Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Atlanta Legal Aid

Well hello there! Nice to see you, been a long time! Let's dive right in, shall we?

Our post for the year (hahaha but for real maybe) is downtown near the John Portman Architectural Extravaganza (Portmandia?). We are bounded by Courtland Street, Ellis Street, Peachtree Center Avenue (formerly Ivy Street), and Andrew Young International Boulevard (formerly the much simpler Cain Street). Atlanta Legal Aid recently moved into the one historically significant structure that still remains on the block (more parentheses!).

This aerial view is somewhat dated, which we will address later, but it's more-or-less what the block looks like today. Soooooo much parking.

Back in 1892, as you can see below, the block was mainly houses and apartment buildings.

One notable resident at the time was Julius Frank Beck, who lived at 216 Courtland Street in 1891. Beck was an Atlanta businessman who owned the Troy Steam Laundry on Forsyth Street, an ad for which is below.

Cutest little laborers ever!
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center

Also in 1891, Joseph E. Harding made his home at 57 Cain Street. Harding managed the Southern Copying Company on Marietta Street.

1891 City Directory

On the southern end of the block, Atlanta contractor William Bensel lived in the house at 66 Ellis Street, built in 1880. The photo below shows Old Man Bensel on the left. This photo is in front of his home on Ellis, but I think his house is out of frame, giving us a look at his neighbors' homes.

"I say, Thaddeus! These pedal wheel machines are quite magnificent indeed!"
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center

That photograph is really great in general because, well, look at it. But also because it shows us some happy cyclists right at the dawn of the so-called "Bicycle Craze" after the invention of the safety bike, which is essentially the modern bicycle (give or take a century of tweaks). Women could ride it without scandalizing the neighborhood! Children could ride it and not die!

Anyway, here we have the 1899 Sanborn map, and you can clearly see all the dwellings there. The second house from the right at the bottom on Ellis is Bensel's. We will revisit it later, so just keep it in mind.


Up next is the current bread and butter of the block. In 1910, the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks (BPOE) began construction of their new lodge, No. 78, on Ellis Street. It's a lovely building and is remarkably still standing today.

In the image below, you can see a large elk's head at the top center of the facade. I'd love to know where that thing is today.

ca. 1920s
Postcard, ca. 1911
Sanborn Map, 1911

The Elks, if you're not familiar, are a fraternal organization of human men, and not hybrid deer people (unfortunately). The group does charity work and secret society ritual things.

The only image I could find of the interior of the Elks Lodge is below. Apologies for the poor quality. Note the cool ceiling.

Courtesy of AJC

Fun fact: Eugene Grace was a member of the Atlanta Elks Lodge. If you've been following along, you may remember him from a previous post about the Fulton Tower prison (the Butler Deck post). To recap, he accused his wife Daisy of drugging and shooting him in 1912. He survived but was paralyzed by his wound and died fairly young. Okay, maybe not so fun, but definitely a fact.

Courtesy of AJC

The 1920s brought more apartments to the block, with the Kalmia Apartments and Vernon Apartments both showing up on Cain Street. We also begin to see some light industry along Ellis, with the Mack International Motor Truck Corporation and the Southern-Ferro Concrete Company both showing up in the 1923 city directory.

Ultimately, the Elks moved onto a new building, and the Salvation Army bought the Ellis building for their new Southern Territorial Headquarters in 1927. This would be their headquarters through the Great Depression, which was a pretty busy time for them to say the least.

Courtesy of Georgia State University

In the 1931 Sanborn map below, you can see that most of the houses along Cain Street to the north are gone; apartments, office space, and a body shop remain. On either side of the Salvation Army building are the Hotel Miller and the Curtis Printing Company.


This picture of the Hotel Miller is a bit later (1957) but it's the best photo of it I could find.

Hotel Miller, 1957
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center

A notable employee of Curtis Printing Company was Maria Getzinger Jones, who started working there in 1939. Through her job at Curtis, Jones became involved in the International Typographical Union, which was her first foray into activism (that union was the first to pay men and women the same salary). In the late 1960s, she joined Atlanta NOW (National Organization for Women) and was a founding member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). Jones remained a prominent activist in labor and equality until her death in 2005. She'll probably never make the history books, but it's an interesting story from what I otherwise would have assumed to be an unremarkable location on the block (no offense intended to Curtis Printing Company).

