Today, the pint-sized Midtown green space at 10th and Peachtree streets is a pleasing respite among so much concrete and glass. It hosts community events, curious tourists, and businesspeople on lunch break, often with a mix of large-scale art, Christmas lights, public corn hole, lounge chairs, and the fading leasing signs of longtime property owner Dewberry Capital. But four decades ago, the site was considered a trashy blight on Atlanta’s signature street—literally a dump.
That’s according to researcher Adam C. Johnson, the Midtown Neighbors’ Association’s History Committee Chair. Johnson, a Midtown resident, has conducted more than 40 interviews with residents and business leaders while poring over Atlanta History Center and Georgia Archives materials in an effort to tell the story of his neighborhood’s metamorphosis in a series of articles. The first installment below chronicles the “Pit of Peachtree” and its demise. Johnson writes:
By the mid-1970s, Midtown began an arduous recovery from the aftermath of the countercultural movement that had made it the South’s beleaguered version of Haight-Ashbury.
Many buildings along Peachtree Street sat abandoned, and more than 15 bathhouses, peep shows, and adult establishments had sprung up in the area. Trash was strewn about, boards covered windows, and garbage obscured some previously sought-after lots.
Midtown was a mess.
Bill Seay and Jerry Attkisson, who led the recently formed Midtown Business Association (now Midtown Alliance), pitched Central Atlanta Progress’s Dan Sweat to sponsor the MBA by hiring its first executive director and to pay the position’s salary.
Sweat agreed to the “staffing support” and hired Doug Downing as MBA’s first director.
After joining MBA in May 1978, Downing started its first campaign to clean up Midtown by addressing the infamous dump at 10th and Peachtree streets. He wrote in the MBA’s newsletter:
Nowhere was this needed more than in the area of this property. For many years this property was a dumping ground, over grown [sic] with weeds and strewn with garbage. At the time, it was aptly referred to as “the hole,” and existed as an unwanted symbol of the degenerated state of the surrounding neighborhood.
Downing knew the importance of quickly demonstrating MBA’s commitment to Midtown by making the area hospitable again, which, he hoped, would also garner membership with his organization.
Twenty-five community residents, including some members of the Midtown Neighborhood Association (now Midtown Neighbors’ Association), joined the effort to remedy the “Pit of Peachtree.” Initially, they removed almost 20 loads of trash.
Downing called the efforts “the most conspicuous symbol of the action being taken by the community and the MBA to inject life back into our street.”
Dubbed “Peachtree Street Clean-up” day, the effort continued in October 1978, and 60 Midtown residents and workers from the Army Corps of Engineers painted walls, removed garbage, and planted 17 trees, flowers, and grass. Southern Railway also donated railroad ties and helped install them.
Conveniently, the Army Corps of Engineers used more than 20 dump-truck loads of soil from the nearby MARTA excavation to flatten the park, and then graded it to its current height, which filled in “the hole.” (MARTA’s rail service in the area wouldn’t begin for another three years.)
The business association completed major construction of the park on May 3, 1979—and christened it using a $2.25 six-pack of Budweiser.
Because the MBA had secured a longterm lease from the owners of the land for $1, the staff unofficially referred to it as the “three dollar and twenty-five cent park.”
Neither Attkisson nor Downing thought the park would last more than a few years. Yet the Pocket Park at 10th and Peachtree is a relic of the MBA’s first efforts to partner with area businesses, organizations (CAP and MNA), and residents to clean up Midtown.
Today, it stands as a tangible example of what successful public-private partnerships and volunteerism can achieve.
Find Johnson on Twitter at @adamcharlesj