Thanks very much to Tumblr blogger diminishedsanity for sending me a link to the amazing photo above, taken in 1972 on Forsyth Street, one block away from where I live in Downtown Atlanta. Here’s the note posted along with the photo:
Atlanta, Georgia Vaudeville Sign exposed in 1972 when the Dinkler Plaza Hotel was razed. I took this shot in 1972 because of my fascination with signs. Originally the Hotel Ansley. Forysth Street Atlanta.
The Forsyth Theatre building shown here was a vaudeville theater with offices on top. It was built in 1910 and was razed in 1977 to make room for…wait for it…a surface parking lot (imagine!). Here’s an image of it in it’s glory. It was designed by architect A. Ten Eyck Brown who, in addition to having the coolest name of any Atlanta architect I know of, was also the designer of other prominent buildings in the city, some of which are still standing, including the humble-but-loved Atlanta Municipal Market (aka Sweet Auburn Curb Market).
Dinkler Plaza Hotel/Hotel Ansley
But what interests me most is the structure that was razed in 1972, revealing this painted sign on the Forsyth Theater. That building was the Dinkler Plaza Hotel which was originally called the Hotel Ansley. It was built in 1913 right up against the theater, so the sign above was put up somewhere between 1910 and then. Here’s the hotel in its heyday with the theater just visible off to the left.
Here’s a list of facts on the Hotel Ansley from its Wikipedia entry
- It was named after the developer of Ansley Park
- in 1961, 66-year-old Carling Dinkler, president of Dinkler Hotels, plunged twelve stories to his death from his personal suite in this building.
- In 1964, after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was honored with an historic congratulatory banquet, Atlanta’s first biracial formal dinner, in the hotel’s ballroom.
The main reason this hotel building interests me is this: it was part of the original renderings for the Central Library, built just to the north of it. The Central Library is a beautiful Brutalist structure in itself, but Brutalism works best as a contrast to non-brutal surroundings, such as decorative old buildings and green nature. Here’s the original rendering of the library before it was constructed. You can see the hotel to the left. (That’s my reflection, btw - the rendering is available for view in the special collections room of the library.)
Notice how much better that looks as a neighbor for the library as opposed to what’s there now. The hotel, a grand part of Atlanta’s history was razed to make room for…wait for it…a parking deck with a Dunkin Donuts at the bottom. Here’s the view today:
At least there are a couple of trees in front. And doughnuts are tasty, no argument there. But a parking deck full of cars doesn’t do a good job of replacing the architectural beauty of the hotel, its economic activity, or the vibrancy it enable on the street. The same can be said for the surface lot just out of view, to the left. It’s no match for what the Forsyth Theatre provided the area.
This part of Downtown — now called Fairlie-Poplar but previously known as the Financial District — experienced an incredible amount of disinvestment in the 1960s and 70s that ended up seeing many wonderful buildings destroyed to make room for parking.
Things have improved, with some office buildings being converted to condos in the 1990s-2000s and a great strip of lunch restaurants on Broad Street. And GSU students have brought an amazing level of vibrancy to the street. But there’s a long way to go.
My hope is that the Atlanta Streetcar, set to begin passenger service this winter, will make the owners of the many parking lots here think twice about their land use. Could this surface lot be more profitable as something else? Why yes, I think it could.