Atlanta Public Schools long forgotten with names E-J will comprise the subject of this blog post. Though I have been researching forgotten APS schools for well over a four months now, I am still shocked and amazed by the sheer amount of schools I never knew existed. Starting with….
Written By: Kia Guest-Holloway
East Atlanta School (1909 – 1995 ):
The East Atlanta School was erected during a time where the neighborhood of East Atlanta began experiencing an explosion of growth. New subdivisions, public library, and fine stores began to emerge around 1913 and 1914 including the opening of the new school servicing the area. East Atlanta School officially opened its doors September 1, 1915, providing schooling for children up to the seventh grades. East Atlanta school was designed by architects Battle and Burrill, costing the city $15,000. By all accounts, it was considered to be state of the art compared the original APS schools of yesteryear. East Atlanta school would enjoy eight large classrooms, indoor plumbing, and toilets, as well as a steam heating system.
East Atlanta School’s completion came as soon as East Atlanta became annexed into the city Atlanta in 1909; prior to the annex into the city of Atlanta, East Atlanta was a part of Dekalb County. The new elementary school was the only school in East Atlanta during its infancy. However, according to my research, a newer building was erected in 1916 but the school was mentioned in the local papers as early as 1909; this creates a confusing narrative.
Toward the 1930’s, East Atlanta School would be renamed as John B. Gordon, a Civil War brigadier. The hue of the student body would ultimately change during the desegregation of APS schools and subsequently, the school fell into disrepair. It would finally close its doors in 1995 and remained empty for several years. Falling prey to arson, vandalism, and trespassing by curious on-lookers. As a native Atlantan who resided in East Atlanta, my family would often pass by the abandoned relic of a time once forgotten. John B. Gordon would remain abandoned until a devastating fire in 2014 gutted the building. The devastation led to the building being demolished and replaced by swanky apartment homes. Thankfully, the apartment building repurposed salvaged bricks and brilliantly used them in the design and construction of the new apartments that now occupy the space.
Edgewood Elementary School (1892 –
The Edgewood Avenue Elementary School manages to remain in operation 125 years after its initial opening. While it currently operates as housing for Inman Park residents (13 lofts), it is refreshing to see its splendid architecture preserved and enjoyed by over time by several generations of Atlantans.
Edgewood Elementary opened in 1892 just in time for the newly minted Inman Park. It narrowly escaped disaster after a nearby fire from a cottage nearly set the school ablaze in 1900.
More will be added soon…..
White, Susie. 1915. “EAST ATLANTA IS VERY PROUD OF NEW SCHOOL.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Sep 26.
“LETTERS FROM SCHOOL CHILDREN ABOUT THEIR SCHOOL.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Nov 05, 1911.
Acheson. “EDGEWOOD AVENUE SCHOOL AND ITS SUCCESSFUL WORK.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Mar 03, 1897.
Over its 140-plus years of existence, the Atlanta Public School System managed to evolve from just 6 schools in 1872 to well over 40 schools in the twentieth century. In the previous posts, I focused on the very first schools to open in 1872 with the newly created Atlanta Public School System. While those six schools were the first, several others would open a few months, year, and even decades after the first schools to open. Though some of the schools are still in operation, most of the schools were later abandoned or completely forgotten about. It wasn’t until I conducted further research (utilizing old newspapers, books, and the city directories) that I discovered dozens of early nineteenth and twentieth-century schools in Atlanta that I had never seen nor heard of. For the purpose of this blog, a brief synopsis of each school will be provided if known.
George W. Adair Elementary School (July 2, 1912 – 1960’s):
Construction of the new George W. Adair Elementary School (previously mentioned here George W. Adair Elementary School Post ) was completed during the summer of 1912 and was designed by then, up-and-coming architect, Edward W. Dougherty. The school opened it’s doors in September of 1912, as was described as being one of the “handsomest in the city.” The school site was presented to the city by George and Forrest Adair. Adair Elementary school is nestled in the Historic Adair Park neighborhood. An in-town neighborhood subdivision initially designed by George W. Adair in the late 1890’s, but continued by his sons George and Forrest Adair in 1910. George W. Adair Elementary remained in operation until the 1960’s.
