5 Great Neighborhoods in Atlanta
Meet the Old Fourth Ward
Even though travelers from all over the globe visit Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward (O4W), many Georgians are unaware of neighborhood’s historic significance. Some don’t even know where it is. In their defense, most vacationers visit the boyhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Auburn Avenue and keep moving, rarely staying behind to explore its hidden gems just footsteps away. That appears to be changing and the area is currently knee-deep in a renaissance period; it’s even getting a streetcar.
At first glance, the O4W appears to be dominated by gritty city streets, crowded houses and very little green space. A closer look, however, reveals that the neighborhood is surrounded by or near a few of Atlanta’s most popular parks and gardens, including Historic Oakland Cemetery, Grant Park and Freedom Parkway adjacent to the Carter Center. It even boasts the ubiquitous award-winning park, Historic Fourth Ward Park, a product of the wildly popular BeltLine. It is also adjacent to some of the city’s most interesting and eclectic neighborhoods including Cabbagetown and Inman Park and extends all the way to Poncey-Highlands.
But wait, to know it is to love it, so let’s back up. Boulevard essentially runs through the middle of the O4W, a street that was once referred to as one of Atlanta’s most desirable addresses, post-Civil War. Boulevard was lined with opulent Victorian mansions, their splendor punctuated by blooming dogwoods and cherry blossoms. In May of 1917 a warehouse fire on the edge of downtown spread so rapidly that little could be done to spare the estates and most burned to the ground. In the years that followed, the area saw a slow but steady decline and many of the remaining homes were left in ruins. The area was laden with crime, but around 1980 Atlantans started scooping up and restoring the historic real estate in and around Grant Park. This eventually trickled out to the O4W and not only have dilapidated homes seen new life, but abandoned warehouses now play host to some of the city’s most popular loft homes, restaurants and unique retail shops.
In 2013, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed declared the Old Fourth Ward a “zone of opportunity” and gave tax credits and incentives to new and existing businesses bringing even more jobs and commerce to the area. Edgewood benefitted greatly from these incentives and consequently Sister Louisa’s Church of the Ping Pong Emporium and the Sound Table are two bars now on the national map. Circa, Corner Tavern and Noni's do pretty well, too. To the east and on the other side of Boulevard, Parish Food & Goods, P'cheen International Bistro and Pub and Two Urban Licks are popular restaurants and watering holes.
The crowning jewel of the Old Fourth Ward, Ponce City Market, will be revealed sometime in 2014. The 2.1-million-square-foot structure was once a Sears catalogue distribution center and then City Hall East. After sitting empty the behemoth was acquired by Jamestown, a development firm that has committed over $180 million to convert the space into a catchall with retail, restaurants, boutiques, a pre-school, offices and, of course, residential space. It also enjoys access to the Atlanta BeltLine.
Though its technical name is West Midtown, one of Atlanta’s hippest hoods is simply known as the Westside. It’s a collection of historically significant buildings that have been painstakingly restored and converted into retail space, restaurants, loft apartments and condos. Evidence of the community’s glory days as one of Atlanta’s industrial nerve centers is still apparent through pre-Civil War train tracks and cavernous warehouses. There are even cobblestone alleys that were once traversed by horse-drawn carriages.
Around the 1950s, the area was largely abandoned and many of the structures were left to rot. The Westsiders who have made it their mission to preserve what was left behind are an eclectic mix of artisans, chefs, designers and dreamers. The trail was initially blazed, however, by the interior design set that found that the large no-frills factory spaces made for great blank canvases when showcasing textiles and various antiquities. Today, it is commonplace to meet for brunch at West Egg or lunch at Flip Burger Boutique to later linger at shops such as Lewis & Sheron Textile Co or Room & Board or one of the many art galleries. Pick up a classic item at men’s clothiers Sid Mashburn, perhaps something appropriate for dining at Bacchanalia, which is considered by many to be Atlanta’s finest restaurant.
For a more relaxed atmosphere, try Miller Union or the Optimist.
Westside nightlife includes Terminal West, a 7,000-square-foot music venue housed in a 100-year-old iron and steel foundry called the King Plow Arts Center. The Goat Farm Arts Center is a live/work/play compound made up of a series of warehouses and hosts art openings, theatrical and music events. Full-time Westsiders enjoy expansive loft spaces, many with concrete floors, the original exposed beams and large industrial windows. Popular communities include White Provisions, circa 1910, which houses luxury condos, galleries and retail space; others include 1610 Lofts, 935M and the Giant Lofts.
The Westside is bounded at the north by Buckhead at I-75 by the Food Truck Park, at the south by Bankhead Highway and on the west by the railroad tracks at Marietta Street. The northwestern portion of the proposed BeltLine light rail is planned to go through the Westside.
