Thursday, September 11, 2014

Muse's Building

Welcome back! This block is quite a hodgepodge, or maybe even a smorgasbord. It's seven commercial lots downtown in the Fairlie-Poplar District near Woodruff Park where the Muse's Building is today. The block has been a revolving door of businesses over the years, so I ended up including a bunch of old advertisements. I think they're pretty cool, but hopefully you're not bored.

Far away... close.
Before the Civil War, the block was home to Augustine C. Wyly's wholesale mercantile shop. In 1863 Colonel Moses Wright, commander of the Confederate Arsenal, set up an ordnance storeroom in the bottom floor of Wyly's building and a tin shop on the second floor that manufactured canteens. The building also served as the office for Confederate military ordnance storekeeper John U. Ansley. As Sherman's forces closed in, the Arsenal moved outside the city, and local families used the Wyly building's cellar as a shelter during Union bombardments. The image below shows Whitehall/Peachtree Street looking north from the railroad tracks. The A. C. Wyly & Co. building can be seen in the background.

Atlanta, Georgia. Northward view across the tracks on Whitehall Street. Concert hall on left
A. C. Wyly & Co in the background, 1864
Courtesy of Library of Congress
The Wyly building was destroyed during the Civil War. New commercial structures were built on the block like grocers and wholesale merchants, but the 1871 birds eye view shows that much of the block still remained vacant.

1871 Birds Eye
Sometime in the 1870s, Calvin Hunnicutt and Albert Bellingrath had a new building constructed along Walton Street for their plumbing and iron works, appropriately named Hunnicutt & Bellingrath. You can see their lot in the 1878 atlas below. Lots with diagonal lines indicate structures, while the remaining lots are either vacant or contain things like lumber yards that have no significant structures.

1878 Atlas
Hunnicutt & Bellingrath was the largest plumbing company in Atlanta at the time. Calvin Hunnicutt was a member of the Board of Commissioners of Roads and Revenues for Fulton County, and Albert Bellingrath supervised construction of notable Atlanta projects like the original Equitable Building (R.I.P.).

Hunnicutt & Bellingrath, ca. 1890
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
In 1896, the company was the center of attention when all of their employees joined a city-wide plumbers' strike demanding higher wages. The strike lasted about two weeks before an agreement was reached to raise wages, but Hunnicutt & Bellingrath then fired all employees who were not already making more than the new minimum.

Hunnicutt &  Bellingrath, ca. 1891
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Hunnicutt & Bellingrath retired in 1902 after Bellingrath's health declined due to head trauma received from a falling warehouse door in 1897 (he died in 1903). They sold off a number of their assets to King Hardware across the street, and the building then went up for lease.

Advertisement from the 1891 City Directory
Meanwhile, the rest of the block was filling in with a complete row of commercial structures. The 1892 birds eye view shows these structures with the Hunnicutt building on the left.

1892 Birds Eye
The businesses housed within the block included grocers, tobacconists, booksellers, saloons, you name it. Many of these businesses extended the full length of the buildings and had entrances on both Peachtree and Broad. In 1897, Atlanta's official Studebaker salesman, H. J. Fite, opened his office in one of the middle buildings. These were Studebakers of the horsey variety, as the advertisement below indicates. 

Studebaker ad from 1897
After Hunnicutt & Bellingrath's retirement, their building was leased by Jack Wilson, a popular billiard hall owner. He converted the space into a new billiard hall, bowling alley, and bath house called the Crescent Stag Hotel (sometimes just "The Stag").

Our block is on the left, ending before the taller Flatiron Building, ca. 1910
A few buildings down the block, Alonzo Herndon opened his famous Crystal Palace barber shop in 1903. Herndon was born a slave in 1858 but eventually became Atlanta's first black millionaire. He founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company in Sweet Auburn and also owned various barber shops around the city. The largest and most famous barber shop was the Crystal Palace on our block.