Ashby Street School (1911 – 1994):
Ashby Street School originally opened in 1911 as an all-white school. Children grew vegetables in the back of the schoolAs the West-End neighborhood changed in demographics due to the 1917 Great Fire, white student enrollment changed dramatically by 1918. Due to a declining enrollment in white students, the school board voted to close Ashby Street School and reopen as a “school for Negroes,” July of 1919. According to The Atlanta Constitution, only 9 white families owned their homes in the West End at this time as well. Due to the changing demographics, Ashby Street School was reopened as predominately African-American for the 1920 school term. The first principal of new African-American school would be H.L. Green, followed by Mrs. Harriet Randolph Bailey. In addition to traditional grammar school classes, Ashby Street School also provided schooling for the deaf community as well.
By the late 1920’s Ashby Street School would become the largest school African-American students in the Atlanta Public School System, and in the entire state of Georgia. As segregation caused African-American’s to have very few options in terms of places to live, the influx of African-American’s caused a storm of hateful actions by neighboring whites and the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK would firebomb Ashby Street School in 1922 with another mysterious fire gutting the building in 1926. Ashby Street School would be rebuilt in 1928 using the remaining walls that survived the 1926 fire.
Ashby Street School was renamed as E.R. Carter in 1944 after the cherished Atlanta Reverend, E.R. Carter who presided over Friendship Baptist Church for more than 50 years. Toward the end of 1975, the school board wrestled with closing E.R. Carter as well as the R.L. Craddock schools. The decision was met with anger and protests by West End residents as they realized the closing of Carter and Craddock would leave local children without an elementary to attend. The school remained open until 1994 when it finally shuttered its doors. As of 2015, the abandoned school has been converted into a multi-million dollar Families FirstResourceCenter. It is great to see a historic building become repurposed rather than bulldozed for another run-of-the-mill office building.
Battle Hill School ( the early 1900’s? – Late 1960’s?):
Not much is known about the Battle Hill School located in the West End part of Atlanta. A 1922 Atlanta Constitution article states that the Board of Education voted to abandon Battle Hill school and provide a new annex at Lucille Avenue school that would accommodate Battle Hill attendees. The school was deemed dilapidated in 1955, and the Community Civic group begged the local community for assistance in updating the old wooden frame.
Bell Street School (1900 – 1940):
Bell Street Elementary opened in September of 1900 in hopes of relieving the overcrowding of Ivy Street, Calhoun Street, and Marietta Street schools. Similarly to Ashby Street School, Bell Street School initially served the white community before transitioning into a predominately African-American school. When it first began, Bell Street held classes upwards to the 7th grade.
Bell Street School would operate until 1940 before it was demolished to make way for the Grady Homes housing projects. Students who attended Bell Street School would later enroll in Younge Street School, making it one of the largest elementary school for African-American students in the 1940’s.
Boulevard School (1888 – 1922):
in 1887 children residing near Boulevard in the Fourth Ward district were without a school to call their own. Due to lack of accessibility to neighboring streets, Fourth Ward children were barred from attending neighboring Calhoun Street school. Due to the hazards of nearby streets and the need to accommodate local Boulevard children, the Board of Education voted to build a new school on the corner of North Boulevard and Irwin streets for the Fourth Ward children to attend.
In 1888, the Boulevard school officially opened its doors at the site of the “Beerman Lot.” In 1891, two new rooms would be added to accommodate the growing student body. Somehow, the Boulevard school managed to survive the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917, only to be reduced to cinders the night of February 19, 1918. It is believed that the school caught fire due to a defective flue. By the time local firemen had arrived, the wooden frame had morphed into a “seething furnace of flames,” injuring a few firemen who dared to battle the blaze. Unfortunately, the school was a total loss, and a new fire proof replacement had to be built.
Four years after a new Boulevard School was erected, the school would be bought by Morris Brown College in 1922 for $60,000. Former Boulevard pupils would be transferred to the Faith school.
Calhoun School ( 1883 – ?):
The Calhoun Street School was in built in 1883, with a capacity of 443, at least eleven years after the first APS schools opened in the winter of 1872. Keeping with the tradition of naming schools after the streets for which they were built upon, the Calhoun Street school was located near the Currier and Calhoun Street. Calhoun Street is now known as Piedmont Avenue, not too far from the location of the State Capitol.
A 1922 Atlanta Constitution article discusses the consolidation of the old Ivy Street school (student body total: 300) with the Calhoun Street School (student body total: 382) into a facility with the capacity to hold 1,000 – 1,200 pupils. The replacement school would be named Ansley Park.
