In our Past Pictures series we present a chain of images from the history of Atlanta with one thing in common. For this series we look at Tenth Street. Each picture is presented to spark conversation and memories about the areas you see in each vision of the past. In short, this series is meant to meander through history, much like how our city streets curve and change names.
This time we look at Past Pictures of Tenth Street, an interesting corridor that stretches from Monroe Drive on the east before ending right after Brady Avenue on the west. Its route passes many notable landmarks, institutions and buildings, including Piedmont Park and Georgia Tech. Over the course of its history it has been called Bleckley Avenue (east of Peachtree to Piedmont) and Madison (between Crescent and West Peachtree).
Pictured above is the intersection of Peachtree and Tenth Street with Roxy Delicatessen and other businesses in 1966. The Roxy was a notable establishment, frequented by Margaret Mitchell while she drafted Gone with the Wind. The Roxy Deli was a favorite eatery of Atlanta’s elite, including the Governor, until the neighborhood surrounding this intersection descended into a drug-filled hippy haven in the 1960’s.
This neighborhood that surrounds the intersection of Peachtree and Tenth Street has carried many names. After the Civil War it was a dangerous area known as the Tight Squeeze, patrolled by highwaymen and robbers that would steal, assault and murder travelers coming to and from the bustling city of Atlanta to the south.
As early as the 1870’s business owners and real estate men, trying to attract customers and home buyers, desired a new name. So by the 1880’s the neighborhood was re-branded as Blooming Hill, and it quickly filled with mansions, apartment buildings and booming businesses. It developed well. By the 1920’s it was known as the Tenth Street Shopping District, filled with more than one of every type of shop and business imaginable, mostly serving Atlanta’s elite who owned the mansions over on Peachtree and in new developments, such as Ansley Park.
The Tenth Street Shopping District wouldn’t last as the 1950’s stretched into the 1960’s. By 1962 it was considered the southern version of Greenwich Village, with artists, dancers and actors flooding the intersection. As malls and shopping strips opened in surrounding areas, the retail traffic businesses had enjoyed slowly declined. The area became a favorite spot for hippies, drug dealers, panhandlers and travelers new to the City of Atlanta.
At this point in time it was know as The Strip. (There’s a great website dedicated to the old hippies of this area, where they are encouraged to share their stories of dropping LSD and flying their “Freak Flags”. Check out The Strip Project when you have a chance. It’s groovy.) By the 1970’s fires and neglect had destroyed many of the shops around the Peachtree and Tenth Street intersection. The 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s witnessed the influx of developers that purchased and razed many properties in favor of the modern buildings (such as the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Building completed in 2001) we see today.
Piedmont Park is the largest and most notable landmark that resides on the Tenth Street corridor. It was originally Creek land, which was purchased or swindled by the state of Georgia in the early 1820’s (our story Help Sylvester Cemetery touched upon the complicated nature of these land deals). In 1834 the land that would become Piedmont Park was purchased for $450 by Samuel and Sara Walker from the state of Georgia; they built a farm on what would become the Active Oval (according to the Piedmont Park Conservancy History; it provides a deeper dive into the history of the park, but does avoid some of the more unsavory and touchy subjects).
Throughout the decades that followed Piedmont Park hosted many fairs and expositions. The two largest were the Piedmont Exposition of 1887 and the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895. The park was purchased by the City of Atlanta in 1904. In the early years there were actually two parks at this location, Lincoln Park for African American citizens and Piedmont Park for Atlanta’s white citizens.
Little changed in the park until the late 1960’s, as the neighborhood surrounding it transformed itself (mentioned above). By the late 1970’s crime, deterioration, drug use and other illegal activities plagued Piedmont Park. The Piedmont Park Conservancy was established in 1989 to combat these problems and since a beautiful restoration of this urban green space has taken place.
Did You Know? The area known as the Tight Squeeze offered travelers a wagon yard, several stores and a blacksmith along with the possibility of losing your life, money and goods.
Did You Know? The Gaither at 301 Tenth Street was built in 1930 and is now a “boutique building” offering 15 condominiums.
Did You Know? The North Atlanta Baptist Church that resided at Tenth and Hemphill Avenue near Georgia Tech was built in 1896 and razed in 1913. The Reverend W.H. Bell, also known as Billy Bell, built the church. He died in 1918.
Did You Know? Texaco was founded as the Texas Fuel Company in Beaumont, Texas 1901. It offers an interesting history (one previous President had to resign after it was shown he provided fuel to Nazi Germany) and it still exists today under the Chevron Corporation umbrella. Their main fuel product is “Texaco with Techron” and they also own Havoline motor oil.