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For Midtown’s Spring Hill Mortuary, preservation protections are afoot

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Move by the city to proactively protect the building marks step forward in battle to save historic structures

Atlanta isn’t exactly known for being proactive about protecting its built legacy. After all, we’ve demolished an array of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But a new effort by the city’s planning department to add a vulnerable historic property in the path of Midtown’s development boom to the list of protected sites is what preservationists might call an encouraging sign.

According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, officials are working to list the Spring Hill Mortuary at Spring and 10th streets as a city landmark. The status would mean the building could not be torn down or significantly altered without permission from the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. With special zoning to codify the requirement, the building would have the highest protection available in the city.

The mortuary was designed by famed classical architect Philip Trammell Shutze and opened 90 years ago to serve wealthy and influential Atlantans. Featuring state-of-the-art technology for the era, the building has served in its original capacity over the past nine decades as the neighborhood around it transformed from single-family residences to dense, high-rise development.

In recent years, construction has brought new buildings to the blocks surrounding the site, and a new high-rise will soon begin to rise on the opposite corner of the intersection.

While the owners of the funeral home announced in 2016 they had no intention to redevelop the property, rumors about a land sale dating back to 2015 have landed the building on preservationist watch lists.

Last year, a speculative proposal was revealed for a tower to replace the funeral home, raising concerns the Shutze structure could be lost.

The unrealized proposal for a glass tower on the site.
Beck Group via AIA Georgia

If the “Spring Hill Landmark Building/Site” is officially designated by the city, the building and surrounding gardens will be protected from demolition for future development.

The surrounding land and adjacent parking lots, however, will still qualify to be developed.

Could Atlanta finally be realizing that preservation and development can coexist?