Friday, March 27, 2009


Atlanta has many distinctive neighborhoods such as super-gay Midtown, hipster-dipster Cabbagetown, fancy-pants Inman Park, slightly grungy East Atlanta, boutique-happy Virginia-Highlands, post-hippy Lake Clare and the neighborhood I live in, Victorian-era Grant Park, which is the largest historical district in the city. Just east of Downtown, Grant Park is a large, attractive, hilly park, which contains the city zoo and some recreational facilities, but mostly is about lazy strolls on curving paths beneath giant trees. In the middle of the park near the zoo, you’ll often find the guy who plays the trombone not so well next to the guy who does not so great portraits. Many of the homes in the neighborhood that surrounds the park on all four sides are from the Victorian era (I live in a big pink one) and they range from those restored to gleaming perfection to ones with overgrown lawns and junk strewn all over the porch. But neighbors are chill here. It’s somewhat racially mixed, mostly white and black; though I haven’t noticed many Asians or Latinos. There are a lot of young families and, for one of the older neighborhoods in town, not so many old folks.

I’ll keep it short, but Grant Park has a decent amount of history. It’s named after Lemuel P. Grant, not Ulysses S. Grant, which wouldn’t make any sense if you think about it. Lemuel was on the other side of the war and was in charge of constructing defensive lines around the city. The high part of the park, near where my house is, was a lookout spot called Ft. Walker, not really a proper fort, though, a few original fortifications remain. There was no fighting in Atlanta proper, but plenty in the countryside north of Atlanta. The city was starved out by the Union until it was forced to surrender. Lemuel owned most of the land around here and gave or traded most of it to the city in the 1800s. It became a residential area in the 1890s when many of its distinguished Victorian homes were built. In the 1960s, the top part of Grant Park was cut away from the rest when Interstate 20 was constructed and the neighborhood fell into disrepair. In the late ‘80s, Grant Park started to come back and is in excellent shape today, though lacking a good taqueria.

There are three major attractions in Grant Park: the zoo, which has some giant pandas, Xi Lan, Mei Lan, Lun Lun, and Yang Yang, the Cyclorama, and the Oakland Cemetery.

I’m not into zoos (animals in cages of any sort doesn’t do it for me), so I haven’t been there, but that’s the park’s main draw, along with the usual jogging, strolling with babies and massive family barbecues.

Next door to the zoo is an odd attraction, the Cyclorama, a circular painting (the largest oil painting in the world) that depicts the Battle of Atlanta in the Civil War. There are dioramas in front of the painting that create an optical illusion where you can’t tell where the dioramas (horses, soldiers, etc.) and painting start and end. But is this something that you really need to see? I can’t say that it is, unless you particularly fancy Civil War kitsch.

No photography allowed in the Cyclorama, but this photo of a painting in the adjacent mini-museum gives you the basic idea

The Oakland Cemetery, which is at the northern most point of the neighborhood, is one of the first spots I bring folks from out of town. It’s a fascinating, characteristically Southern cemetery with large monuments, and a few notable residents including Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell and golfer Bobby Jones. There is a whole section of Jews buried there and nearly 3,000 Confederate soldiers, who are guarded by a Narnia-like lion statue.

Across the street is the popular seafood restaurant Six Feet Under, named with the graveyard in mind, and Ria’s Bluebird, Grant Park’s best breakfast/lunch, ultra-hipster spot. There are about eight restaurants in Grant Park, mostly at the northern end of the neighborhood.

It snows once in a while (not very often)

If there is one criticism I have of Grant Park, it’s that there is a lack of commercial property considering how many people live here. In the whole neighborhood, I believe there are two gas stations, one bedraggled 24-hour pharmacy and just a few corner markets, no supermarket. This is hardly a big deal, though. It’s only 10 minutes to Moreland Avenue, where there are a couple of supermarkets, a bank and lots of other junk. But Grant Park has vast amounts of unused land surrounding it especially on its Southern fringe in the direction of the penitentiary and the hood, but also to the west and east (not natural spaces that need to be saved, but old railroad and factory areas that could be developed into something useful). There is no shortage of recently constructed condo and loft spaces on Grant Park’s fringes surrounded by very little. I know some of this land is supposed to be a part of Atlanta’s ambitious beltline project, which will create a ring of parks, trails, transit and affordable housing around the city.

Spring in the park

There’s also a lot of small, neat-looking historical properties around the neighborhood that used to be small grocery stores, but are now unused. They are almost all on side streets and it would be great if they were actual stores and businesses, but more likely, I can see them being converted into small gallery spaces (there is one new, small gallery space on Boulevard).

Open your business here

Some things I’d like to see in the neighborhood: an authentic taqueria, a store that sells Victorian antiques and some antique stores in general (it’s amazing that there isn’t one in a neighborhood that has so much old stuff), a thrift store, a bank with an ATM, a bookstore (I can keep dreaming), some vintage/junk/whatever stores, and a supermarket on the edge of the neighborhood (preferably a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or a local Farmer’s Market type store). Some ethnic grocery stores would also be swell, but I think there would have to be some Latinos or Asians in the area for that to happen.

This is my favorite house in the neighborhood, the Burns Mansion. It is often part of the Grant Park Tour of Homes. Three gay fellas live in there and have restored the interior to perfect, Victorian splendor with some amazing themed rooms (sorry, don't have any photos of the interior).

This is another mansion in Grant Park owned by a gay couple. They have a spectacular backyard.

This looks like it was formerly a store with a house attached to it

A lot of stained glass in Grant Park

This is a modern Victorian across the street from the Burns Mansion. I believe it was built in the last ten years. Fooled me.

This used to be a Masonic Lodge, now a restaurant and real estate agency.

A lot of babies in Grant Park

This is supposed to be converted into a B&B. But restoration looks like it may have been stalled.

This is my house

The parlor

This is the porch after it snowed


christine said...

Wow, it's like a winter wonderland out there after it snows. Very pretty, indeed.

I went to that Oakland cemetery when I last visited and didn't realize there was a gift shop. What could be in there? Funeral merch? Well, no, they couldn't possibly be having anymore funerals there. That place has got to be full. I want it to be stuff like old gold teeth and finger bones, but maybe that's only when there's a witch running the porch sales.

Lee Gabor said...

Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories. I grew up in the area (1948 through 1963) and went to the park almost every day of my childhood. My name was Louise Langston at the time. Every time friends and relatives visited Atlanta, we took them to the Cyclorama. My dad pastored a church which was on the SE section of Boulevard at Bryan Street. Berean Street ran in back of the church. The property was in a triangle shape and I believe it is empty now. The church was on the east side of Boulevard and we lived across the street on the SW corner of Boulevard and Bryan in a brick house my dad built. Our house was bought by Humble Oil (now Exxon), torn down, and a gas station built there to service cars on the new Interstate that was built. One of my best memories of Grant Park is riding a row boat on the lake with my mother and sister around 1956 or 1957. My mother died in 1958 and this has always been a special mememory. Watching the gorilla ("Willie B") at the zoo also was fun. I truly appreciate the terrific people in the area - down to earth, hardworking, and caring about the community. I attended Grant Park Elementary School and Roosevelt High School (transferred my senior year to SW Dekalb High, when we moved to Decatur). I miss that area and glad it has been revitalized. I hope you continue enjoying your home. Thanks especially for the photos of those great houses around the park. I recognize many of them.