Friday, August 15, 2014

Turner Field / Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium

Three posts in, and I'm already cheating. For this installment, I will be covering two blocks, which today make up Turner Field and the adjacent parking lot that used to be Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Worse, these two blocks are superblocks, which altogether make up the equivalent of 12 city blocks. So yeah...cheating.

It's a monster.

Of the original 12 blocks, I'll really only get into detail with one of them. The rest aren't especially noteworthy until (SPOILER ALERT) they're all demolished.

This is the only portion of the 12 blocks showing in the 1871 birds eye view.
This area of Atlanta, now part of the Summerhill neighborhood, began as an upscale residential area after the Civil War. Washington Street (now more-or-less Pollard Blvd) was gaining a reputation as one of the finest streets in Atlanta. The area was also home to a number of Jewish residents and would be a significant part of Atlanta's Jewish community for roughly a century.

In this 1878 atlas, some houses have been constructed, but much of the southern part
of the area is undeveloped. McDonough St became Capitol Ave shortly after.
The one block in the Old Twelve (it'll catch on) I'll be reviewing fell within Richardson Street, Capitol Avenue, Crumley Street, and Crew Street. Capitol Ave (now Hank Aaron Dr) is the only one that still remains today in this particular area. This block is the second one down on the right.

The blocks in 1892
That block is significant because of a house located on the corner of Capitol and Crumley that belonged to Charles Thomas Swift. Swift, a businessman from Perry, GA, moved his S.S.S. Tonic Company to Atlanta in 1873. The tonic, marketed as a cure-all for everything including cancer, is still on the market today as an herbal supplement.

Charles Thomas Swift
Swift built his lovely new home at Capitol and Crumley in 1875. He lived there with his wife Lena and their five children until his death in 1890. Lena remarried in 1900 and moved to a new house a block or two south.

Charles Thomas Swift House, illustration from Harper's Weekly, 1887
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
The Swift House on the southern corner of the block, 1892
The house was briefly a rental property until 1904, when it was purchased by an Austrian immigrant named Ludwig Amster. Amster was a Jewish physician who moved to Atlanta in 1894 and practiced medicine out of his home on Washington Street. He wanted to open a sanitarium...sanatorium? to treat stomach and intestinal disorders and felt the handsome decor of the 14-room Swift House made it suitable for patients.

Dr. Ludwig Amster in front of Piedmont Sanatorium, ca. 1920.
Courtesy of Piedmont Hospital
The 8-bed hospital opened in 1905 as Amster Private Sanatorium before quickly changing to Piedmont Sanatorium. Amster invited his friend and colleague Dr. Floyd W. McRae to be the hospital's Chief of Surgery and Gynecology. Amster's wife Flora was the hospital's first business manager, handling day-to-day operations like meals and bookkeeping.

Piedmont Sanatorium, ca. 1920
Courtesy of Piedmont Hospital
The hospital's immediate success led to many expansions over the years, which would transform the shape of the block. The Piedmont Sanatorium School for Nurses soon opened, and graduates fondly remembered it being like boot camp. Dr. McRae, an avid motorist, used to take nurses for rides around the block in his fancy automobile machine thing.

Student Nurses, 1915
Courtesy of Piedmont Hospital
New annexes were built in 1908 and 1921 with new departments, beds, and operating rooms. Remaining houses on the block were used for nurses' quarters. The hospital itself ultimately took up the entire southern half of the block. In 1925, the name officially changed to Piedmont Hospital, which is what most people had been calling it unofficially for years.

Second block down on the right is the Piedmont block, 1928.
Close-up of that block.
View from the back at Crew and Crumley, 1934
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
During WWII, many of Piedmont's physicians and nurses went to Europe to assist with the war effort. Shortly after the war, the hospital's board began eyeing a new location. The hospital was outgrowing its current location, and the old Swift House, though lovely, was aging to the point of sanitary concerns, lacking modern amenities like air conditioning.

