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Photo retrospective: Atlanta’s skyline through a half-century of changes

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Between World War II and the Centennial Olympic Games, Atlanta was rendered unrecognizable

A scene from what was described as an Atlanta “slum” in 1971.
A scene from what was described as an Atlanta “slum” in 1971.
Bettmann Archive

In times of remarkable change, it’s wise to keep perspective of the past.

Thanks to the vast trove of Getty Images archival photos pertaining to Atlanta and its skyline, we’ve recently been able to do just that.

Other photo-based skyline retrospectives on these pages have spanned from post-Civil War times to the glistening, glassy cityscape of today.

Below, the focus is the transformative half-century between the World War II era and the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. Hop aboard the photographic time machine and enjoy:

...

June 1944

Let’s begin with two views looking south on Peachtree Street in the summer of 1944.

Visible buildings include the 1906 Candler Building, the Paramount Theatre (advertising the film Cobra Woman), and the Lowe’s Grand Theatre (showing Two Girls and a Sailor). A WWII banner across the street reads “Buy Bonds: Follow the Boys.”

The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty; photo by Walter Sanders
The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty; photo by Walter Sanders

...

1946

A handwritten date on this photo appears to read “1946,” and here’s the original caption:

“The smaller cities in America, structurally smaller, are approaching with rapid strides the striking aspect presented by New York City, with its mighty skyscrapers looming imposingly on its skyline. This trend in modern architecture is taking a firm hold, with the future holding many surprises in store. Photo shows one of America’s ‘Little New Yorks’ from the air, Atlanta, Georgia.”

Bettmann Archive

...

1954

This pre-MARTA aerial view shows the Georgia State Capitol, Atlanta City Hall, and surrounding streets. Today’s Gulch is seen at top left.

National Geographic/Getty Images; photo by Howell Walker.

...

December 1971

Under the title, “Contrast Of Atlanta’s Slums And Skyline,” this photograph depicts a young mother watching her children “play in the trash which litters the downtown slum areas and is overshadowed by the modern skyscrapers that make up the Atlanta skyline.” From this vantage, which appears to be west of downtown, the 32-story Equitable Building is seen prominently at left. It’d been built three years earlier.

Bettmann Archive

...

August 1975

The monumental impact of architect John Portman’s work is shown in these mid-1970s photographs, as the 73-story cylinder that is Westin Peachtree Plaza rises. It would open the following year as the world’s tallest hotel, and it reigned as the tallest building in Atlanta for 13 years.

Bettmann Archive
Bettmann Archive

...

Undated

This watercolor painting of “Atlanta Scenic Downtown Skyline” captures numerous landmarks.

National Geographic/Getty Images; photo by Stansbury Ronsaville Wood Inc.

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Undated

With the caption, “New roads are built to accommodate a growing urban population,” this undated photo depicts the construction of today’s Andrew Young International Boulevard and Connector ramps sometime after 1981, when the Georgia Pacific Tower (top, center) opened downtown.

National Geographic/Getty Images; photo by Jim Richardson

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1994

Moving to the 1990s, a decade in which Atlanta exploded onto pop charts and the global consciousness, photographer Nathan Bilow captured the changing city from various angles in the lead-up to the summer Olympics two years later. Here’s Midtown:

Getty Images; photo by Nathan Bilow/Allsport

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1994

Sunset over downtown and Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which was used for Olympics baseball.

Getty Images

...

1994:

A downtown panorama, with Techwood Homes—the country’s first housing project—in the foreground. All but a few historic buildings were demolished at Techwood in advance of the Olympics.

Getty Images; photo by Nathan Bilow/ALLSPORT

...

1994:

Another sunset view of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where Hank Aaron hit his most famous home run and the Beatles played their only Atlanta concert.

Getty Images

...

May 1995

An aerial view of Midtown, much less dense in those days.

Photo by Kevin Fleming/Corbis/VCG

...

July 20, 1996

The Olympic flame meets the Gold Dome, at the end of the 1996 Summer Games’s opening ceremony.

Photo by PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images

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July 1996

A happier scene in Centennial Olympic Park during the Games.

Photo by David Madison, Getty Images

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August 2, 1996

The Centennial Olympic Stadium, later reduced to Turner Field and now Georgia State Stadium, during the track and field competition.

Getty Images

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1997

Let’s close with two panoramics, both accompanied by this simple caption: “This is the skyline after the 1996 Olympics took place. It is the view at sunset.”

Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images
Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images

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