Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. Jenna Eason /
Photo: Jenna Eason
Photo: Jenna Eason

National Park Service seeks public comment on future of Sweet Auburn

The National Park Service will hold public meetings Thursday assessing how well the historic integrity and condition of Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn National Historic Landmark District have been preserved.

The meetings — at Big Bethel AME Church — will center on a report by New South Associates that measures the preservation health of the 18.8-acre district and identifies threats to its long-term sustainability.

The urban area, one of the nation’s most significant in African American history, was designated in 1976 by the secretary of the interior.

The district features small-scale commercial buildings, traditional storefront designs with historic tiled exterior entries, narrow thoroughfares, paved sidewalks, minimal landscaping and iconic views punctuated by the Big Bethel AME Church steeple and the Butler Street YMCA and Odd Fellows Building’s rooflines.

But since its landmark designation, 47% of its historic buildings have been lost due to new construction and tornado damage. Several others, including the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the Walden Building and Butler Street YMCA remain vacant and are at risk for deterioration and demolition.

“The late 19th and early 20th-century commercial, residential and religious buildings in the Sweet Auburn district illustrate African American agency and community and institution building,” said Cynthia Walton, National Historic Landmarks regional program manager for the National Park Service in Atlanta. “It is necessary to identify where integrity is threatened or has been lost to prevent further diminishment of the district’s historic character.”

The NPS is looking for recommendations and feedback from the Sweet Auburn community. The Public meetings will be held Thursday from 10 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. and from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. in the fellowship hall of Big Bethel AME Church, 220 Auburn Avenue NE.

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