As its name implies, Midtown is located in the center of Atlanta and is one of the most culturally diverse parts of the city. Not only do people from all over the country (and world) come to attend Georgia Tech and the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD/Atlanta division), but they also flock to work at internationally recognized companies such as EarthLink, The Coca-Cola Company, Turner, the Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, TNT, NBA TV, Norfolk Southern, Invesco, Wells Fargo and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, to name a few. And on any given day, thousands come to Midtown for the entertainment – from a walk in Piedmont Park to catch a traveling Broadway show at the Fox, they’ve got it all.
Midtown’s arts scene is simply unrivaled by any other part of the city and plays host to the Woodruff Arts Center, home of the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the High Museum of Art. Across Peachtree is the Museum of Design Atlanta; down the block you’ll find the Center for Puppetry Arts as well as Center Stage Theatre, the Loft and Vinyl, three popular live music venues under one roof. The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum is located in Midtown near the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, Atlanta's oldest and most prominent synagogue, also known as "the Temple." It was notoriously bombed in 1958, an event referenced in Driving Miss Daisy. The Historic Fox Theatre, the 14th Street Playhouse and Actors Express are all within a peach toss of one another.
Architecturally, Midtown’s structures are as varied and distinctive as its residents. Some of Atlanta’s tallest and most iconic structures, such as the Bank of America Plaza and 1180 Peachtree, cast shadows on landmarks like the Margaret Mitchell House, Rhodes Hall, the Shellmont Inn Bed and Breakfast, Edward C. Peters House and Ivy Hall, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Luxurious high-rise condos and apartment buildings seem to pop up overnight like Magic Rocks squeezed in between historic bungalows and Queen Anne-style houses along Piedmont and 10th Street.
And located across the way is the cherry on top that is Piedmont Park, home to the city’s biggest yearly festivals including the Atlanta Arts Festival, the Dogwood Festival, Music Midtown and Gay Pride. The Atlanta Botanical Garden is located at the park’s western edge while the BeltLine connects at the east. The proximity to the park makes Midtown the most dog friendly spot in Atlanta. Establishments such as Empire State South, Tap, and the Spence all have pet friendly patios. The nearby Loews Hotel Atlanta, the W and Hotel Indigo host “Yappy Hours” throughout the spring and summer. Lastly, Midtown is one of Atlanta’s most pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and truly benefits from MARTA and dedicated bike lanes, making it a popular tourist spot.
Ormewood Park/Glenwood Park
Nestled in between historic Grant Park and the East Atlanta Village are Ormewood Park and its long lost cousin twice removed Glen, Glenwood Park that is. Ormewood is a sleepy little hamlet primarily populated by single-family Craftsman-style homes, shotguns and brick bungalows constructed around the 1920s. In the past 10 years or so, new and larger homes of varying architectural styles have been erected, mostly along Ormewood Avenue. House values have held steady throughout the real estate roller coaster ride and are expected to rise when the portion of the Atlanta BeltLine nearby is completed. The neighborhood enjoys lots of yearlong shade thanks to the mature oaks and lush evergreens.
It is a neighborly community made up of young professionals and more recently families with school age children relocating to take advantage of Atlanta Charter Middle School, which opened in 2005. ACMS boasts the highest Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) scores in Atlanta and a 9 to 1 student to teacher ratio.
Dining options in the immediate area are limited to Spoon, an exceptional Thai restaurant and Little Azio Italian, serviceable at best. There is no lacking for treats, however, and those with a sweet tooth swear by the creamy confections at Morelli's Gourmet Ice Cream. The cupcakes at Endulge (sic) are well above average and across Moreland they pour a mean cup of Joe at Hodgepodge.
The recent addition Glenwood Park, which was completed around 2006, has also affected the home values of Ormewood. Glenwood’s unique collection of single-family homes and townhomes can range in price from the low $200s and climb upwards of $700K. The planned community is an example of “new urbanism” and was designed to promote a sense of community through the use of common green spaces, retail and dining options and a tiny town square. Several eateries have tried and failed though Vickery’s Bar & Grill, Drip Coffee House and Shed appear to be holding steady. Kevin Gillespie’s Gun Show recently opened in Glenwood and so far, so good. Residents can also purchase memberships to community pool and gym. Appealing to Atlanta’s single set is Glenwood’s offering of apartment homes, like Enso and Glenwood East.
Glenwood Park is also on the BeltLine, though residents are concerned about the proposed use of the (finally) closed Lafarge Cement Plant. There’s been a lot of speculation over what Sembler, the plant’s new owner, plans to do with the space which sits on a prime chunk of land that used properly stands to connect Ormewood Park and Glenwood Park. We think uniting the two is a homecoming long overdue.
While the aforementioned neighbors deal with the East Atlanta Village bar mongers along with the throngs of weekend visitors flocking to Zoo Atlanta and the Grant Park Farmers Market, Ormewood and Glenwood’s residents often remain quietly tucked into their own Private Idaho and they like it that way.