Time and again the argument has been made that Atlanta forsakes its architectural past for a subpar future. The latest admonition comes from seasoned Atlanta business writer Maria Saporta, who notes that it's been a tough winter for the city's devout preservationists. The 1923 McCord Apartments on Seventh Street in Midtown, the handiwork of famed Atlanta architect Neel Reid, were razed in December, and weeks later, preservationists lost a multi-year legal fight to preserve the historic Crum & Foster Building from a Georgia Tech expansion project. "It's enough to drive you crazy if you're from Atlanta. Block and after block is filled with ghosts of buildings past," writes Saporta. "(The city) does a pitiful job in protecting and preserving its most historic buildings. And it shows. Too often the city looks and feels disposable, temporary, dispersed and incomplete." Also drawing heat in the article are the builders of "131 Ponce, Midtown" apartments, who would appear to have obliterated the very first building by one of the world's premiere architects, I.M. Pei. That's not exactly the case.
The 280-unit development is (thankfully) consuming most of the city block that borders Ponce de Leon, North Avenue, Piedmont Avenue and Juniper Street. When Sereo Group and Faison Enterprises bought the property back in August, the question was: What will they would do with the distinctive Gulf Oil Building — the initial offering from Pei, probably best known for designing that glass pyramid outside of the Louvre — perched on the corner of Ponce and Juniper? The answer was to tear the structure down, take it apart and put (some of) it back together. The façade is currently being reconstructed off-site, officials previously told Curbed Atlanta.
The Pei product was built in 1951; its facade will be returned to its original space in coming months to serve as the front of a clubhouse/leasing-type space for 285,000 square feet of residential. There will also be a pool on the roof, and parking is planned for directly under the reconstructed building. By mid-2014, designers said they are confident the facade will look exactly the way it was before, adding that the process of reproducing the actual steel for the dramatic straight-line look of Pei's original project — and blending several four-story apartment buildings into that feel — was fairly in-depth. Could this sort of façade-implementation be the new norm in Atlanta? Will it be enough to mollify those who champion Atlanta's architectural history?
Interestingly, Saporta recalls a 1991 interview with Pei, in which he pointed to decentralization as one of Atlanta's weaknesses. Pei was in town then for the opening of Wildwood Plaza, which he'd designed for Cousins Properties in Cobb County.
"The great cities are not to be seen upon perimeter roads," Saporta quotes Pei as saying in 1991. "Usually, before you expand to the perimeter, you should have a substantial core? There's still a lot of property downtown that could be developed. That may reflect some political and social problems you have. Perhaps the core of Atlanta will be the next project for this city to concentrate on."
· As historic buildings disappear, Atlanta losing its sense of place [Saporta Report]
· Famed I.M. Pei Building Vanishes (Temporarily) From Midtown [Curbed Atlanta]