Back to the buildings, in 1948, the Vernon Apartments on Cain Street were converted to office space by the Atlanta Realty Company, who also set up shop in the building.

Former Vernon Apartments, 1948
Courtesy of AJC

There were 50 office spaces in the building. Below are some ads for some businesses housed there over the years:

Courtesy of AJC

Courtesy of AJC

Courtesy of AJC

Not much is different in the 1949 aerial photograph below (economic depression and global war tend to stall development).

Courtesy of Georgia State University

If you can make it out, Bensel's house on Ellis (formerly 66 Ellis, now 88 Ellis) is still kicking. That brings us to the next part of our tour. Get comfy.

William Bensel's niece, Antoinette Farnsworth Drew, lived with her uncle for a time and (as far as I can tell) was given the house when Old Man Bensel died. At some point, portions of the house had been converted into apartments, with Ms. Drew living in the main portion and acting as landlady for the rest. Drew was an art patron with plans of one day opening a studio and gallery in the house.

Antoinette Farnsworth Drew, ca. 1941
Courtesy of AJC

Sadly, tragedy struck before her plans could materialize. On September 15, 1941, Antoinette Farnsworth Drew was murdered in her home at age 75. Initially considered a robbery, she was bludgeoned to death by a pick-ax in her bed. Very little was taken, however, which led police to believe the culprit was a tenant that Drew would not lend money to. Authorities could not pull enough evidence together, though, and the murder remains unsolved to this day. Poor Antoinette is buried at Westview Cemetery.

Curiously, a 1985 episode of Murder, She Wrote titled "Widow, Weep for Me" features the murder of a wealthy heiress named Antoinette Farnsworth. If Jessica Fletcher had been on the case, I reckon it would have been solved.


Ms. Drew's gallery dream posthumously became reality when Mrs. Ernest Felber and Mrs. William Elsas opened The Gallery at 88 Ellis around 1947. Until about 1953, The Gallery exhibited fine art from all over the world.

Courtesy of AJC

The Coronet Antiques also operated out of the home in 1950.

Courtesy of AJC

Apparently undeterred by what is clearly haunted, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Sorrow moved into the Bensel house in 1954. The couple lived upstairs with Mr. Sorrow's offices downstairs. The Constitution did a piece on the new occupants and their decor. Images and excerpts follow:

Mr. and Mrs. Sorrow, 1954
Courtesy of AJC

"Walls in the living room are a dark green, the carpet is a shade or so lighter." The photo caption reads, "Chinese Corner Includes Painting Over Sofa, Table That Once Was Screen."

Bedroom, 1954
Courtesy of AJC

"A great four-poster bed is easily accommodated in the bedroom. And there, too, is one of two enormous Chinese paintings--portraits of some elegantly attired officials." 

Fireplace, 1954
Courtesy of AJC

"Above the fireplace here is a tall gilt Italian mirror, flanked by bronze dore Italian mantel candelabra."

Terrace, 1954
Courtesy of AJC

"A big terrace was added at the back of the house... Some furniture is white wicker, other pieces are black wrought iron with bright floral cushions. The woven grass rug is from India. The black iron railing is from the old Aragon Hotel, which used to stand on Peachtree Street."

1961 brought new tenants to the home when Mr. and Mrs. C. Vernon Ayers moved in. On another slow news day, the Constitution also did a piece on their decor:

Mr. and Mrs. Ayers, 1961
Courtesy of AJC

"The original mantel tops a fireplace outlined with colored tile. An interesting feature is a pair of wrought iron cherub wall brackets which Mr. and Mrs. Ayers have mounted on the end of the mantel."

Queen Anne desk, 1961
Courtesy of AJC

"Adjoining the dining room is a den, marked by a ceiling-high bookcase, and a day bed. There are three interesting desks: One is a traveling draftsman table. Another was made on a Bartow County plantation by slaves. The third is a Queen Anne."

Alcove, 1961
Courtesy of AJC

"An alcove provides a conversation piece for many visitors. It is marked by a Madame Recamier sofa. A marble pedestal is topped by an antique porcelain urn."

Porch, 1961
Courtesy of AJC

"A side porch is so pleasing and so restful that it almost defies the fact that it overlooks one of the busiest sections of mid-city. The porch is surrounded by brick planters, all spilling over with ivy and seasonal vines. Urns and garden statues lend an air of formality."

