Perspectives on Preservation: Clara Gilbert

Greetings from a Georgia girl.

As the newest member of the PAM team, an architecture student from Georgia, and an advocate for little-known architectural gems everywhere, I bring to you a grave tale—a reminder of the ephemeral nature of the built environment in times of flux in our communities.

If you hop on Google Maps and find “1289 Moreland Avenue, Atlanta, GA,” you will find yourself staring at an abandoned lot on the south side of town, surrounded by strip malls and auto repair shops. Would you believe me if I told you that this is a site worthy of DOCOMOMO distinction?

The C&S Bank was designed in 1965 by Kenneth Johnson. Surprisingly enough, Johnson is one step closer to many of you, being from Northern Minnesota, while his story also hits home with me, as he is an alumni of Georgia Tech, my alma matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, imagine it is the 1960’s, a time in which the aesthetic and formal architectural norms of previous decades are being questioned. Who wouldn’t want to do their banking business in a one of a kind centroidal building surrounding an exotic courtyard, where the only way to get in, is on a bridge 10’+ over the landscape? It may look nothing like a bank to us now, but when you consider that banks are set up as series of nodes in which both private and semi-private exchanges take place, it makes sense. Why not have a doughnut shaped building that steps up as you go around? Why not talk financials while looking out into your own bit of manufactured paradise?

As quirky as it may seem, it is a product of the time in which it was built, a time that we will never be able to fully access or comprehend now, unless we lived it. A building like this needs to have an advocate and careful conversations about how it will live on in the built environment and in our memories.

So what happened? Apparently, the bank was only in operation for 20 years. In 2004, it was deemed “deteriorated and subject to vandalism” by DOCOMOMO. In the past few years there were conversations between neighborhood leaders trying to come up with a plan to save it, but at that point the building was too deteriorated and the land too valuable to do much of anything to save it. It ended up being torn down last year.

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe the Moreland corridor community was hit hard by white flight, or industrialization. Maybe there was a turnover of owners, the structure was neglected and interest was lost in the shifting of people, jobs, or money. But why does it seem that so often some of the most unique buildings become forgotten? Why do they often have such short life spans? Many of you “Recent Past” fans may be wondering the same things about other Mid-Century structures in your own communities.

This is an example of an extraordinary landmark in a unique neighborhood that was lost after a community forgot it even existed.

My hopes are that by reading this, you might think about the buildings that make your own community special; the buildings that you drive by and wonder what they used to be, or why they are abandoned. I challenge you to simply ask the question: what should the future of this building be?

 

Written By Clara Gilbert. Clara, an architecture student from Georgia Tech, is a summer intern with PAM. A Georgia native, yet Minnesota transplant, she loves learning of ways the preservation community shares ties across state lines.

 

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