By Collin Kelley
Artist Gregor Turk is keeping the name of one of Atlanta’s oldest neighborhoods, Blandtown, alive.
Turk recently installed a large sign on the small lawn of his studio on English Street that reads “Welcome to the Heart of Blandtown.” It’s part installation, part reminder as new homes are literally springing up all around the tiny white house that is one of only three remaining original structures in the neighborhood.
Blandtown has slowly been absorbed into what is now called West Midtown, while Brock Built Homes has named the new development around Turk’s studio West Town.
Turk’s studio, a tiny white cottage he guesses was built in the late 1950s or early 60s, is dwarfed by the two-story, single-family half-millon dollar homes that have sprung up on both sides, behind and across the street.
“This neighborhood has a history and I think people will embrace the name – like they have with Normaltown in Athens or Boring, Oregon – if they know more about it,” Turk said.
The neighborhood was named after Felix Bland, a freed slave who settled in the area after the Civil War. For many years, it was a thriving African-American community, but it has slowly been erased, Turk said. As a matter of fact, looking at an original map of the area, part of the Westside Provision District, which includes restaurants like Bacchanalia and JCT Kitchen, and trendy fashion and interior design shops all lie in what was once Blandtown.
Turk moved into his Blandtown studio in 2002 when English Street’s most notable address was a crack house. “They would put a Tweety Bird piñata in a tree when they got a new shipment in,” Turk recalled. A half- dozen other homes in the neighborhood were occupied by residents and vagrants alike.
Turk – whose art has appeared in multiple Art on the BeltLine installations, at the airport, Metropolitan Library and is in the permanent collections of the High Museum and JP Morgan Chase – said neighbors who have purchased homes have dropped by the studio to bring wine and say hello, and ask more about Blandtown.
Curiously, Turk’s Blandtown sign looks like an old television test pattern – the kind networks used to run when stations went off the air for the night.
“Blandtown is off-the-air right now,” Turk said of the design inspiration. “As the area adjusts its frequency and comes back on-the-air, I hope it will create a dialogue about the neighborhood’s name and history.”