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Historic East Atlanta, Midtown buildings declared 2019 ‘Places in Peril’

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Georgia Trust’s revised shortlist spotlights Atlanta landmarks without renovation plans

East Atlanta’s Moorish Revival-style Madison Theatre opened in 1927.
East Atlanta’s Moorish Revival-style Madison Theatre opened in 1927.
Robin Benson; courtesy of The Georgia Trust

A closely watched list distributed annually by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation spotlights two intown Atlanta sites that vary in terms of architectural style but share at least one commonality: No plans are in the works to rescue them.

Published every year since 2005, the Georgia Trust’s list features a range of sites, representing local history from generations of Georgians, all at risk of being lost.

Lists in recent years have included irreplaceable Atlanta structures—and an entire neighborhood—with ties to names like Marcel Breuer, Frederick Law Olmsted, and W.E.B. DuBois.

Among the shortlist of 10 endangered sites announced today are an unassuming but once-grand theater along East Atlanta’s Flat Shoals Avenue commercial strip (shown above) and a long-vacant Midtown structure in the shadow of a high-rise development boom.

Madison Theatre

Madison Theatre interior and exterior views (below) from 1927.
Cinema Treasures

Atlanta architects Daniell and Beutell designed East Atlanta’s Madison Theatre in a style popular of the 1920s, Moorish Revival.

Opened in 1927 with seating for 600 theater patrons, plus “lavish furnishings” and air conditioning, the theater was considered among the South’s finest and most expensive neighborhood showplaces at the time, a community and cultural resource that helped bridge the gap between silent and “talkie” pictures, per Georgia Trust.

Theater operations continued until the 1960s, and the building was later used as a church. According to the website Cinema Treasures, it also functioned as art-house East Art Cinema in the 1970s.

Only a fraction of the building has been used for commercial tenants since the 1980s, while the large theater room is but a storage space now. “There is significant potential for rehabilitation, but there are no plans to bring the theater back to its original glory,” noted Georgia Trust officials.

“Unless you resided in this east Atlanta community during the mid-20th century, you probably would not know that the Madison Theatre ever existed,” Jack Coursey wrote for Cinema Treasures. “It has spent more years either vacant or for furniture storage that it ever did as a cinema.”

Rhodes Center South

The inconspicuous Midtown landmark.
Halston Pitman/Nick Woolever/MotorSportMedia

Remember the Uptown Atlanta concept?

In an area historically known as Pershing Point, controversial Atlanta developer/landholder John Dewberry—coined by Bloomberg last year as the city’s “Emperor of Empty Lots”—once pitched Uptown Atlanta as being the dense connecting point between Midtown and Buckhead.

The second, Dewberry-owned building on Georgia Trust’s list still bears the markings of that stalled idea (in large, south-facing letters).

Rhodes Center South, designed in 1937 by noted Georgia architects Ivey and Crook, is considered Atlanta’s first strip shopping center and one of the city’s most substantial real estate developments during the Great Depression. Clad in white Georgia marble, its the sole remaining piece of three one-story buildings that once flanked the ornate Rhodes Hall next door, and it once housed the Rhodes Theatre.

The dormant building neighbors both Rhodes Hall and Peachtree Street.
Google Maps

“The building is threatened by its current state of disrepair after sitting vacant and suffering neglect for many years,” Georgia Trust officials wrote. “Despite a thriving market for commercial real estate in Midtown Atlanta, there are no plans for its rehabilitation.”

Per Dewberry Capital’s website, the company’s holdings in Midtown encompass more than 20 acres on or abutting Peachtree Street. Its last substantial build in “Uptown” was the second phase of Peachtree Point, which finished a decade ago.

In 2016, the Georgia Trust’s list featured four sites in the metro area, including well-known entrants Central Atlanta Library and Gaines Hall.

Last year’s list had two, including the 1929 National Library Bindery Company building on Peachtree Road in Buckhead, one of the oldest standing structures on the street. Development plans have called for an apartment tower to replace the structure.

The National Library Bindery Company building.
The Georgia Trust

The second Atlanta place to make the 2017 list encompasses the entire Druid Hills District and Olmsted Linear Park, which is threatened by increased demand for development.

Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted—of Central Park fame—the district has been called “the finest example of late 19th and early 20th Century comprehensive planning and development in the Atlanta area, and one of the finest period suburbs in the Southeast” by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Preservation success stories in recent years have included Lyon Farmhouse, one of DeKalb County’s oldest homes, which has received county funding to stabilize it, as Georgia Trust officials noted this week.

Not so lucky: the circa-1850 Kolb Street House in Madison, once a prison camp for Union soldiers and later a Confederate hospital. It was lost to fire last year.