Piedmont Hospital, 1952
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Construction began on a new hospital on Peachtree Street in 1954. The new facility officially opened on March 26, 1957 when 15 ambulances transported patients from the Capitol Ave location to what remains Piedmont Hospital's current location today. At the last staff meeting at the old location in 1957, Dr. John B. Duncan presented the following poem:

No one has asked me to do this,
So don't anyone laugh.
As one of the oldest
Members of Piedmont staff,
I only have this to say--
"Hail and farewell," on
This, our last day.
For the past thirty-four years,
Day and night,
I've been riding this route,
With no relief in sight.
But now, through the supreme effort of--
Staff, nurses, doctors, well-wishers, and friends,
We now have arrived at a climactic end.
The minutes of this meeting
Should be preserved for "Posterity."
So all who follow can read and see,
What a swell project this turned out to be.
I do hope these sentimental little lines,
Will bring home to us that oft repeated rhyme
"There is a strange pathos in doing the simplest things for the last time."

Postcard ca. 1920
Postcard ca. 1930
The property was then sold to the City of Atlanta Housing Authority, who demolished everything in 1960. A magnolia tree on the corner of Richardson and Capitol apparently survived for a while, but I'll bet you a donut it's dead and gone now. The image below is roughly what the block looks like today. For more historic images of Piedmont Hospital, visit their Pinterest page here.

The careful attention to greenspace is almost as evident as my sarcasm.
The other 11 blocks remained mostly residential in the first half of the 20th century, with Georgia Avenue becoming a small shopping district, complete with a movie theater on the corner of Georgia and Crew, and Fritz' Ice Cream shop nearby. Most of Atlanta's wealthiest residents were moving to suburbs, leaving areas like this one open to low and middle income residents. By 1960, about half of those residents remained Jewish, with the other half mostly African American.

This 1949 aerial photograph shows how dense the area had become.
With the decline of the area's income level, the property there was deemed less desirable. In 1960, multiple blocks were cleared as part of the Washington-Rawson Urban Renewal project. Several blocks in the neighborhood had already been cleared for highway construction. The initial plans for our blocks included white public housing, but many black residents felt that since so many low income black people had been displaced by the demolition, the new housing project should be for black residents. The land sat vacant for years.

Land cleared in Washington-Rawson area, ca. 1960.
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., wanting to avoid the controversy that would come with either choice, decided that the area would not be developed for housing at all. Instead, he chose the Washington-Rawson area for the development of a new stadium he had been wanting. Allen, elected mayor in 1961, had a vision of bringing professional sports to Atlanta, but was struggling to find a suitable stadium location. He argued the Washington-Rawson location worked because it would help revitalize the decaying downtown area by bringing people in for sporting events. It failed to do that, though, because the area was already completely cut off from downtown by interstates, making it extremely difficult to go back and forth between locations.

City planners weren't convinced the new stadium location was a good idea either, arguing that parking and traffic would be major issues resulting in further displacement of residents (we'll get to that). One top planner resigned over the dispute. Despite all warnings, construction of the new Atlanta Stadium commenced in 1965 before a sports team had even been signed.

Atlanta Stadium Construction, 1965
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
As president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Allen had made several connections in the city's business elite. He called on Citizens & Southern bank president Mills Lane to front the credit for the new stadium construction in exchange for Lane's recommended appointments for a new Stadium Authority (including Lane himself as treasurer and Coca-Cola executive Arthur Montgomery as chairman).

Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. during Atlanta Stadium construction, 1964.
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
The stadium was completed in 1965, a year before the Braves moved in. In the meantime, the Beatles performed their only Atlanta show ever at the stadium on August 18, 1965. Atlanta Time Machine has some great images related to that show here.

Opening Day for the Atlanta Braves was April 12, 1966 against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Braves lost 3-2. 

Hank Aaron's equipment, Opening Day: April 12, 1966
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Despite the fanfare related to Atlanta's new professional sports team, there were some bumps in the road. Criticism of the new stadium came mainly from the Summerhill neighborhood that was significantly affected by the stadium. The main issue was parking. The parking study commissioned by the stadium authority figured that each car would hold four people, and that 3,250 people would arrive by bus. 4,100 parking spaces were then recommended for the new 55,000-seat stadium, leaving 35,350 potential people with no parking spots.

The Braves demanded that the city add 2,500 more parking spaces within 10 years, which the city did, but that was still not enough. Since so many people had to find unofficial parking, the remaining areas of Summerhill were flooded with cars. Many property owners recognized that they could make more money selling parking spots than renting to low-income tenants, so rental properties were razed and replaced by "gypsy" parking lots.

