Martin Luther King, Jr.
Historic Resource Study
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Chapter Three:

The architectural resources of the Site reflect its continuing evolution as an inner city Atlanta neighborhood. Population growth, transportation advances, and changing patterns of racial segregation were important factors shaping that evolution. Between 1880 and 1930, Auburn Avenue and Edgewood Avenue within the Site boundaries developed at the same time, but served different needs and populations. Residential, commercial, religious, and public buildings are represented on these avenues, but four principal streets comprise the Site: Jackson and Boulevard running north and south and Edgewood and Auburn running east and west. The resources are clustered by use: Auburn Avenue is residential, and Edgewood Avenue is predominantly commercial. [87]

This chapter demonstrates the diversity of style and type within the Site and how architectural resources and their settings convey historical meaning. The residential resources that dominate Auburn Avenue and the commercial structures along Edgewood Avenue each illustrate different patterns of urban growth, yet they share characteristics with other urban communities which emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The residential resources incorporate elements of identifiable national architectural styles, such as Italianate, Queen Anne, and Craftsman, which are applied to vernacular house types. The commercial and public resources apply elements of the Italianate, Romanesque Revival, Moderne, and International styles to nineteenth and early twentieth century brick commercial buildings. Regional influences also are evident, especially in form. Shotgun houses and gabled ells predominate. Porches constitute the largest common regional denominator. Most of the Site's resources are vernacular in character. They adapt stylistic elements to suit economy and decoration, and they are traditionally massed.

The most intact historic area of Auburn Avenue lies between Boulevard and Howell and commonly is referred to as the Birth-Home Block, because it includes the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. (photograph 8). This area contains the oldest residential resources and the highest level of integrity. Located on this portion of Auburn are twenty-three historic residences constructed between circa 1886 and 1933. Two lots, 502, which contained a house and store, and 509, which had an apartment building, are now vacant. One modern intrusion is located at 531 Auburn Avenue and consists of two 1954 brick apartment buildings, on a lot formerly containing four wood dwellings comprising the Baptist Memorial Institute School.

Photograph 8: North side of Auburn Avenue, between Hogue and Howell Streets

West of the Birth-Home Block lies the King Center, the modern city of Atlanta community center and natatorium, and Ebenezer Baptist Church. Prior to 1960s urban renewal, this portion of Auburn Avenue consisted of wooden, one- and two-story dwellings, likely similar to those farther east. The church, completed in 1922, anchors the western portion of Auburn Avenue historically but is now isolated from the Site's other historic resources. Farther west lies the historic Sweet Auburn district which served the black residential community to the east.

Thirteen additional dwellings complete the historic residential resources adjacent to the principal Birth-Home Block dwellings: three shotgun houses on an alley off of Auburn Avenue, three duplexes on Old Wheat Street, one duplex on Boulevard, five residences on Howell Street, and one on Hogue Street. These remaining resources are in various stages of deterioration. The buildings on Old Wheat and Howell streets are most endangered. The Birth-Home Block represents the southern edge of a substantial late nineteenth and early twentieth century black middle-class residential community roughly bounded by Jackson on the west, Randolph Street on the east, and Forrest Avenue on the north. Housing in this community ranged from plain two- to three-room houses to modest two-story wood dwellings. The 1917 fire destroyed many homes in this community, and the construction of Interstate 75/85 further obliterated evidence of the community. [88]

Edgewood Avenue, within the Site, is entirely commercial with sixteen brick buildings constructed prior to 1916, three additional buildings erected between 1920 and 1945, and the remaining twelve buildings representative of post-war construction (photograph 9). Historic resources are concentrated around the intersection of Boulevard and Edgewood Avenue and represent a growth spurt between 1908 and 1915. Many of these buildings exhibit typical early twentieth century commercial architecture associated with residential and transportation-related urban expansion.

Photograph 9: Edgewood Avenue

A second characteristic of Edgewood Avenue is the preponderance of vacant lots and nonhistoric buildings. East of the Boulevard, the historic integrity of Edgewood Avenue buildings decreases both in quantity and quality. The Roane Building, constructed in 1906, stands alone on the southwest corner of Edgewood and Howell Street, a full block away from any other historic buildings. At one time, one- and two-story wood dwellings occupied Edgewood Avenue east of Boulevard, an extension of the residential area to the north. When these residences were removed, many between 1928 and 1936, the lots either remained vacant or had postwar commercial buildings erected on them. Vacant, undeveloped lots have characterized Edgewood Avenue throughout the period from 1880 to the present.

Edgewood Avenue also has suffered significant losses of historic commercial buildings in the past ten years. Buildings at 410, 414, 461-465, and 491-493 Edgewood are gone. One of the last remaining residences at 528 Edgewood, built in 1895, also has vanished.

In this context, the buildings within the Site are evaluated for significance in the area of architecture. No buildings within the Site have national significance under Criterion C, but many have local architectural significance. In general, the residential resources on Auburn Avenue illustrate the staged growth of the community and are visible evidence of its changing population. These resources retain a high degree of integrity, although their material condition varies considerably. The resources on Edgewood Avenue are more problematic because structural deterioration or destruction and modern intrusions have altered the corridor's historic fabric. However, the dominant historic commercial development of Edgewood Avenue is obvious, and most remaining buildings retain integrity. A discussion of integrity and registration requirements appears at the end of the chapter.


Atlanta began as a rail terminus. In 1836, the Georgia legislature approved the construction of a state railroad, the Atlantic & Western, to run from the Tennessee line to the Chattahoochee River in the Georgia Piedmont. The engineer laying out the line chose a terminal point on a ridge eight miles south of the river. By 1846, the Macon & Western Railroad and the Georgia Railroad connected with the Atlantic & Western, forming a triangular junction around which the city of Atlanta grew. In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, Atlanta was a city of ten thousand and an important rail hub and manufacturing center for the Southeast. [89]

Virtually destroyed during the war, Atlanta rebuilt quickly, reaching a population of 65,000 in 1890. Nineteenth-century business activity concentrated around the railroad junction with most residential areas within walking distance of downtown. Atlanta's affluent citizens lived along streets located on ridges radiating from the central business district, particularly Peachtree and Washington streets. Working-class neighborhoods flourished around factories and rolling mills located along the railroad corridors emanating from downtown. Most of Atlanta's black population lived in several scattered settlements, often on less desirable land near railroads or in low-lying areas. [90]

Street railways, powered first by horses and mules, and in the late 1880s by electricity, facilitated the expansion of Atlanta beyond pedestrian limits. The Site lies approximately a mile and a quarter from the central business district and represents the commercial and residential growth advanced by streetcar expansion. In 1884, the Gate City Street Railroad Company constructed a horsecar line which traveled from the central business district along Pryor Street to Wheat Street (later changed to Auburn Avenue) and along Wheat to Jackson Street, then north on Jackson. This streetcar line provided direct access to downtown and spurred residential development along Auburn Avenue. In 1889, entrepreneur Joel Hurt operated Atlanta's first electric street railway along Edgewood Avenue linking downtown and the suburb of Inman Park. In the 1890s, existing horsecar lines were electrified, and new electric streetcar lines were built. By the mid-1890s, streetcar lines on Auburn and Edgewood avenues provided commuters direct access from their homes to jobs and shopping downtown. [91]

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Last Updated: 26-Oct-2002