Structure of the Week: One Atlantic Center
You can tell if an Atlantan is of a certain age (and by that, I mean roughly as old as me) if he or she refers to this building as “the IBM Tower.” Youngsters (and by that, I mean anyone under thirty-five) are jaded by the march of skyscrapers along Peachtree Street and into the exurbs. But when construction began on this building back in the mid-eighties, it was truly mind-boggling.
A skyscraper, in the middle of Midtown? The neighborhood was best known for the shabby mansions surrounding shady (and by that I mean sketchy, not leaf-dappled) Piedmont Park. It was a bohemian enclave still permeated with residual hippie spirit from its sixties heyday as the epicenter of the Southeast’s counter-cultural movement.
The only sizable structures were seedy apartment buildings and down-on-their heels hotels. RuPaul worked as a go-go dancer at a club called Weekends and plastered phone poles with Xeroxed posters proclaiming himself “Starrbooty” or occasionally, “God.” At one point I lived in a garage-turned duplex on Eighth Street, and every night the guy on the other side would open his front door and fire off rounds from a handgun in the general direction of the empty lot across the street to scare off the junkies who crashed there. I owned a very large dog and did not walk outside unless she was at my side.
The thought of a skyscraper, let alone one built to house the corporate behemoth we un-ironically called Big Blue, seemed surreal. And yet the tower rose at the corner of West Peachtree and 14th Street, where the previous notable landmark had been Margaritaville, a dive-y bar where bands like the Georgia Satellites played before making it big. Big business moving into Midtown; who’d have thought it possible?
The core of the fifty-story tower — designed by John Burgee and Philip Johnson — was erected first, which meant we watched the boring stuff like stairs and elevator shafts and systems go up without really having a clue what the whole thing would look like on completion. Sometimes my roommate and I would walk over in the evening to gawk at the steel and concrete shell rising skyward; once we sneaked in through a crack in the construction-site fence and clambered up a few flights of stairs in the tower's lower levels before panicking and racing off when we saw the beam of a security guard's flashlight.
When the building was finally completed in 1987, it soared 825-feet, becoming Atlanta’s tallest structure, and casting a long shadow over Midtown that seemed to chase out the hippies who’d clung on for so long. Midtowners griped about the tower, but also couldn’t help being a little proud. It was just so pretty. With its distinctly neoclassical vibe, pink granite sheathing, and charming copper-clad pyramidal peak topped off with a jaunty gold finial, it caused critics to swoon a little, too. The New York Times dubbed it the first important building in Atlanta since 1967’s Hyatt. The AJC ran a fawning multi-part series, calling the tower a "soaring skyline declaration."
After the tower arose, the area transformed from shabby to chic and businesses like Second Hand Rose thrift store made way for high-end boutiques. RuPaul moved out, and ten years after the IBM Tower went up, the Federal Reserve moved into its own fancy new digs that sprawled over the spot where Weekends once stood.
IBM Tower under construction, courtesy Steve Frenkel. Check out his photos and artwork here.