Sam Burnham, Curator
Nothing lasts forever. Things get old. They deteriorate. They fall apart. They die. Thsts just reality.
The preservation of historic and culturally significant places slows that process down, perhaps even delays it indefinitely. That’s the goal anyway. Preserving such places gives us opportunities to tell our stories to new generations, to pass our society down to our heirs and show them who they are, where they came from.
I’m hard on Atlanta when it comes to historic preservation. I am constantly baffled by the complete lack of concern in preserving any of its rich history. There are a sparse few oases that manage to avoid the wrecking ball. Oakland Cemetery, The Fox, Auburn Avenue, a few churches, but not much else. It makes me mad because they once had a lot to work with. They could have set an example of a true Southern cultural center but they passed on that opportunity. They passed on it because of greed but also because they’re trying to be this shiny modern metropolis. They’ve grown to hate anything quaint, charming, anything with lasting character.
The storied Peachtree mansions are mostly in landfills, replaced by office towers and parking lots. Sports venues are replaced every two decades, whether needed or not. The Cyclorama has been exiled from the battlefield and now resides in what appears to be an alien spacecraft in Buckhead. Theaters, concert halls, two beautiful and unique governor’s mansions, all gone, blasted, razed to the ground.
Now we see the final act of the Great Nassau Street Tragedy. All avenues for preservation have been exhausted. All legal options have failed. The building where “Fidlin’” John Carson recorded the first ever country music hit songs “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” and “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow” and also where Fannie May Goosby and the Morehouse College Quartet both recorded music will be churned into dust to make way for the Margaritaville hotel, timeshare, and restaurant. So authentic Georgia music history is being forever lost to a temple to beach music by a guy out of Mobile.
This entire area is trending this direction. While you have a shrine to Atlanta’s iconic brand in The World of Coke, the Ellis Hotel (aka The Winecoff), and a music venue in The Tabernacle, much of the area surrounding Centennial Olympic Park has become chain stores and restaurants or tourist traps. Little authenticity remains, especially once this slice of the past is swept out of the shadow of s gargantuan Ferris wheel. That’s a fitting symbol as this demolition is another step in the process by which Atlanta becomes less of a city and more of a theme park with a violent crime problem.
The trend becomes more troubling as civic leaders elsewhere see what Atlanta is doing as beneficial. There’s a lot of money changing hands in Atlanta-land and that gets attention. So other cities start thinking they need some gimmicks, some theming, some flashy facade. They sacrifice history, elegance, and charm. The foundations of our culture are ripped up and replaced by a plastic facsimile. A hoax. A fraud.
And then we wonder why why our society falters. There’s nothing true to hold it up.
I don’t hate Jimmy Buffett. In fact, I like much of his music under the right circumstances. A little sand, salt water, a tasty beverage, sure. But hearing Cheeseburger in Paradise while I’m huddled down staying warm in a Georgia ice storm makes me angry, even resentful. But, then again, I guess nothing says “Parrothead” quite like standing between your open hotel curtains in your underwear waving at the people circling the Ferris wheel right outside your window. Especially in Atlanta. In January.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire