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For One Of Atlanta’s Oldest Historic School Buildings In English Avenue, Preservation Is A Difficult Balance

The English Avenue Elementary School building was erected in 1910. No longer used for school, the City of Atlanta plans to make use of it as a community center while preserving its history.
The English Avenue Elementary School building was erected in 1910. No longer used for school, the City of Atlanta plans to make use of it as a community center while preserving its history.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

By the time Atlanta’s Olympics handed out its last gold medal, almost within eyesight of Centennial Olympic Park, the English Avenue Elementary School sat empty. It’s stayed that way since, with its storied but important history becoming more distant and silent with every passing year.

Entropy, delivered through years of rain and exposure, means it’s not quite the structure it used to be—but it’s salvageable. While some legacy residents in the area aren’t on board with plans to make it into an event space, the Executive Director of the Atlanta Preservation Center, David Mitchell, told WABE’s “All Things Considered” host Jim Burress that it’s essential to do something with the space—and do it soon.

Last month, the Atlanta City Council approved a plan to restore and redevelop the school into a community center. Westside Development Partners is set to spend more than $30 million on restoring the building with plans to eventually offer workforce and job skills training, as well as offices, a rooftop terrace and space for private events.

Mitchell spoke with Burress about what’s next for the school—and how it’s important to remember the emotional connection legacy residents share with it.

According to the Preservation Center, the school was built in 1910 and was a segregated, all-white school until 1950 when the neighborhood’s demographics began to change. Besides being a beacon and a haven for the Black community, the school was the site of a racially motivated bombing in 1960 ahead of an anti-segregation march.

The school closed in 1995 and boasts alumni including Gladys Knight and Herman Cain.

Thanks to the Preservation Center’s grit and hard-won efforts, the vacant school was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2020.