Carrie Steele Logan Orphanage (1888 -):
Though not a traditional school in the sense of an Atlanta Public School system school, the Carrie Steele Logan Orphanage gets and honorable mention since it is listed as a “colored public school” in the Atlanta City Directory. Founded in 1888 by former slave Carrie Steele Logan, the orphanage provided educational needs to some of Atlanta’s most destitute orphans. Mrs. Steele – Logan started the orphanage after growing concerned with the incredible amount of homeless African-American students in the downtown Atlanta area. Initially, the orphans were housed in an abandoned box car; after a few years of fundraising through donations and sales from her autobiography, Mrs. Steele-Logan was able to secure enough funds to build a permanent location for her orphanage in 1892.
Located at 301 E. Fair Street (later named Memorial Drive), Mrs. Steele served as the director of the orphanage until her death in 1900. The orphanage’s location would remain in its original location until 1963 when it was moved to a much larger location of over twenty-three acres of land on Roy Street in Atlanta. In 1950, Carrie Steele Orphanage was renamed as The Carrie Steele – Pitts Home in honor of the Clara Maxwell Pitts who served as director from 1909 to 1950. Today, the Carrie Steele – Pitts Home is located on on Fairburn Rd. and still operates as a safe haven for orphaned children and runaways. Children are still offered a place to become educated, but also learn life lessons, employment skills and receive religious teachings as well. Though not an official public school, the Carrie Steele – Pitts Home serves as an important asset to the schooling of Atlanta youth.
Center Hill Elementary School (September 1934 – 1983?):
Works Progress Administration (WPA) constructed an elementary school for African-American students in the Fall of 1934. Not much else is known about Center Hill other than it was included in the 1982 listing of APS schools in need of shutting down.
Commercial High School ( 1889 – 1947):
Commercial High School’s history is littered with instability. While most early APS schools moved several times before settling in a permanent location, Commerical High School may have been relocated more than Boys High School. Before the mandated co-educational ruling in the 1940’s took place, Commerical High was actually the first co-ed high school in the city of Atlanta. It was also the first high school to focus on business related curriculum, in hopes of preparing students for the changing job market. Commercial High was the brainchild of Mrs. Hamilton Douglass, a Girls High School instructor who saw a need for business-oriented curriculum. She noticed the commercial, business and industrial growth of Atlanta and saw a need to prepare students for the changing markets. Mrs. Douglass took her ideas to the school board, and in 1889 the board implemented business-related courses such as stenography, accounting, banking and typing courses.
The board appointed Mrs. Douglass to head the business department of Girls High School. In 1907, after 18 successful years, the department was expanded and reorganized. As the department expanded, the need for a larger space was critical. In 1910, the departments’ 147 students and 5 teachers moved to a rented space in the St. Philips Cathedral on Washington Avenue and changed its name to English-Commercial High. The high school was featured in the Atlanta Constitution in 1913 detailing the cramped conditions of the students and the need for more funding to pay for the proposed new school lot on Washington and Woodward Avenue. The new school would cost $75,000, yet only $10,000 was deposited toward the new building. Meanwhile, while funds were being secured, English Commerical High students moved into the old rickety wooden structure of the former Crew Street Elementary. At this time, the Crew St. school building would easily be over 40 years old and in ill repair.
By 1915, English Commercial High had grown significantly with the consolidation of the business department of Boys High School. The student body total was now over 220 students. Finally, after much delay, the new English Commercial High moved to a rented building at 232 S. Pryor Street (later named Pryor Street) and would go on to acquire abandoned homes on the same strip of Pryor Street to build more classrooms and an auditorium. However, despite the added space English Commercial High would face more overcrowding issues in 1923. By 1947, the school was shut down due to overcrowding and the newly implemented co-educational school system for high schools. High schools would no longer be separated by gender, therefore English Commercial High was now obsolete. What’s more, schools began to incorporate the same business based curriculum along with the traditional curriculum,. Lastly, many parents found the downtown area to far to commute and far too dangerous for students to attend. English Commercial High was ultimately demolished in 1982; the only thing Commercial High alumni were left with were distant memories.
Cooper Street School (1922 – 1973):
Servicing the diverse working-class Mechanicsville neighborhood, Cooper Street School was built to accommodate the overcrowding of the Formwalt school.