People used to live here.
In addition to parking issues, the stadium's traffic plan made a number of streets in the area one-way before and after games. That made it incredibly difficult for area residents to go to and from home during game times. In addition, parking lots replaced the Georgia Ave commercial area, leaving remaining residents with fewer shopping options nearby. The post-game fireworks were also a problem for many residents, particularly when games went extra innings. One game in 1993 went so long that fireworks went off at 4:15 am.

I know you have to get up for work in two hours, but THE BRAVES WON!!
Nevertheless, one neighborhood's problems were not enough to impede the city's excitement, and the Atlanta Braves would be Summerhill residents for the next 50 years.

Atlanta Braves mascot Chief Nok-a-Homa, 1966.  Yup.
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Big Victor, 1967
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record and scored his 715th home run at Atlanta Stadium. In 1976, Ted Turner purchased the Braves, and the stadium's name changed to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Hank Aaron hitting his record-breaking homer, 1974
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Professional football also came to Atlanta Stadium in 1966 with the arrival of the Atlanta Falcons. Opening Day was September 11, 1966 against the LA Rams. The Falcons lost 19-14.

Atlanta Stadium set up for a Falcons game, 1966
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Atlanta Falcons vs. LA Rams, 1966
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Atlanta Stadium was also home to the Chiefs, Atlanta's professional soccer team from 1967 to 1972, then again from 1979 to 1981. Poor attendance ultimately led to the team's (and league's) demise.

Atlanta Chiefs Schedule, 1980
In 1986, the Falcons began lobbying for their own stadium, threatening to move the team to Jacksonville if their demands weren't met. Consultants were hired over the next few years to determine the new stadium's location and specifications, and one study suggested that Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was obsolete for both the Falcons and the Braves. Can of worms: opened.

In preparation for the upcoming Olympics bid, the Atlanta Olympic Committee began secretly negotiating a new stadium with the Braves that would be used for the Olympic Games (should Atlanta win the bid) and then be turned over to the Braves for a new baseball stadium. As we all know, Atlanta did win the bid in 1990, and these plans were then made known to the public. The Falcons moved to their new home, the Georgia Dome, in 1992.

Since the new stadium was to be erected just south of the existing one, residents of the Peoplestown neighborhood nearby expressed concerns that their neighborhood would experience the same problems that Summerhill did. They organized Atlanta Neighborhoods United for Fairness (A'NUFF) and lobbied for better parking and traffic plans, a ban on gypsy lots, increased neighborhood security, and a cut-off time for fireworks.

These demands were largely not met. There were 8,900 parking spaces now available and a ban on gypsy parking, but the new spaces still weren't enough, and the gypsy parking ban was rarely enforced.

The new Centennial Olympic Stadium plan was conceived by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and the Braves with very little input from city or county officials. Construction commenced in 1995.

Looking south toward Centennial Olympic Stadium construction, 1995
Courtesy of AJC
Centennial Olympic Stadium had a capacity of 85,000 people and was home to the 1996 Olympics' track and field events as well as Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to the north, Olympic Stadium to the south
After the Olympics, it was converted to the new Braves stadium, Turner Field, with a capacity of almost 50,000. Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium's footprint is preserved as a large parking lot for the new stadium. The Braves started their 1997 season at Turner Field with a 20-year lease, and there has been no controversy of any kind since.

Turner Field today
Below I've put together maps and aerial views from four eras so you can see how the blocks changed over time. Click the image to enlarge.

1878, 1928, 1949, 2014

Until next time...


  1. Geoffrey, Heard your story on the radio this morning.
    Love the Blog!

  2. yeah, congrats on the WABE publicity! nice! one day I'll be happy to write up a post on mine and Jean's block (the one with the Dixie bottling (Coke) building and shiny GSU dorms. - emily

    1. Thanks Emily! I may take you up on that one day when I'm falling behind and can pass the work off on someone else. :)

  3. I heard about this on the radio this morning too. I love it. Keep up the good work!

  4. It will be a football stadium for Georgia State.

  5. this is amazing. Thank you so much for doing all this.