old John B. Gordan Elementary’s location
Old Picture of John B. Gordan Elementary before demolishing
Opened in 1923, John B. Gordon Elementary (Civil War namesake), once located in the heart of East Atlanta, once housed 25 classrooms and a gymnasium. John B. Gordon Elementary went from a bustling school in the 1950’s to an abandoned shell of its former self almost 60 years after its opening. The elementary school opened on Metropolitan Avenue in 1923, just off of Moreland Avenue. The new school cost $110,000 to construct, which would total $1,599,538.32 in today’s costs. In the news article below, it states that the original class size amounted to 427 students; students who were utilizing the local fire station for class until the new school was constructed. Talk about ingenuity!
With integration in the 60’s occurring, John B. Gordan elementary school began to decline. Additionally, as the city of Atlanta’s population grew and newer schools were constructed to accommodate the growth in the city’s population, John B. Gordon elementary steadily decline.
John B. Gordon officially closed in 1995 and remained abandoned until it’s demolishment in 2015. Though the physical building no longer exists, bricks from the original building were repurposed into the luxury apartments that are now housed on the former site of John B. Gordon Elementary School.