Thursday, September 24, 2015

Off the Beaten Path in Worth County

Sometimes you stumble upon a little slice of heaven. That was the case yesterday, when I went to check out an abandoned bridge down in Worth County.

I didn't know the surrounding area would feel so magical. This gorgeous wetland was still and quiet, despite being not that far from the current highway alignment. Several egrets took flight as I approached.

The bridge was probably constructed during the 1920s. The highway, US 82, was realigned during the 1950s. The bridge can be seen on this 1940 State Highway Map:

By 1958, the new highway alignment was in place, as seen on this topo map:

If I had known what I would find, I would've packed a picnic lunch and stayed a while, instead of eating Krystal burgers in the car on the way there. I didn't expect to be so overtaken by this seemingly ordinary stretch of abandoned roadway. The place was a reminder that magic and transcendence are often found where you least expect them.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Grant Park School: Gone but (not?) Forgotten

In 2013, I wrote an article for BURNAWAY Magazine about the importance of preserving neighborhood schools, and what we lose when they're gone. I mentioned Grant Park School as one that was a casualty of interstate construction, but recently someone commented and said that's not quite accurate. The original Grant Park School was lost as I'd reported, this commenter said, but a later Grant Park School still stands as The Arts Exchange. So I went to check it out.

The Arts Exchange - confirmed as the former Grant Park School - is a Spanish Colonial Revival style building hiding in the shadow of I-20 at the end of Kalb Street, a remnant street that was once part of a connected street network in the Grant Park neighborhood. The Arts Exchange opened in 1985 and won an award from the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. Despite being in use today, the building is in a state of disrepair - so much so that when I approached, at first I thought it was abandoned. The cornerstone dates its construction to 1930, and it is indicated on the 1931-32 Sanborn Fire Insurance map as "New Grant Park School."

The original Grant Park School is also visible on the 1931-32 Sanborn map. It was a two-story brick building with a basement, built in 1903. Its location at Boulevard and Kalb Avenue is now in the middle of I-20, as I had mentioned in my BURNAWAY article.

Sanborn Map courtesy University of Georgia online collection.

A c. 1911 photo shows children on the steps of the Grant Park School. Its brick walls and stone foundation, with basement windows, are evident.

Photo courtesy Atlanta History Center.

The Arts Exchange is located adjacent to GlenCastle, better known to preservationists as the Atlanta Stockade. That building is currently boarded up and appears vacant - a surprise to me, since as far as I knew, it had been low-income housing operated by Charis Community Housing for a long time. Another investigation for another time, perhaps. However, on a hill beside the GlenCastle parking lot, I noticed a cornerstone dated 1903, listing members of the Atlanta Board of Education. Perhaps this is the cornerstone from the original Grant Park School. 

It's always sad to find remnants of historic buildings standing alone, as if the isolated piece apart from its whole could be expected to convey the story that the building itself once embodied. However, better to preserve remnants, I suppose, than for places to vanish without any indication that they ever existed. But as preservationists, we strive for more, and as a society, I hope we can do better. Schools, in particular, have the power to bring us together in a way few other building types can. They deserve to remain in use as living buildings, not as stone markers decorating empty parking lots.