Craddock School (1889 – August 12, 1982):
The Craddock school was a primarily African-American school dating back to the 1880’s. However, Craddock Elementary was known by another name prior to being renamed in 1954 after Robert Lee Craddock in 1954, after a popular African-American religious and civic leader who resided in the Gray Street community. Upon its opening in 1889, Craddock was originally named Gray Street School, the first all-brick school structure built specifically for African-American’s. Some residents also referred to the school as the Fifth Ward school, which was a popular phenomenon at the time due to the school board naming schools for the wards they resided in. At the time of its opening in 1889, then Superintendant Slaton described Gray Street School as one of the finest schools in Atlanta.
Craddock remained operational until the mid-1970’s when then Superintendent, Alonzo A. Crim discussed closing the Craddock school in 1975 (along with E.R. Carter and F.L. Slaton schools). The decision was met with anger and protests from local parents, who cited the decision as racially motivated. The protests worked, as Craddock remained open until February of 1982. By March of 1982, the Board of Education officially shuttered Craddock’s historical doors. Unfortunately, the old Craddock school would burn to the ground one hot summer in August of 1982.
Crogman School (1923 – 1979):
Located at 1093 West Avenue in the ‘Pittsburgh’ area of Atlanta, GA, the Crogman school began within the Gate City Church until an explosion of enrollment forced the school to find larger accommodations. Local citizens managed to collect over three hundred dollars toward the purchase of land for the building of larger quarters. The new, two-room school would be eventually be built at the corners of Ira and Mary Street. But, it too became too crowded and a newer, larger facility would be purchased off the corner of Windsor and Arthur streets. But, the Crogman school would ultimately move a third and final time after Clark Atlanta University donated land for the construction of a larger school, this time located at the corner of Fletcher and West View Avenue. This would mark the name change for the school from the “Pittsburgh” school to the William H. Crogman, after the first African-American president of Clark Atlanta University, who also happened to live in the Peoplestown area, adjacent to the Pittsburgh area.
In addition to being the first African-American president, of Clark Atlanta University, Dr. Crogman was the first African-American teacher to teach at the Freedman’s Aid Society in South Carolina. He would then travel to Atlanta to earn a degree at Atlanta University. He would later become the first Professor at Atlanta University when it first opened on Whitehall Street. Dr. Crogman passed away in 1931 and would be remembered as a well-respected Professor with an illustrious career.
After years of overcrowding, the Crogman school would ultimately expand in 1950. Tucker & Howell Architects would add an additional 13 classrooms plus a state-of-the-art cafeteria/auditorium to a tune of $209, 968. Unfortunately, due to the drastic decline of enrollment, not to mention deterioration of the original facility, Crogman School was closed in 1979. The Butler Street Y.M.C.A. would go on to lease the Crogman school in 1979 as youth programs facility. After years of being occupied by the Y.M.C.A., the school would ultimately be transformed into loft living spaces which is how the former school is being used today. Luckily, the Crogman school was saved from demolition, a rarity in Atlanta lately.
Davis Street School ( 1887 – 2016):
Built in 1887 on donated land from the city of Atlanta, the Davis school opened with just 6 small rooms. Originally located on the corner of Thurmond and Spencer, the Davis Street School would often appear in the papers as a school with deplorable conditions. The hallways of the school would flood whenever it rained, due to the drafty building, over 90 students were reported ill during a particularly brutal winter in the early 1900’s. The building’s conditions were so rough, that the principal had to wear a rain coat and use and umbrella in her office during rain storms.
Due to the constant rezoning of school districts and the rapidly growing population of Atlanta, the Davis Street School would constantly face issues of overcrowding as would the majority of the first crop of 19th – century Atlanta Public Schools. The school would go on to add additional rooms throughout the early half of the 20th-century, but it would do little to remedy the overcrowding issues. One interesting factoid about the Davis Street School is it being utilized as some sort of guineas pig for the introduction of physical education in public schools. After besting every APS elementary school (white schools) in May Day activities, the Davis Street School was the first of its kind to receive playground material. Swings, balance beams, see-saws, etc., were installed in 1901.
By 1928, talks of converting the school into an African-American elementary school began circulating. In April of 1928, the Atlanta Board of Education began to discuss and set forth a proposal to abandon attempts to keep Davis Street School as an all-white school due in part to the large settlement of African-American families nearby. By the late 1940’s, Davis Street School (and various previously all-white schools) was in near shambles. The front yard of the school was covered in weeds and trash decorated the front lawn.
