The Varsity in Athens officially closes after almost 90 years but plans return

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The Athens Banner-Herald reported The Varsity has applied for permission to .tear down its decades-old Athens location.Athens-Clarke Commissioner Melissa Link said the Gordy family, which owns the restaurant, .started buying up adjacent properties several years ago and sought rezoning.However, Link and others blocked the demolition of several houses, one of them owned by Annie Burney, .an Athens educator who used it as a boarding house for Black female teachers when schools were segregated.There were very significant folks in Black history who owned and lived in that house. And I was like, there’s no way we can let this be torn down, Melissa Link, Athens-Clarke Commissioner .The Varsity was founded in 1928 by Georgia Tech dropout Frank Gordy.The North Avenue location covers more than two acres and can accommodate 600 cars and 800 people inside.The Varsity has operated in Athens since 1932

After almost 90 years in business, The Varsity in Athens officially closed its doors Sunday.

The Varsity has been a staple in Athens since 1932, first on College Avenue, before moving to its West Broad Street location in 1964.

The legendary Atlanta restaurant made the announcement on social media and said it plans to open a new location in the Athens area soon.

Athens-Clarke Commissioner Melissa Link said the Gordy family, which owns the restaurant, started buying up adjacent properties several years ago and sought rezoning. However, Link and others blocked the demolition of several houses, one of them owned by Annie Burney, an Athens educator who used it as a boarding house for Black female teachers when schools were segregated.

“There were very significant folks in Black history who owned and lived in that house. And I was like, there’s no way we can let this be torn down,” Link said.

ExploreThe Varsity: The history of Atlanta’s iconic restaurant in photos

Officials created an overlay district including The Varsity and surrounding houses owned by the Gordy family, limiting building heights, parking and the number of bathrooms per apartment unit, making student housing less likely. The family then transferred four houses to the Athens-Clarke Commission, which passed them to the Athens Land Trust for affordable housing.

“We knew all along that these property owners were adamant about selling the property for the highest commercial value they could,” Link said.

Local government has placed a hold on the restaurant’s demolition, but Link said she will lift the hold in several weeks.

The Varsity has operated in Athens since 1932. The Varsity’s current location was targeted repeatedly by desegregation demonstrations in 1963 and 1964, with the Ku Klux Klan at times holding counter-protests. Demonstrators were sometimes arrested in large numbers. City officials and the restaurant owners eventually conceded to integration.

No plans have been filed yet for what will replace the restaurant. The Varsity operates multiple Atlanta-area locations, including its flagship near Georgia Tech.