The building where Fiddlin’ John Carson recorded the first country music hit in 1923 still stands at 152 Nassau Street in downtown Atlanta, but developers of a Margaritaville-themed hotel, timeshare rental and restaurant acquired a permit earlier this month to demolish it. (Tyson Horne / Tyson.Horne@ajc.com)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Lawsuit’s dismissal clears the way for razing of historic music site

In the end, history lost.

The two-year battle to save a nearly century-old downtown Atlanta building, where the first country hit songs were recorded, concluded this week with the dismissal of a lawsuit aimed at halting its demolition.

“This is a real shame,” said Steve Goodson, a music historian teaching at West Georgia University. “It’s not that much of a surprise, though. The city of Atlanta has never valued its history, and this is just the latest example of that.”

Demolition crews began tearing down the Nassau Street building in August, but were forced to stop after a Fulton County judge issued a temporary restraining order. The back of the building was destroyed, but the facade remained.

Now, preservationists say they don’t see any way to prevent its final obliteration.

“As far as I know, that’s the end of it, unless there is some other entity that can take action,” said preservationist Kyle Kessler.

The brick building served as a temporary studio for Okeh Records in the early days of recorded music.

Cabbagetown resident Fiddlin’ John Carson recorded two songs there in 1923 that would become the first hits in the genre now known as country music: “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” and “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow.”

The studio was also used to record artists from other genres, including Fannie May Goosby and the Morehouse College Quartet.

Ironically, the demolition is taking place because developers wants to locate a 21-story hotel, timeshare and restaurant there inspired by another musician.

The “Margaritaville”-themed project takes its name from the 1977 hit song by Jimmy Buffett.

It’s a fact not lost on Kessler, who said developers could have made use of that history by incorporating the building’s facade into their design.

“If you are building something that is related to music, how often do you find yourself building on a site that already has a history?” he said.

Preservationists have tried for two years to stop the destruction.

Through the struggle, neither developers nor city officials have been communicative, Kessler said. “I have never gotten a response from the developer.”

The Strand Capital Group, which is backing the project, also did not respond Wednesday to a phone call and email from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The former studio sits near the SkyView Atlanta Ferris wheel and Centennial Olympic Park.

Many music historians knew the recording studio had been on Nassau Street, but did not know the exact address. Some concluded that that the building had been razed and the site had become one of many parking lots.

Then Kessler discovered an exact address – 152 Nassau – in a 1923 edition of the Atlanta Independent, an African-American newspaper of the time. The building was indeed still standing.

By then, developers had filed an application for “a special administrative permit” that would set them on the path to construction. 

In July this year, developers acquired a demolition permit.

At that point, preservationists from Historic Atlanta rushed to court and obtained a restraining order. They sued Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta’s planning commissioner Tim Keane, arguing that the city had not allowed due process when deciding to flatten the building. Their efforts fell short this week.

A call Wednesday to the mayor’s media representatives was not returned.

Attorney Wright Dempsey Jr., who represented Historic Atlanta, said the suit was dismissed after the parties came to a settlement.

“Under that agreement, that is all we can say publicly at this time,” he said. “It was a tough decision that took a number of factors into consideration, but one which the organization believes will ultimately aid in furthering its mission long into the future.”

Kessler posted the news on his Facebook page on Tuesday. “I mourn for Atlanta,” he wrote.

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