Davis Street School would experience a remarkable renovation over the course of several years; beginning with its name. One year after the death of distinguished philanthropist Mary McLeod Bethune in 1955, Davis Street School was officially renamed as Mary McLeod Bethune School (or Bethune School) in May of 1956. Over the course of 3 decades, the school would have experience expansion projects to accommodate the growing student body. In the year 2000, Bethune Elementary underwent a $10 million dollar renovation project with state-of-the-art computers, software, lighting, etc. Unfortunately, the school is currently slated to shutter it’s doors now that attendance is down. More than likely, it is due to the gentrification of neighboring communities.
Decatur Street School ( February 27, 1872 – ?):
Locating information for the Decatur Street School was absolutely painstaking, and yet after days of research, I could only find the school listed in the 1874 Atlanta City Directory. Subsequent volumes of the Atlanta City Directory do not mention Decatur Street School at all, even as early as the 1880’s. In 1874, Decatur Street School enrolled 226 students, a much smaller student body than the other seven Atlanta Public Schools in 1874.
Further research revealed that in September of 1874, Decatur Street School was reopened as a primary school, with the previous student body being transferred to Ivy and Calhoun Street schools. After this small blurb in the Atlanta Constitution, not much else is mentioned. This is a school I’ll have to revisit.
One cannot escape the ugly atrocities of segregation in the public school system. Due to segregation being not only the law, but the norm, the City of Atlanta opened just 2 schools for African-American students. They weren’t separated by age or gender as the white schools were and were often faced with overcrowding and dangerous conditions. For this section, I will discuss the first African-American schools in the Atlanta Public School System.
Summer Hill School ( 1867 – 1980’s):
Despite being declared the city’s oldest school, I found it very challenging to find in-depth articles about the Summerhill School. In 1897, the Atlanta Constitution declared the Summerhill School to be the oldest Negro school in the city. Though it is often erroneously declared as 1872 being it’s official opening date, it has been proven that Summerhill School actually began in 1867 thanks in part to the Freedman’s Bureau. However, it was grouped in with the five white’s only schools that opened in 1872, after the official opening of the Atlanta Public School System.
The neighborhood for which the school was named for, has a rich and interesting history. Summerhill was one of two post-Civil War settlements established in 1865 by William Jennings, whose earliest inhabitants were freed, slaves and Jewish immigrants. Summerhill would soon welcome a game-changing visitor, Massachusetts native Frederick Ayer. After spending most of his early life as a teacher and missionary to the Ojibway Native Americans, Ayer traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to continue his missionary work which included building a school for freed slaves. Ayer’s description of Atlanta in 1865 was a depressing and sad description. Many residents (white and black) were starving, still suffering from the aftermath of the Civil War. Smallpox was rampant, and crime was on the rise. Perhaps the scenes of desperation and despair sparked Ayer’s desire to found a Congregational church. The church would ultimately inspire Ayer to build the first school for African-American’s, located at Richardson and Martin Street. The school would go on to operate for 3 years until the Atlanta Public School system purchased it in 1872, renaming it what we know today as the Summerhill School. Summerhill would soon see another first, naming C.W. Hill as it’s principal. C.W. Hill would become the first African-American principal in Atlanta, GA.
As the city of Atlanta grew, so did the need for schools to house the increasing number of student. African-American students were only afforded the option of attending two schools initially, however, a few more would ultimately open in the 20th century. Despite the new schools, African-American’s were often crowded into one room buildings or dilapidated wooden structures with little to no ventilation. What’s more, African-American students weren’t offered the option to attend grammar school and graduate to high school. Most schools for African-American’s housed all grade levels. The disparities between white and black communities were pretty obvious. As more and more schools for whites were erected, black students were often left out in the cold — both figuratively and literally.
In 1909, an article in the Atlanta Georgian stated that Summerhill School housed over 800 students! Overcrowding in Atlanta’s schools was an epidemic of mass proportions. In addition to overcrowding, many of Atlanta’s older school houses were falling into ill-repair, Summerhill was one of the many schools condemned due to its poor structure and overcrowding. The Summerhill school didn’t receive plumbing until 1910 until then outdoor, public restroom facilities were utilized and water was derived from a well. A 1915 Atlanta Constitution article exposed the ugly truth behind the deplorable conditions of some Atlanta Public Schools. The article’s author felt that the taxpayers had a right to know how the Board of Education was spending their money. The Summerhill School was described as bursting at the seams, which children crowded into tiny classrooms and even in hallways. These were the children of the domestics who lived in Summerhill and often worked in nearby neighborhoods as servants, maids, and nannies. Summerhill was also home to successfully wealthy African-American’s as well. Collectively, all residents paid taxes and therefore should have adequate schools for their children to attend.
