Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Atlanta City Hall

The first block I'll be reviewing is Downtown, falling within Mitchell St, Washington St, Trinity Ave, and Central Ave.  Atlanta City Hall takes up the entire block today.

Spared no expense.
You'd never tell by looking at it now, but this area of Downtown Atlanta was primarily residential when the city was still young.  Roads were dirt and lined with churches and houses.  The 1875 stereocard below shows Mitchell Street looking west toward Washington. Our block is just out of frame, but the image shows what the area looked like at the time.

Grab your stereoscope and experience Atlanta in stunning 3D!
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
This block had one of the few structures in the city that survived the white hot fury of General William Tecumseh Sherman, which was John Neal's home on the corner of Washington and Mitchell.  Neal was a planter and merchant who moved to Atlanta in 1858.  He vacated his home on the eve of the Siege of Atlanta in 1864, but Sherman apparently thought the home was nice enough to set up his headquarters there, which is why it survived.  Just before the siege, Neal sold the home to Judge William Lyon, but Neal bought it back after the war (I bring this otherwise inconsequential point up because the house is sometimes referred to as the Neal-Lyon home, or some variation thereof).

Drawing of John Neal Home, ca. 1864.  Monstrous blaze just out of view.
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Neal never returned to this home, though, and instead built a new one a few blocks away.  The home was used as a hotel immediately following the Civil War, then briefly housed Oglethorpe University between 1870 and 1872 when the school first moved to Atlanta from Milledgeville.  Financial trouble caused Oglethorpe to close for about 40 years, though, and the Atlanta Girls High School moved into the house in 1873.

The block as it appeared in an 1871 bird's-eye drawing of Atlanta.  Note the John Neal Home on the
eastern corner and the residential character of the rest of the block.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Atlanta Girls High School was one of the original seven public schools in the city of Atlanta, and the only one exclusively for girls.  Its first graduating class had 11 students, and its curriculum over the years included bookkeeping, stenography, and home economics.

GHS Class of 1884 in front of former John Neal Home.
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
As Girls High expanded, extensive changes were made to the Neal home to accommodate a growing student body.  A new addition was constructed behind the house in 1888, followed by expansions to the house itself throughout the rest of the 19th century (more on that in a bit).

Girls High School in the John Neal home with the 1888 addition behind it.
The rest of the block was also transforming as the 20th century approached.  A strong residential presence remained, but as the city grew, commercial and industrial properties became more common.  On the Central Avenue side of the block, the Atlanta Newspaper Union Printing & Publishing House was constructed sometime around 1890.

1892 bird's-eye drawing showing Girls High with its 1888 addition,
as well as the Newspaper Union building on the opposite end of the block.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Around the turn of the century, the Neal home portion of Girls High saw its most dramatic transformations.  The columns were removed first, and then the whole facade was completely engulfed by a new 3-story expansion in 1904.

1904 Girls High expansion.
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
1895 GHS graduating class.  Congratulations ladies!
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Atlanta's growth in the early 20th century is reflected in changes to this block.  As the 1919 birds-eye drawing below shows, single residences have mostly been replaced by high-density residences and commercial structures.  The drawing shows the Southern Construction Supply Company, the Atlanta Labor Temple (not labeled, on the southern end of the block near the Trinity label), the Tallulah Apartments, and the recently expanded Girls High School.

1919 birds-eye drawing.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Postcard of GHS, ca. 1909
A larger population led to Girls High outgrowing its downtown campus in 1925 and moving to a new location near Grant Park.  That location would eventually become Roosevelt High School (The Roosevelt apartments today).  Meanwhile, the city set its sights on a new City Hall building.  The recently vacant Girls High campus was demolished in 1928 to make way for the new $1 million, 15-story City Hall building, designed by architect G. Lloyd Preacher and completed in 1929.

Atlanta City Hall, view facing south.  Shiny new corruption.
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Some of the block's other structures remained when City Hall was completed, including the Tallulah Apartments (which later became the Martha Candler Home/Churches Home for Girls) and the Atlanta Labor Temple.  The Southern Construction Supply Company building was replaced by an Atlanta Health Department Building, and a new Atlanta Health Center was constructed on the block around 1950.

Atlanta Health Center, probably laced with asbestos insulation.

1950 Sanborn fire insurance map showing the remaining structures on the block.
Courtesy of Georgia State University Special Collections
By the 1960s, all of the other buildings except for the Atlanta Health Center were demolished and replaced by parking spaces.  As the image below shows, Atlanta--like much of the rest of Downtown America--razed high-density areas and replaced them with parking lots, highways, and general ugliness.

City Hall in the 1960s, view looking south toward Fulton County Stadium.
In 1989, a new $31 million expansion called the City Hall Annex replaced the Atlanta Health Center building and took up the remainder of the block.

City Hall Annex Construction, 1988
Courtesy of the AJC

The block as it appears today.  At least the trees are nice.
Below are a couple composites where I threw in some structures from the 1871 and 1919 birds-eye views to show where things were then compared to what's there now.

1871 homes including the John Neal mansion on the right.

1919 structures including Girls High School, the Tallulah Apartments,
the Southern Construction & Supply Co., and the Atlanta Labor Temple.
And finally, just for fun, the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center has a great scrapbook in its collection made by Ms. Louise Bansley, GHS Class of '23.  Below are some images from that scrapbook, including a newspaper clipping of an article written by Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, all courtesy of Atlanta History Center.

Louise Bansley

Atlanta Journal article dated May 13, 1923 written by Margaret "Peggy" Mitchell 13 years
before Gone with the Wind was published.

**Special thanks to Amber Rose, my research partner on this topic!


  1. Those graduates look so thrilled! I know photographic fashion and etiquette has changed a great deal since the invention of the smile, but do you suppose our post-post-modern duck-faced selfies are a nostalgic nod to the original sour-puss portrait?

    1. Perhaps, but I'm inclined to think they're more an evolutionary leftover like the appendix rather than any conscious reference to our ancestry.

    2. I see. More of a nature over nurture PoV. Leads me to consider this post in light of the hermit crab-- attaching it's domicile and decorating it, absorbing it into its biology in a way. Are we not so similar with our Neal-Lyon homes and Girls High Schools? Sliding in to populate and rearranging as we see fit.