In the summer of 1963, the Ayers (Ayerses?) hosted a garden party that made the papers. Guests included Joel Hurt's grandson (and namesake) as well as famed Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett. The party raged until about 2 a.m. (true) when Franklin Garrett went streaking (probably true?).

88 Ellis, 1963
Courtesy of AJC

This was the last time I could find any mention of Old Man Bensel's house. Because Atlanta is nothing if not consistent, this old treasure was soon demolished and replaced by (you guessed it!) a parking deck.

Corner of Ellis and Courtland today

Let's rewind just a bit and get back to the Elks/Salvation Army building.

Courtesy of Georgia State University

In 1956, the Salvation Army had moved to a new location, and Atlanta Union Mission purchased the Ellis building for their new facility. Atlanta Union Mission started operation in 1938 (I've also seen 1942 cited as their date of origin) on Crew Street "for the benefit of men unable to secure help elsewhere and who are without friends or means of support." They would stay in the Ellis building for over 30 years.

That rad ceiling again, 1970

Interesting bit of info: According to their website, in 1969 the Mission opened up a new location on Ponce de Leon Avenue that was the first facility in the United States to offer services to homeless women.

Courtesy of AJC

By the 1980s, Atlanta Union Mission was outgrowing the Ellis building. The basement held bunk beds for 45 people under crowded conditions. There was a bit of a rat problem down there, so the Mission employed Tom the Cat to run some reconnaissance. Tom would apparently catch any rat spotted within 10 minutes.

Tom the Cat, 1982
Courtesy of AJC

Renovations began in 1982 in an attempt to improve the building and accommodate more people; however, Union Mission moved to its present location on Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd just a few years later. They're currently known simply as Atlanta Mission.

Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
The building remained mostly vacant after Union Mission moved out. A portion was home to office space for lawyers for a short time before it was purchased by Beers Construction, who occupied the former Southern Ferro Concrete space at 70 Ellis.

Beers management occupied the house on the Southern Ferro site as a way to provide an inviting home-like atmosphere for employees meeting with their employers.

House at 70 Ellis, ca. 2013

A development group bought the Elks, Curtis, and Southern Ferro properties in 2007, but everything just collected dust for a while thanks to the Recession. The following view from 2010-ish is looking west. You can see the old Elks building on the top left corner of the block, Curtis Printing below it, and the Southern Ferro Concrete buildings below that. The huge parking deck on the right takes up almost the entire northern half of the block.

In 2013, the three properties were purchased by Atlanta Legal Aid, who chose the old Elks building as their new home. Founded in 1924, the organization provides free legal services to people who can't afford them. They focus on family law, housing, healthcare, government benefits, and consumer finance. In 2014, they opened almost 25,000 cases, ranging from short phone consultations to longer litigated cases.

Part of the plan for their new building included a dedicated parking lot, which meant that the Southern Ferro Concrete and Curtis Printing buildings were razed.

Curtis Printing Company building prior to demolition, ca. 2013

ca. 2013
Courtesy of Atlanta Legal Aid

Atlanta Legal Aid's new parking lot today

During Atlanta Legal Aid's renovations of the old Elks building, an addition on the back of the building was found to have extensive water damage. The top portion of the addition had to be removed, which allowed for the creation of an outdoor terrace.

ca. 2013
Courtesy of Atlanta Legal Aid

I was fortunate to be given a tour of the building by Ms. Paula Lawton Bevington last year, where I took the following pictures of the interior. They were taken with my phone, so they're of somewhat limited quality.

Front gate, 2015

Those rad ceilings still looking rad, 2015

Decorative cherubs, 2015

Mezzanine addition with conference space, 2015

Mock courtroom in basement, 2015

Very special thanks to Atlanta Legal Aid and especially Ms. Bevington for the tour and the information! You can find out more about that organization here.

One final detail about the Atlanta Legal Aid building is that you can still faintly see the Salvation Army emblem on the side:

Elsewhere on the block, a notable resident arrived 2005 when Agatha's mystery dinner theater moved from their original home near the Fabulous Fox to Peachtree Center Ave. Their space occupies a portion of the ground floor of that enormous parking structure.

And if you want your food and drinks without the theater, visit Sol's Liquor and Gyro Madness on the northeast corner of the block.

And that brings us up to date. In the aerial view we started with, the Curtis Printing and Southern Ferro buildings are still visible, so you can all say that you are now smarter than Google's satellites. You're welcome!

Until next time...