In 1923, Summerhill School was renamed as E.P. Johnson Elementary with principal J.V. Drake presiding. Rev. Edwin Posey Johnson (1849-1929) happened to be one of the most prominent African-American pastors in the city and would be a part of Atlanta University’s first graduating class. Understandably, the school would be renamed in his honor. By 1927, the former Summerhill School was facing the subject of overcrowding once more. African-American’s demanded that board add more schools for black students and add on to the current schools that are operational, with E.P. Johnson on the list. E.P. Johnson would go on to host African-American students until its closure in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, the original E.P. Johnson/Summerhill school was demolished in the 1980’s after being abandoned for over a decade. At the time of its demolishment, the Summerhill area was ladened with crime, poverty and slums areas. Many have credited its downfall with the induction of the highway system and the building of the Fulton County stadium, which displaced many Summerhill residents. The Summerhill area would witness a resurgence in popularity with the 1996 Olympic Games, BeltLine project and new Georgia State University purchase of the Turner Field stadium.
The second school to open African-American’s, after Summerhill School, was Storr’s School. While I found it very challenging to locate in-depth information about the Summerhill School, it was even more challenging to locate enough information on the Storr’s School. As I continue my research and compile more information, it will be added to this post. Until then, the information posted below is what I was able to research so far.
Storrs School (1865 – 1930’s?):
The origins of the Storrs School is just as intriguing as the Summerhill School. Storrs School is difficult to locate on the Sanborn maps mostly because it actually began as somewhat of a private school inside of the First Congregational Church in downtown Atlanta. Originally located at Houston street (which is now named John Wesley Dobbs) until the late 1870’s, Storr’s school operated as a private school for African-American students post-Civil War.
Founded by the American Missionary Association in 1865, the Storrs School got its name from a monetary gift it received from the Storr’s Congregational Church in Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1860’s. Missionaries from both the north and the midwest would ultimately migrate to the Storrs School (located inside the church) to provide educational services to freed slaves. The AMA maintained possession of the Storr’s School until around 1877 when they handed over possession to the newly minted Atlanta Board of Education at the cost $5,000. Interestingly enough, Atlanta University was also founded out of the same church as the Storrs School.
Stories about the acquisition of the Storr’s School by the Board of Education vary. It appears that the school was owned by the AMA, they took possession back, then resold it to the Board of Education. But, a January 1890 Atlanta Constitution article contradicts the story of the acquisition of the Storr’s School. According to this article, the Board of Education voted not to purchase the Storr’s School after white residents protested. The article also mentions that the school had been abandoned at this time because the American Missionary Association no longer considered the education of African-Americans to be missionary work. According to the residents of the ward, having a “negro school” in their white district would be a nuisance, therefore the school would have to find another location. Until a new location was purchased, the Storr’s School remained closed. The AMA informed the Board that if a new location wasn’t purchased in time, they’d have to repurchase the school in order to continue providing educational services to the nearby students. By the 1930’s it is reported that the Storrs School had officially closed with its students scattered about the Atlanta Public School system; some of the former Storrs School students would later enroll into the “Gate City School,” also known as Houston Street School. It was frustrating to see so little information concerning schools for African-American’s in Atlanta. More in-depth research will certainly ensue.
While the majority of my blog mostly focuses on abandoned historical Atlanta relics, I thought it would be interesting to make a post about a huge gentrification project in the city that drastically changed the landscape of the city. Most transplants wouldn’t know that housing of this nature existed, mostly because the areas have been completely transformed and cleared of ant remnants of what once existed. The huge gentrification project I am referring to was the large scale, housing project demolition spearheaded by the Atlanta Housing Authority. The project began in the late 1990’s (demolishing Techwood Homes and East Lake Meadows), was finally completed in the 2010’s with the demolition of Bankhead Courts. For a complete list of former housing projects in Atlanta, visit Demolished Atlanta Housing Projects. After researching George W. Adair in the book “Atlanta and Environs, Volume III,” I ran across a chapter concerning the Atlanta Housing and Authority and major developer who was credited with building the first set of projects in Atlanta in the 1030’s. This article piqued my interest in completing a little bit of research on the housing projects that I could find.
