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'Preservation' of historic Atlanta school a familiar story of appeasement

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In Vine City, Atlanta’s new YMCA headquarters will require demolition of a large part of the National Register of Historic Places-listed building

A red brick, two-story school building.
The school as it stands today.
Google Maps

To those familiar with the constant struggle that is preservation in Atlanta, this story is hardly unique.

Last week, it was revealed that a historic school building in Vine City would be preserved for the construction of the new Atlanta YMCA headquarters. Sorta.

It turns out, plans for the new facility were updated to save a small portion of the existing structure, while still requiring the demolition of the majority of the 1920s school building.

No one is arguing that the addition of the YMCA headquarters isn’t a boon for the neighborhood, but many have expressed concerns that the demolition of a significant structure in an area filled with blighted and empty lots isn’t the wisest use of resources.

Compounding matters is the history of the building itself in the community.

The school was one of the first elementary schools ever built for African-American students in the city and was named after the first president of Atlanta University, Edmund Asa Ware.

After it served as the school, it became part of the historic Morris Brown College campus and was renamed Jordan Hall.

An updated rendering of the Vince City YMCA facility that could deliver next fall, as the Falcons enter their second season nearby.
A rendering for the new building, with a small portion of the old structure retained.
The design for YMCA’s new headquarters.
The earlier scheme, which didn’t preserve the school’s entry hall.
YMCA of Metro Atlanta via WABE

An article in ThreadATL highlights how the plight of the school is not unique. Instead, it would join an already inordinately long list of buildings that have been partially demolished or harvested for parts in the name of "preservation."

In just the last few years, I.M. Pei’s Gulf Oil Building was butchered for 131 Ponce, Georgia Tech had its way with the Crum & Forster Building, and the new Metropolitan Branch Library cannibalized everything except the columns of the old Capital View Baptist Church.

The phenomenon is not new either. Pieces of the old Equitable Building, the Carnegie Library, the Leyden House, and the Eisenman building still exist throughout the city, despite the buildings having been torn down.

Assuming another design change isn’t in store, expect to see the wrecking balls soon, with work anticipated to begin on the Collins Cooper Carusi-designed structure later this summer.