Tis The Season: Rediscovering Retro Atlanta One Tour at a Time: Centennial Celebrations of Three Historic Buildings Among Sites Opening Doors During “Phoenix Flies” in March

Posted on: Mar 12th, 2013 By:

1958 photo of the Healey from Georgia State University. (You can see this view today at http://www.atlantatimemachine.com/downtown/healey2.htm)

By Kristin Halloran
Contributing Writer

Well, in like a lion is right. As a transplanted New Englander, this isn’t the kind of weather I expect from March in Atlanta, so I’m crossing all my fingers and toes that March undergoes its magical transformation into a lamb very soon… but in the process, how about a mythical regenerating bird? This month, the Atlanta Preservation Center will hold its 10th Phoenix Flies, with more than 200 opportunities for Atlantans to tour or otherwise experience significant historic buildings and sites, many of which are not regularly open to the public.

Phoenix Flies was created in 2003 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of Atlanta’s treasures, the Fox Theatre, NOT being demolished, and it’s gotten bigger and better each year since then. There’s something for everyone – in recent years, bike tours have been added to the lineup; there are neighborhood walking tours, cemetery tours, building tours, poetry readings, public art walks, storytelling and even a progressive organ crawl. Click here for the full calendar or pick up a printed booklet at most of the tour locations.

Three intown residential buildings are celebrating their centennials this year with opportunities for visitors to discover the joys of intown living: the Healey Building, Kessler City Lofts and the Ponce Condominiums. The Healey, a former office building in the charming and walkable Fairlie-Poplar historic district, is a neo-Gothic skyscraper a block off of Woodruff Park. It was named after its developer, William T. Healey, and designed by Walter T. Downing with the firm of Bruce and Morgan. The beautiful central rotunda was originally intended to connect two towers, the second of which was never built. Renovation was completed in 1988 by Atlanta architecture firm Stang and Newdow, now part of Stevens & Wilkinson, and today the building is full of happy downtown residents. The base houses an assortment of restaurants, shops and offices, including neighborhood favorites such as Le French Quarter Cafe and the VSA’s Arts for All Gallery . When you visit, pay close attention to the interior details that were retained, like the elevators and mail chutes. The Healey will celebrate its centennial with a Phoenix Flies tour on March 23, followed by a reception in the lobby and a chance to see the city views from the 16th floor. Visit the building on Facebook and learn more about the celebration here.

1947 photo of Kline's (now Kessler City Lofts) from Georgia State University.

Following the celebration at the Healey, head a few blocks south to the Kessler to celebrate with us! This location at the corner of Peachtree Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive has housed retail stores since 1855, including Ryan & Myers; Douglas, Thomas & Davison; Davison-Paxon-Stokes; Duffee-Freeman; J.Saul & Co.; Kline’s; Grayson-Robinson; and H. Kessler & Co. Davison-Paxon-Stokes (later moved to the corner of Peachtree and Ellis, where 200 Peachtree is located, and acquired by Macy’s) built the building as it stands today – more or less. In 1964, shortly after Kessler’s moved in, Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive) was widened and a 14-foot slice was taken off the south face of the building.

When Rich’s closed in 1991, it drastically affected the department store shopping environment in the southern part of downtown. Kessler’s, which also had locations in Smyrna, West Point, Decatur, Rome, Newnan and Canton, held on until 1998. The building was renovated by Brock Green Architects and Planners, now part of Lord Aeck Sargent, and Kessler City Lofts opened in 2000. Its most striking features are its exposed brick walls, simple concrete columns, original floors and the water tower on the roof. Inspired by the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association‘s loft tours of the past, Kessler residents will open up several occupied and available units to the public starting at 4 p.m. on March 23. Make your way up to the rooftop deck for a sunset toast to another 100 years. You can visit the Kessler on Facebook and learn more about the centennial event here.

Last but definitely not least, the Ponce. One of Atlanta’s most striking residential buildings, the Ponce de Leon Apartments were designed by William Stoddart, not long after he completed the neighboring Georgian Terrace Hotel. At the time, this area of midtown was full of mansions – think Rhodes Hall; the Peters House, now Ivy Hall, and the Rufus Rose House.

undated photo of the Ponce de Leon Apartments and the Georgian Terrace from Georgia State University. (See another view here: http://atlantatimemachine.com/downtown/ponce_75.htm

The Ponce was Atlanta’s first high-rise luxury apartment building, and luxurious it was, with 16 large apartments – three or four bedrooms, three bathrooms, sleeping porches, and separate kitchens and servants’ quarters. In addition, the upper floors housed “bachelor apartments” of two or three rooms each. Many of the residents, especially those in the smaller apartments, chose to dine in the cafe on the ground floor. The Ponce was converted to condominiums in 1982 when many of its interior Beaux-Arts finishes were restored. Exterior renovations are ongoing.

The Ponce is also participating in Phoenix Flies with a centennial tour on March 16, including a visit to the rooftop to see spectacular views of Atlanta. And of course, you can also visit the Ponce on Facebook.

ATLRetro Contributing Writer Kristin Halloran is a damn Yankee who loves living in downtown Atlanta. She is an architect at Lord Aeck & Sargent, and her favorite things include vintage postcards, old brick buildings and secondhand bookstores.

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