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A Building Collapse Recalls The Ghosts of Castleberry Hill

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Tilt Coffee Shop still has a website, which is disappointing enough given that the Castleberry Hill spot shuttered for good more three years ago. In light of recent events, though, it becomes downright eerie. On May 21, the one-story redbrick that housed Tilt came crashing down into a junkyard heap of clay and splintered two-by-fours. The rescue team that spent the better part of the afternoon securing the area had a half-mile commute from Fire Station #1 – Atlanta's oldest – to the site on Walker Street. There were no injuries; the venue had been slapped with an "unsafe building" warning years ago, bound with yellow caution tape, and left to live out its disuse amid a spray of shattered glass.

"Small building collapses in Castleberry Hill." That's about the most coverage it got in local news. But there's a great deal more that merits saying when things change in historic Castleberry. For nearly two centuries, the neighborhood has proven emblematic of Atlanta as a whole – an amped up microcosm, hypersensitive to the economic, cultural, and logistical forces at play in the city. Castleberry is Atlanta's own canary in a coalmine.

From its picaresque beginnings in the 1840s, the neighborhood had character. In those days, Five Points played host to the sorts of moral depravity that had upright folks tugging out their whiskers or clutching their parasols in outrage. Kicking off Atlanta's tradition of southbound gentrification, the city council assembled enough manpower to force the gamblers, prostitutes, drunkards, and no-good ruffians of every stripe about one mile southwest, where they set up shop in Castleberry Hill.

In the years that followed, the area was developed to accommodate Atlantans' changing needs. The final decades of the 19th century saw the railroad take center stage, and even the organization of streets and grouping of buildings was tailored to shipping and freight interests. Castleberry morphed from a residential district to a commercial one, with storefronts popping up along Peters Street and warehouses clustered on Walker. As Atlanta moved into the 20th century and came into its own as a business center, Castleberry grew in even more dramatic ways. The neighborhood reverted to its residential roots to keep pace with the influx of new inhabitants. It wasn't until the 1980s that Castleberry's characteristic converted lofts signaled the first wave of artists staking their claims in what would be another transition for the neighborhood.

Even today, Castleberry Hill cannot sit still. The galleries haven't disappeared and the monthly art strolls have not been cancelled, but the number of both artists and patrons has dwindled over the past decade. Again the pendulum has swung from residential to commercial, with the neighborhood's primary draw being the bevy of bars and clubs that rattle the area's inveterate residents. With a history like that, the phoenix that emerges from the rubble of the old Tilt Coffee Shop building will be a sign of times for Castleberry and for Atlanta.

— By Curbed Atlanta contributor Maria Khodorkovsky