“I mean, it's awful. And sad to see neighborhood landmarks treated with such disrespect.”
So ends an email recently submitted to Curbed Atlanta in reference to what’s become a volcanically hot topic, especially around Reynoldstown and Cabbagetown: the Atlanta & West Point Railroad depot’s fresh paint job.
Before discussing the kerfuffle, let’s have a quick history lesson:
Built of red brick in the Georgian Revival style, the depot has stood at 904 Memorial Drive since about 1930, on the original A&WP Railroad “Belt Line” that swung from West End around to Inman Park, according to RailGa.com.
The railroad history compendium notes this interesting tidbit: “... the building hardly looks like a freight depot. Apparently, the A&WP had high expectations for the neighborhood, an outlook which proved well-founded for a while. In the mid-20th Century, however, prosperity moved elsewhere and the depot was abandoned and boarded up.”
Fast forward to the Great Recession (circa 2007), and the old depot was reborn as a restaurant—and then reborn again as celebrated cocktail emporium H. Harper Station, which ultimately shuttered last year in the face of rising rents, ending a five-year run. That concept’s owner, Jerry Slater, said at the time:
“Harper Station opened in late 2010, still in the midst of the economic recession. The promise of the coming Beltline and potential Memorial Drive development made the extravagant rent seem possible at the time.”
Cobwebs didn’t gather for long.
As the Eastside Trail’s southward extension became real (although it stops short of Memorial Drive, for now), the proprietor of one of the trail’s biggest commercial successes, Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall, announced two new restaurants for the depot in February this year. They are: Golden Eagle, a larger space intended to be “a workingman’s tavern in the spirit of midcentury lobby bars and American Legion halls,” and a “West Coast-style all-day spot” called Muchacho.
Restaurateur Michael Lennox told the AJC’s Talk of the Town blog he’s been painstakingly renovating the interior to better highlight the vaulted ceilings and steel trusses; meanwhile, bricks from an old South Georgia mill were trucked in to create an opened-up, 2,000-square-foot patio that’ll act as a Beltline welcome mat one day.
But Lennox’s recent decision to paint the exterior brick walls white has inflamed some neighbors, who claim the new look mars the structure’s appearance and architectural significance.
Some angry locals have taken to giving Golden Eagle bad online reviews—before its doors have even opened to the public. (The restaurant’s Facebook page has since been shut down). Meanwhile, others have logged damaging one-star ratings on the Facebook page of the project’s designer, Elizabeth Ingram, who called the actions “really out of proportion” in an AJC interview.
The building, the newspaper found, falls under no landmark or historical protections.
Lennox stressed that all of his plans were permitted by the city—and that changes were necessary for a building that’s seen two restaurants close in recent years.
“Our decision to paint the exterior of the building was motivated by the intent to tell a clearer story with the overall space,” Lennox told the AJC, “while aiming to become a lasting gathering place in the community that can stand the test of time.”