When Atlanta's award-winning restaurant B's Cracklin' Barbecue went up in flames last week, its owner Bryan Furman quickly assured hungry regulars that he would rebuild.
In doing so, his restaurant will follow an Atlanta tradition of literally rising from the ashes. It's an image emblazoned on our city seal and written in our city's origin story.
Here are nine times that Atlanta institutions suffered devastating fire damage, only to rebuild larger and stronger than before.
Union Depot "car shed" (1864): Atlanta's first passenger rail station was built in 1853 at Pryor and Wall streets in front of the Zero Mile Post. It would last only 11 years. Photos from the Federal army's occupation of Atlanta in 1864 show the building buzzing with activity. The car shed, which had survived the bombardment of Union shells, was destroyed as Sherman's troops left Atlanta and began their march to the sea.
In 1871, a new Union Station, designed by noted architect Max Corput, was built on the site, one year after the original Kimball House was built across the street (see below). The new Union Station was larger and made of iron, with a distinctive fan-shaped center arch and with four decorative towers on its corners. It served Atlanta for almost 60 years before Atlanta replaced it with another passenger station up the street.
The Kimball House (1883): Built in 1870, The Kimball House hotel was just off Five Points at the railroad tracks between Pryor and Whitehall (today's Peachtree) streets. Considered Atlanta's grandest accommodations in the years after the Civil War, the Kimball hosted the city's most important visitors as the city rebuilt.
In the early morning of Aug. 12, 1883, a fire destroyed the six-story building in just four hours. All 300 guests were evacuated without injury. A chain-smoking fruit vendor was later implicated as the possible cause.
According to Franklin Garrett's "Atlanta and Environs," two new city institutions responded to the blaze—the city's recently established paid fire department and the reporters at The Atlanta Journal, which had begun publishing only six months earlier. (The Journal scooped its rival, The Atlanta Constitution, with a special evening edition about the fire.)
The new Kimball House that arose in 1885 was larger and more ornate than its predecessor, with seven floors and 357 hotel rooms. It's remembered as one of downtown's most beautiful structures and one of its most tragic. Its glorious second life came to an end in 1959 when it was razed for a parking deck.
East Lake Golf Clubhouse (1913 and 1925): You see that Tudor-style clubhouse in the background every time the PGA TOUR Championship is played in Atlanta, but it wasn't the course's first clubhouse. It isn't even the second one, or the third. Technically the first clubhouse was downtown on Edgewood Avenue, before the Atlanta Athletic Club even owned a golf course. When the group opened its course at East Lake in 1908, it featured a new clubhouse, which burned down four years later in a kitchen fire. A third clubhouse was built in 1913—this one would have been familiar to Bobby Jones as a teenager—but it too caught fire from a lightning strike in 1925. The next year, renowned architect Philip Trammell Shutze designed the world-famous clubhouse that we see today.
Big Bethel A.M.E. Church (1923): Big Bethel's African-American congregation began when the city was still called Marthasville. Its third building was built in the late 1880s on the corner of today's Auburn Avenue and Jesse Hill Jr. Drive. It was a large stone Victorian structure that one prominent journalist called a "beautiful specimen of church architecture." In 1917, it narrowly missed by one city block the devastating fire that consumed Old Fourth Ward.
Six years later, the church wasn't so lucky. A fire gutted the building only one day after its insurance policy ran out. Undaunted, the congregation enlisted two black men to help them rebuild—architect J.A. Lankford and builder Alexander Hamilton. The restored church kept the old stone shell but was now designed in a Romanesque Revival style. It had a couple of new features too, including a pipe organ and what would become the church's most famous feature—a steeple wrapped in a sign that announces "JESUS SAVES."
Another tradition emerged from this rebuilding effort. According to the Georgia Encyclopedia, Big Bethel's world-famous annual production of "Heaven Bound" was first conceived in 1930 as a fund-raiser to pay for the new construction.
Margaret Mitchell House (1994 and 1996): Someone really had it in for "the Dump." Twice in two years, arsonists destroyed the apartment home where Mitchell wrote "Gone With the Wind." Did they hate the book? Were they reenacting Gen. Sherman's visit?