Herndon Baths (Crystal Palace), ca. 1920
Crystal Palace interior, 1903
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
Herndon's Crystal Palace Barber Shop after an interior renovation, 1914
Peachtree developed as the central avenue of the white commercial district during the Jim Crow era. Although Herndon and his barbers were black, the barber shop catered to white customers, so it could operate on Peachtree as opposed to Auburn Avenue where so many black businesses were at the time. The Crystal Palace served some Atlanta's most elite white businessmen and politicians. At the same time, barbering was advertised as a lucrative profession for black workers, whose employment opportunities at the time were limited.

In addition to haircuts and shaves, the Crystal Palace offered manicures, pedicures, and skin bleaching. You could even buy whiskey! Well, kind of...not really. In 1908, a 60-year-old barber named Dock McCormick was caught storing bootleg whiskey in a closet in the Crystal Palace, unbeknownst to Herndon and the other barbers. The police found out and arrested him.

The good old days of Bunion Wizards, 1919
As you can see in the image below, by 1919 the Crescent Stag Hotel was converted to the Wilson Hotel, the Strand Theater sat next door, and the Kibler & Long clothing company sat at the other end of the block.

1919 Birds Eye
I'm assuming the Wilson Hotel was named for Jack Wilson, proprietor of the Stag Hotel that preceded it, but it could also just be coincidence. Looking into some old newspaper articles about the Wilson, I found reports on a string of suicides and suicide attempts that took place in the hotel in a short period of time.

First, in 1917, Charles Felker, Jr. perished after leaping from his fire escape onto Broad Street. Reports indicated that after swallowing arsenic, he tried to borrow a pistol from the Spider Taxicab Service nearby. When that was unsuccessful, he then tried again to find a pistol in the hotel. After failing to find a pistol, he jumped from the fire escape and died later at Grady Hospital.

Also in 1917, two women (Pauline Cooper and J. S. Shelton) had apparently made a suicide pact with one another and ingested mercury bichloride. According to the Constitution, the two women had "firmly determined to 'go to Satan'." After taking the poison, the women's screams alerted the other guests, and authorities were called. Ms. Cooper, after recovering, reportedly said: "I'll do it next time. I won't trust to poison, either. I'll use a .38." ...Dang.

Then in October of 1919, Nellie McLain took her own life by ingesting poison when police arrived at the hotel to arrest her. The article didn't indicate why she was being arrested, but it did say she had attempted suicide several times before.

One month later, the hotel caught on fire, partially destroying the building and killing five people. The building would be demolished soon after.

Now that you're all sufficiently depressed, how about a trip to the theater?

The cowpuncher/princess trope is so overdone...  1919
The Strand Theater (no relation to the one in Marietta, as far as I can tell) opened on the block sometime around 1916. The Strand was a new sensation, a fabulous creation (bonus points if you got that).

I'm leaning toward "The Elephant's Nightmare," 1920
Down on the northern end of the block, a national ready-to-wear clothing company called Kibler & Long opened a new store in 1914. It expanded to Broad in 1916 with a remodeled interior and new display windows.

Dapper Dan, 1917
Dapperer Dan, 1919
Dapperest Dan, 1928
In 1926, the company upgraded to a new building at the same location. The store remained there until at least the 1940s.

Kibler & Long at the corner of Peachtree, Poplar, and Broad, 1926
Back on the other side of the block, another clothing company had settled in on the location of the Wilson Hotel. In 1919, the George Muse Clothing Company leased the lot and had their new store built in the Wilson's place. The new store, by far the tallest building on the block, opened in 1921.

Drawing of George Muse Company, ca. 1921
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
The company hosted a housewarming event before officially opening for business, which attracted an estimated 10,000 people throughout the day. No sales were allowed, but the display cases were set up for people to browse and pre-order items.

In the photograph below, you can see the Flatiron Building in the foreground with our block directly behind (view looking south). Peachtree is on the left side, Broad is on the right.

Muse's display windows were apparently pretty significant in the 1920s. In 1928, the largest exhibit of men's shoes in Atlanta to date (there were others?) was shown in the building's 14 display windows. They displayed shoes dating from 1822 to 1928, with current styles from Johnston & Murphy.

