Monday, February 6, 2012

North Highland Avenue at the BeltLine

Another excursion into the gentrified Twilight Zone that is now Atlanta! Of the many places I have revisited in the last month, few have changed as radically as the stretch of North Highland Avenue between Inman Park and the Old Fourth Ward. What had been an industrial ghost town during the early 2000s has been transformed into a bustling mini-city seemingly overnight. Upon my return, I felt like Charlton Heston in Planet Of The Apes, but instead of being surrounded by talking apes on horseback I found myself surrounded by hordes of well dressed 30 year-olds and very expensive cars. The smell of coffee and creole food wafted from the direction of what had previously looked like a post-apocalyptic metal yard. Joggers in fluorescent neoprene suits jogged over the bridge that had served as shelter for a homeless encampment. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Here's a fantastic aerial photo from around 2001, "borrowed" from the website of Surber, Barber, Choate & Hertlein Architects, the firm that redeveloped much of this stretch of North Highland. The massive building at center was the Mead Paper manufacturing plant. To the right of that, across the street, was the General Pipe and Foundry complex that occupied the site for nearly a century.

Instant city: looking east towards Inman Park. The last time I drove through here, probably in 2001, this was an industrial wasteland of giant metal sheds, abandoned scrap yards and sprawling manufacturing plants. I now find myself in a strange new world. I wholeheartedly support the concepts of new urbanism but can't help feeling these buildings look like college dormitories.

This was the entrance to the abandoned Grinnell piping and design company, located at 200 N. Highland, as seen in November 1995. One thing I love about many old industrial and commercial buildings is the amount of detail and ornamentation that went into the design. The idea of spending extra time and money on such details simply because they are aesthetically pleasing seems almost unthinkable today.

Thankfully, the front facade was saved when the property was redeveloped as loft apartments and it looks completely surreal standing below sliding glass doors and balconies.

Here is the view looking north from the N. Highland bridge over the Norfolk Southern railroad, which was still in use when I took the first photo in November 1995. In the second photo, taken in February 2012, the old steel complex has been replaced by the cleverly named Steel Lofts. The construction of the BeltLine is well underway.

On the other side of the bridge, this is the view facing south towards the Old Fourth Ward water tower. The photo at left was taken November 26, 1995 and shows the Mead paper manufacturing plant. The photo at right was taken February 2, 2012.

Here's the same 1995 photo superimposed over a wider angle of the current view. I always love this effect of the past superimposed on the present.

Another shot from the same spot on the N. Highland Avenue bridge in 1995 facing south towards Cabbagetown and the Fulton Bag and Cotton mill.

Today the view is blocked by these apartments.

The stunning transformation of this area is possibly best summed up by comparing these two business descriptions from former and current occupants of the N. Highland steel site:

Then: GRINNELL Products delivers a complete suite of grooved piping solutions for a full range of mechanical, HVAC, commercial, mining, institutional, and industrial applications. Available products offer contractors, engineers, and distributors faster, more cost-effective tools for joining pipe over traditional welding methods.

Now: BROWBAR is the ultimate luxurious destination in Atlanta for brow grooming, full body waxing, organic facials, lashes, tinting & makeup & toxic free manicures by Zoya Nails! Whether it's creating the perfect brow shape for your face, removing all of your unwanted hair or rejuvenating your face, our professional aestheticians can help you achieve all of your goals.

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As always, thanks for joining me on these timed-warped "Sunday drives". Much more to come...


  1. Highland was my way to work forever, until about 1980. I have strong but fading memories. There was a scrap metal yard with guard dogs to the south and the lumbar yard to the north of Highland where it crosses the tracks. They were staging steel loads from train to truck in the "Grinnell" building for a good while after 1980. Apartment buildings are a dime a dozen but working light industrial areas are hard for city folks to find these days.

  2. To give people an idea of how radical Highland between Inman Park and Boulevard transformed, I explain that although I've been in every part of Atlanta that was one street that I didn't feel safe driving the day time.

    Cool pictures. Love the place.

  3. I just wanted to say thank you for creating this blog, it's absolutely amazing!

  4. Wow, that is a change! I remember Jason's old house that he shared with [argh, forgothisname] in Inman Park, and people telling me I shouldn't be going there after dark. Is that house still there, or has it been torn down?

    1. Well hello there Susanna! When I met Jason, he was living off of Moreland near I-20. I never saw the Inman Park house.

  5. This is very cool to see. I am a resident of the Grinnell Loft building that you've posted photos of here. Another resident here just forwarded a link to your blog to our entire building.

    I've seen some photos of what our building looked like before, but not these. very very cool stuff...


  6. Living in the Grinnell building and watching the transformation continue is really exciting. Thanks so much for sharing what it was in the past so we can appreciate, even more, where it is now.

  7. Miss my hood! Love Inman Park and so happy for its success. Terry Sagedy