Let’s look at an old building from Atlanta history, demolished in 1971 to make way for a lobby and plaza or because it didn’t fit into Atlanta’s modern skyline, depending on whom you ask. The cornerstone was placed in 1891 on the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Pryor Street (Pryor is now Park Place). It’s the old Equitable Building, also known as the Trust Company of Georgia Building, Atlanta’s first skyscraper which softly opened in February of 1892 with one tenant, the Lowry Banking Company.
It was financed by the Equitable Life Assurance Society (now AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company; $519.3 billion managed assets in 2013) and built by the East Atlanta Land Company headed by the notorious Joel Hurt (more on Hurt below).
The Equitable Building officially opened on March 30th, 1892 with Louis H. Jones and Everard H. Richardson, both physicians, along with attorney William H. Black as the first group of tenants after Lowry Bank. The eight-story building was designed by the architectural firm Burnham and Root out of Chicago. Strangely, it was the only documented building designed by the Atlanta-raised John Wellborn Root in Georgia (Root died in 1891). Despite the imposing size and alluring Beaux-Arts style, the first year it struggled to fill space.
In 1892 another struggle was going on across downtown Atlanta in the Gate City Bank Building, with the newly formed Commercial Traveler’s Savings Bank barely clinging to financial life. According to Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett, this outfit was started in 1891 by small business owners, fertilizer manufacturers, wholesale grocers and hardware company owners in Atlanta. Quickly this fledgling bank encountered problems with slow payments for stock subscribers. In December of 1891 the president of the Commercial Traveler’s Savings Bank resigned after recommending the infant bank fold and return the money to the original stock subscribers. It looked like the Commercial Traveler’s Savings Bank was going to disappear into the long list of failed businesses in Atlanta history.
In stepped board member Joel Hurt. It was Hurt that recommended the savings bank should be turned into a large trust company. Hurt noted there were no large trust companies in Atlanta, and together with new president John Green, aggressively pursued this niche.
The change in leadership certainly pointed the bank in a positive direction. In October of 1893 the bank moved into Atlanta’s tallest building. With the move to the Equitable Building the Commercial Bank was restructured as a trust company like Hurt had recommended and changed their name to the Trust Company of Georgia. Eventually the building would take this name as well.
Joel Hurt continued to play a central role in laying the groundwork for a successful bank; in 1895 Hurt became president. Then in February of 1904 Ernest Woodruff took over as president and in 1907 they became a primary trust company. Throughout the next 20 years Woodruff turned the company into a major player in the south. The Trust Company of Georgia bankrolled steel, coal and other major industries, as well as famously backing the Coca-Cola company.
In the 1920’s and early 1930’s they aggressively merged with other banks. Steady growth continued throughout the 20th century, and in 1985 the Trust Company of Georgia merged with SunBanks from Florida, forming SunTrust Banks, Inc. Each bank (the Trust Company of Georgia and SunBanks) would keep their respective names until 1995, when they both became known as SunTrust.
By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the Equitable Building of 1892 was increasingly surrounded by the ultra-modern skyscrapers we see in downtown Atlanta today. In 1971 it was demolished to make way for the Trust Company of Georgia Building’s lobby and plaza. Pieces of the Equitable Building of 1892 can be found throughout downtown Atlanta, both outside (and inside) the current Equitable Building, the Trust Company of Georgia Building (the SunTrust Building) and more. Do you know where more pieces of this architectural relic of Atlanta history reside? Please leave where and what in the comments below!
Did You Know? Starting with railroads and eventually moving into streetcars, banks, real estate and other Atlanta ventures, Joel Hurt made a fortune from the exploitation of Georgia convict labor. During hearings in 1908 looking into deaths at labor camps he controlled, Hurt testified his convicted workers should be beaten.
Did You Know? The Trust Company of Georgia, and then SunTrust Bank, was historically one of the largest holders of Coca-Cola stock. They recently sold the last of it (starting in 2012) trying to raise capital. In fact, the original Coca-Cola recipe written on a piece of paper by John Pemberton is held in a SunTrust vault somewhere in Atlanta.
Did You Know? The steel-framed Equitable Building built in 1892 was the tallest building in Atlanta until being surpassed in 1897 by the Flatiron Building.
Did You Know? Caused by silver flooding the market, overbuilding of railroads and other factors, the Panic of 1893 (the same year the Trust Company of Georgia was reorganized) was the worst economic depression America had ever witnessed up to that point in time, with runs on gold, skyrocketing unemployment and widespread bank failures.
Did You Know? The original Equitable Building was nearly 118 feet tall. It had a basement plus the eight stories above ground all serviced by four elevators. Its address was 30 Edgewood Avenue SE.