Before that, however, a hypnotized woman was put on display in one of Muse's windows and yes you read that right. In 1922, the Atlanta Constitution and the Lyric Theater (not on this block) conducted an experiment where they attempted to see if someone could be hypnotized over the radio. Widespread radio use was fairly new at the time, and this was clearly the next logical step.

So anyway, a hypnotist named Vishnu, working over the radio from the Constitution's Station WGM, was able to hypnotize a woman named Beatrice Kyle at the Lyric Theater into a sleeping state. For whatever reason, it was decided that she should then be moved via ambulance to Muse's and put on display in one of the windows. She was in the window for roughly 24 hours before she was moved back to the Lyric Theater and revived over the radio by Vishnu. Ms. Kyle reported feeling very rested and the experiment was considered a success. This is a true story, and there are photos to prove it:

Crowds gathering to see Ms. Kyle on display, 1922
Courtesy of Georgia State University
Ms. Kyle's removal from Muse's back to the Lyric Theater for revival, 1922
Courtesy of Georgia State University
And then sometimes Muse's just sold clothes:

The latest fashions from Muse Clothing Co., 1925
This image from the 1932 Muse Company Fashion Show can also be found in my nightmares.
The rest of the block's appearance changed drastically throughout the mid-20th century. Storefronts were updated to then-current styles as new companies moved in. Next door to Muse's, Webster Clothes has a completely refinished facade.

Courtesy of Georgia State University
Courtesy of Georgia State University
By the 1970s, even further changes were made to the storefronts. Webster Clothes appears to have been replaced by either a gubernatorial campaign headquarters for Bert Lance or just a glorified billboard. The Florsheim Shoe Company in the image above was replaced by an Ivan Allen Company store with a completely updated facade. Even Muse's, whose facade remained mostly unchanged, got a new super-trendy sign and logo.

Courtesy of Atlanta History Center

Courtesy of Atlanta History Center
The Muse building did get another significant update in the 1970s with the Urban Walls mural project. The mural on the north side of the Muse building was painted by David Barry Lewis.

1970s postcard
The block had apparently fallen on hard times in the 1980s. A lot of downtown areas were suffering at the time because of rampant suburbanization (something that will no doubt keep coming up in future posts), and this block was deemed by many as blighted. The Citizens and Southern Bank, which sits on the next block over across from Walton, wanted to purchase the Muse's block to build an office tower; Muse's would have moved up Peachtree to a new building. That deal fell through and was abandoned. It would be interesting to see what kind of office tower would have taken the block's place, but I'm confident it would have been ugly.

"Blighted" block, 1983. Note the drastically altered facades.
Courtesy of AJC
In its heyday, Muse's had 10 stores throughout Atlanta, catering mostly to older businessmen. As shopping malls and their anchor department stores increased in popularity, places like Muse's struggled to compete, especially since they failed to attract young people. In 1990, Muse's filed for bankruptcy protection before moving to a new location at Peachtree Center a year later. All Muse's stores closed in 1996.

In 1995, John E. Aderhold, chairman of Atlanta-based Winter Construction, purchased the Muse building and another on the block for $800,000. The spaces were transformed into loft apartments, restaurants, and retail in preparation for the onslaught of tourists coming for the 1996 Olympic Games. The mural was painted over and the rest of the buildings on the block were restored to appear more like the historic facades (images below).

Kibler & Long (1926), now Moe's 
Herndon Baths/Crystal Palace (ca. 1920), now Happy Hookah
The ground floor of Muse's is currently Anatolia Cafe & Hookah Lounge. 

Your humble blogger doing some, uh...on-site research.
Here's an aerial view of the block today. You can kind of see all the restored facades, but it's not great. Next time I'm down there I'll get a picture of the full thing at ground level. Muse's is the tall one on the left. On the far right are the Crystal Palace/Happy Hookah and the Kibler & Long/Moe's.

And there you have it. Thanks for reading!


  1. Thanks, I go by here once a week. Worked down here for 10 years or so.

  2. Drove by there today. Thanks for the post. Keep 'em coming!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. I used to shop there quite often in the 1980’s when it was the Brooks Brothers store.