After researching George W. Adair in the book “Atlanta and Environs, Volume III,” I ran across a chapter concerning the Atlanta Housing and Authority and major developer who was credited with building the first set of projects in Atlanta in the 1030’s. This article piqued my interest in completing a little bit of research on the housing projects that I could find.
Current views of the city of Atlanta show no traces of housing projects. The housing projects of Atlanta are all but wiped from the landscape of Atlanta. Most natives (who are hard to find in Atlanta these days) vividly remember the housing projects of Atlanta. What we have been told throughout history is housing projects were constructed in hopes of erasing slums, increasing affordable housing options for the city’s poor all while improving the landscape of Atlanta; which ultimately evolved into areas blighted with concentrated poverty. However, Harold Martin’s “Atlanta and Environs” reveals an alternate truth behind the implementation of housing projects in Atlanta.
The very first housing projects constructed (federal subsidized housing) in the United States happened to be Techwood homes. Built in 1936, Techwood homes consisted of 1,230 housing units. Prior to the construction of Techwood-Caldwell Homes, the area was home to some of the worst areas of concentrated poverty in the city of Atlanta, named Techwood Flats. Techwood Flats consisted of inexpensive, inadequate rental properties that dated back to the late 1880’s. The Atlanta City Directory revealed that most residents of the area were employed in low-paying service jobs in warehouses or industrial plants in the city. The most common occupations were cooks, dressmakers or washerwomen.
Though we have been told that housing communities were created as a method to provide the poor with affordable and hospitable housing, many developers jumped on the project to earn a quick living. Building sustainable, affordable and safe housing was not a part of the initial plan in their eyes. Touted as a “slum clearance pioneer” by Harold Martin, Atlanta real estate developer Charles F. Palmer initially jumped on the large scale housing project as a way to make quick cash. Charles F. Palmer also happened to be the very first chairman of the board of the newly formed Atlanta Housing Authority in 1938.
Charles F. Palmer (courtesy of Library of Congress). First Chairman of the Board of Atlanta Housing Authority. The Atlanta Housing Authority was formed in 1938.
Initially, Charles F. Palmer admitted that he took on the slum clearance project out of an interest in earning money through the removal of slum areas. After all, this was in 1933 as the economy wasn’t at it’s strongest due to remnants of the Great Depression. Banks were closed and nearly 15millions Americans were unemployed (only 1 in 16 were employed). In order to stimulate the economy, President Roosevelt introduced legislation that would provide federal funding for employers who created jobs tearing down and rebuilding some of the nation’s worse slum areas. Palmer jumped at the chance, seeing as he owned office buildings in areas near the slums. Palmer initially assumed that by clearing the slums, property values in his area would increase, thereby making his properties more valuable.
It wasn’t until he began to meet with Dr. John Hope (John Hope homes would carry his name), a prominent African-American educator and civil right leader, and his wife did Palmer have a change of heart toward the slums. Palmer’s wife seemed to question his motivation and asked him if he’d ever visited the slums and understand the people who currently reside there. Palmer recalled:
“Here were sagging shacks built generations ago. Designed to wring the last cent from their use, for fifty years they had taken all and given nothing. In the rear were stagnant pools of water near an open privy serving several families. People were everywhere. It was the same block after block. Soon I’d had enough. “
Palmer soon switched his focus from earning income by razing the slums, to fighting the slum owners who were taking advantage of the city’s poorest residents. Palmer took his concerns to Washington D.C. and managed to convince President Roosevelt to fund the development of two housing projects in Atlanta; in October of 1933, his efforts were awarded. Construction of the first housing projects community in the United States was underway and completed in 1936. Techwood Clark Howell Homes (designed by architects Burge and Stevens) were built in the former slum areas of Techwood Flats. By 1944, six additional housing projects (all were segregated, unfortunately) were completed. Those communities are as follows: University Homes (1938), Capitol Homes (1940), Grady Homes (1942), John Hope homes (1940), Herndon Homes (1940) to name a few. By the 1940’s these six housing communities housed 20,000 people in a total of 4,000 apartment homes. The government ultimately invested $21 million dollars into improving housing for the poor in Atlanta. Techwood Clark Howell homes and John Hope homes were aptly named for the two men who were instrumental in the implementation of Charles F. Palmer’s vision of affordable, clean housing for Atlanta’s poorer residents. As a result of Palmer’s vision, Roosevelt passed the Housing Act of 1937, which allowed for local housing authorities in many major and rural cities. Palmer would ultimately resign from his position at the Atlanta Housing Authority to take on a new role as U.S. Coordinator of Defense Housing in 1938 (pgs 35-37).
