Pictured here is the former southern headquarters for Crum & Forster, the insurance house founded in 1896 by Frederick Crum and John Forster, a Scottish immigrant who arrived in this country with almost nothing. Tired of working for others as insurance agents, the pair started their own company in 1896, focusing on selling various policies from a selection of insurance companies. They were originally based in New York and New Jersey. But what began as a duo of insurance brokers grew into one of America’s largest insurance companies. In fact, Crum & Forster still exists, today offering mostly commercial packaged policies and business-related insurance products.
While Crum & Forster was rapidly growing in the 1920’s the need for a southern headquarters became apparent, and this site was chosen at 771 Spring Street in Atlanta. Crum & Forster was the first national insurance company to build an office building in Atlanta. The historic structure they created, which was completed in 1927, is notable for several reasons that relate outside of Atlanta history, touching upon American architectural history as well.
The understated yet elaborate design reflects the many architectural minds that were behind its construction. From afar it appears to be a plain brick structure with two large columns in the front. But upon closer inspection the Italian Renaissance Revival building reveals remarkable limestone details, from the three arches topped by keystones featuring owls and a lion to the classic pediment windows.
Crum & Forster looked to a combination of architects for their new southern headquarters. The Atlanta firm Ivey & Crook combined forces with the prestigious Helmle, Corbett & Harrison out of New York City on the design, which was drafted beginning in 1926.
Ed Ivey and Lewis Crook designed many homes, university buildings, churches and commercial buildings throughout the South from 1923 until 1967. Some of the historic structures they created include the Druid Hills Methodist Church, the Olympia Building [Five Points], the Rhodes Center [Atlanta’s first shopping center] and several Emory University buildings including the Candler Library.
“Buck” Crook was the man behind site construction and execution, while Ed Ivey produced the designs. Together Ivey and Crook worked on nearly 600 projects as far south as Florida, and eventually the pair helped establish the College of Architecture at their Alma Mater Georgia Tech [1908 graduates] in Atlanta. The fact that Georgia Tech graduates designed it is ironic, considering Georgia Tech owns the building today and they are responsible for demolishing nearly two thirds of this historic building.
As stated above, for this project Ivey & Crook worked with Helmle, Corbett & Harrison out of New York City. Although they built structures as far away as London, New Yorkers might be particularly familiar with their work, which can be found throughout Manhattan. Some of Helmle, Corbett & Harrison’s more notable NYC buildings include the Metropolitan Life North Building, Bush Tower and the famous Master Apartments, which offers a fascinating history that touches upon the occult, along with an intriguing murder mystery [read more about The Master Apartments in New York City here].
Georgia Tech purchased the Atlanta Crum & Forster structure in late 2007 and submitted plans to demolish the entire building. Why did they need this space? A parking lot. Preservationists stepped in, and through their pressure and public demands Georgia Tech decided to salvage the front facade of the building. A synopsis on the fight over the preservation of the Crum & Forster building can be read on the Atlanta Preservation Center’s website here. Despite efforts by Atlanta historic preservationists to save the entire building, the rear two thirds of the building was demolished to make room for the Georgia Tech High Performing Computer Center. Demolition started this past Sunday, September 1st, 2013. History Atlanta was on hand for the demolition, and we shot video and pictures included in this article.
What are your thoughts on historic preservation? I would agree it’s better to salvage part of a historic structure and use it rather than demolish the entire structure in favor of a new building. But watching the back part of the Crum & Forster building be destroyed had me thinking it would be great if we could save this piece of Atlanta history and keep it intact, all in one piece. Feel free to entire your thoughts on the Crum & Forster building and historic building preservation below in the comments section.