Perspectives In Architecture: Celebrating skyscrapers past and present

The old Equitable Building in Downtown.
The old Equitable Building in Downtown. It was demolished in 1971.

By Melody Harclerode

New skyscrapers will adorn the Atlanta skyline in the coming months. The Three Alliance Center in Buckhead from Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects earns raves for its eye-catching glass panels projecting from its exterior. Further south along Peachtree Road, ODA Architecture from New York City, in partnership with local architectural firm Rule Joy Trammel + Rubio, builds excitement for its proposed Emerson skyscraper. This cascading glass tower features patios jutting into the sky. After a depressed market for skyscrapers during the recession, this year signals an ideal time to rejoice in the construction of these cutting-edge skyscrapers and to reflect on interesting architectural history.

One hundred twenty-five years ago in 1891, foundation work began on the Equitable Building, Atlanta’s first skyscraper, at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and the street now called Park Place. The revered Chicago-based architectural firm Burnham and Root designed their only building in Georgia as an eight-story, steel-framed skyscraper in the Beaux Arts style of architecture. The building expressed the growing affluence of Atlanta with its elaborate ornamentation and its monumental presence. John Wellborn Root, an architect who spent his childhood in Atlanta, and business partner Daniel Burnham advanced the development of the early skyscraper with their design for two celebrated Chicago buildings: the Monadnock Building and the Rookery.

The Equitable Building struggled for tenants upon its 1892 opening, but its fortune improved when the Trust Company of Georgia moved into the skyscraper in 1893. A powerful bank with deep ties to the steel and coal industries and to the Coca-Cola Company, the Trust Company of Georgia soon placed its name on the building. By the 1960s and 1970s, the Equitable Building was surrounded by sleek, taller, and modern skyscrapers. Critics deemed the Classical-inspired architectural style of the Equitable Building as outdated and onerous against the streamline style of the Sun Trust Building.

The Trust Company of Georgia sign – the Equitable Building's major tenant - remains as a marker.
The Trust Company of Georgia sign – the Equitable Building’s major tenant – remains as a marker.

Recognized as the first fireproof building in the Southeast and as an architectural gem in Atlanta at one time, the Equitable Building was demolished in 1971 for the addition of a new Lobby Building and Plaza to the Sun Trust skyscraper. Architectural ruins of the Equitable Building were placed outside these modern structures giving little solace to historic preservationists then and now.

In the 1970’s, the historic preservation movement in Atlanta only started to gain some traction. Through a stronger historic preservation community and greater public awareness about the importance of diverse architecture to the vitality of our city, perhaps more of the new cutting-edge skyscrapers of today will still be valued decades into the future.

Melody HarclerodeMelody L. Harclerode AIA, a local architect, promotes significant historical, cultural, and natural sites as the Program Coordinator for the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance (arabiaalliance.org).

 

 

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