Library of Congress, Techwood Homes Housing Design (initial construction began in 1935)
One cannot ignore the ugly facts about the housing projects of Atlanta. The housing communities were obviously segregated and quite possibly built with many different standards. As white flight encroached, white housing communities racial makeup drastically changed. Techwood Homes remained an all-white housing project until 1968. Withing 6 years of integration, Techwood Homes was more than 50% African-American. By the early 1970’s local businessmen and politicians began suggesting the demolition of Techwood Homes, replacing it with. If this isn’t an obvious sign of racially motivated politics, I don’t know what it is. Techwood Flats were mostly comprised of low-income, underemployed African-American’s in the 1930’s before being demolished and replaced with the all-white Techwood Homes. It appeared that Atlanta was on track to repeating history, however, the idea of demolishing Techwood Homes in the 1970’s was halted by then mayor, Maynard Jackson.
Unfortunately, federal spending wasn’t designated over the years regarding the upkeep of housing communities, yet Atlanta continued to build low-income housing. Many of the housing communities were built in cramped areas, containing very little room for upward mobility as a job in these areas were still hard to come by. As a result, crime crept it’s way back in, and once again the pre-housing community slums had returned. What’s more, the Atlanta Housing Authority had become increasingly corrupt and poorly managed. By the 1990’s, The Department of Housing and Urban Development deemed the AHA to be one of the worst housing authorities in the nation. Ouch!
Atlanta continued to build more and more housing communities, even as late as the 1970’s despite the failure of creation a “Model City.” Was the new purpose of building housing communities to keep African-American’s concentrated in Atlanta and out of Atlanta’s growing suburbs? Why continue to build substandard housing in areas that already contained concentrations of poverty? Wouldn’t the availability of well-paying jobs and equal rights assist with the reduction of concentrated poverty? I suppose only time will tell…..
After years of failed revitalization and high crimes/poverty rates in Atlanta’s local housing communities, as well as the impending hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, demolishment of the Atlanta housing communities were underway. Additionally, housing project communities had become the subject of a major research project which resulted in Congress establishing a 1989 Commission on Severely Distressed Areas. Flash forward to 1992, concerned with the increasing crime and poverty in America’s inner-cities, congressional leaders voted to allocate $5 billion dollars toward the revitalization of America’s 86,000 housing project communities (enactment of the HOPE VI program). I’m a bit skeptical of the intentions behind this program, therefore further research will soon follow.
The first to be demolished was Techwood /Clark Howell Homes in favor a newer, more hospitable housing complex titled Centennial Place. After 60 years of use, Techwood would be replaced with a mixed-income housing community with only a tiny portion set aside for former housing project residents. Many former residents weren’t able to return despite being promised a voucher or ticket to rent in the new construction. From 1996 to 2011, the AHA replaced 12 housing project communities, demolished 15, and remodeled the remaining 10 converting them into low-income housing or leaving them available for potential developers. By 2011, Atlanta became one of the only major cities to completely do away with public housing. This move came with much controversy as the AHA was accused of violating the Fair Housing Act (an accusation I truly believe is true) after it was determined that the AHA
Currently, affordable housing in Atlanta is hard to come by. Luxury apartments, homes and condos now stand in areas once occupied by outdated, uninhabitable housing communities. While the housing projects were obviously a colossal failure, the city of Atlanta should not forget that the city is desperately in need of affordable housing for residents who cannot afford the newly constructed condos, apartments, and single-family homes. I doubt that anyone would agree with bringing back housing project communities, but the city should at least offer a larger percentage of affordable housing units so that all residents, from all walks of life, can enjoy the metropolis that Atlanta has blossomed into. After all, it takes all kinds of characters, economic backgrounds, races, genders, and ages to create this amazingly diverse city we all call home. Why exclude certain residents because of their economic status? Is that a reputation a city “Too Busy to Hate” would like associated with its name? I think not…..
Atlanta History Center – Atlanta Housing Authority Photograph collection