Whatever their motives, they struck during the building's multimillion-dollar restoration. Prior to the 1990s, the house had deteriorated even as the Midtown blocks surrounding it had begun to rebound. The second arson happened days before it was to reopen as a museum, and just before the city hosted the Olympics. Museum founder Mary Rose Taylor vowed that with God as her witness, they would rebuild.
The Margaret Mitchell House & Museum operated independently from 1997-2004 before merging with the Atlanta History Center. By then, it was drawing 50,000 visitors a year with assets worth more than $10 million. Fifteen years later it continues to be one of Atlanta's top historic tourist attractions.
Fulton Cotton Mill (1999): The historic mill in Cabbagetown was being converted into loft apartments when a fire gutted the complex's easternmost building. (The fire is best remembered for the dramatic helicopter rescue of a worker trapped at the top of a crane.) Luckily no one was killed in the blaze. Work resumed and the project was completed in 2001. The new 504-unit Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts would later be credited with turning Cabbagetown's fortunes around and making the neighborhood a hot real estate market.
The mill suffered another famous disaster in 2008 when a tornado hit its northwest building, ripping off its roof and collapsing several floors. Once again, no one was killed, and the units were rebuilt one year later. Developer Tom Aderhold said he felt twice lucky but joked, "We questioned whether these buildings were put on an Indian burial ground."
Nunnally House (2000): Built in 1936, it's one of Buckhead's most storied mansions. Once called "the most photographed house in Atlanta," it was the centerpiece of a 1948 Life Magazine feature. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard visited it while in town for the "Gone With the Wind" premiere. It was owned by a Saudi prince, then a South African entrepreneur, then WebMD founder Jeff Arnold. In 2000, while being renovated, it suffered a devastating fire caused by a welder's torch.
Although the damage was significant, Arnold vowed to rebuild. The ongoing restoration project had saved a lot of information about the building's features and as it turned out, many of those features were salvageable. After more years of effort, the completed restoration earned a Georgia Trust Preservation Award and a Philip Trammell Shutze Award from the Institution of Classical Architecture & Art.
Tyler Perry's studio (2012): The filmmaker opened a 200,000-square-foot studio on Continental Colony Parkway in 2008, with four sound stages, offices, post-production facilities and a 400-seat ballroom and theater. In May 2012, a three-story sound stage used for the sitcom "For Better or Worse" caught fire and partially collapsed. Investigators never determined a cause but Perry blamed hot stage lights and sued the producers of the show. Four months later, the same building caught fire during repair work, although this second blaze was confined to the roof (investigators blamed "careless smoking").
In June 2015, Perry traded his 30-acre complex for 330 acres of the decommissioned Fort McPherson. Today's Tyler Perry Studios incorporates 12 sound stages, a corporate headquarters, backlots, 200 acres of greenspace and a district of 40 historic buildings and homes. A 2016 Los Angeles Times profile notes that Perry's 330 acres dwarfs Burbank's Warner Bros. studio lot (145 acres) and Walt Disney Studio (51 acres). Besides Perry's own productions, the studio has also filmed AMC's "The Walking Dead" and HBO's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." Perry told the L.A. Times that on his old studio lot, "I shot at every tree, every corner, every blade of grass I could. ... So to have 300 acres of unbridled imagination is a license to create and create and create and create."
Fahamu Pecou's studio (2018): This is a rebuilding story still being written. Artist Fahamu Pecou, internationally famous for his large-scale paintings, had rented a shared studio space on Waddell Street in Inman Park (one block from the Krog Street Tunnel). He was doing research in Cuba when he learned that the studio had burned to the ground. Pecou lost eight finished paintings and another in progress, as well as his supplies, tools and a collection of memorabilia from his storied 20-year career. Thankfully no one was hurt, and Pecou's next multimedia show at Emory's Carlos Museum, "Do or Die," opened in January as scheduled.
Pecou and his wife Jamila were quick to set up his next act. A Go Fund Me page raised twice the $10,000 goal. Pecou found a larger warehouse studio in the West End neighborhood, and this time he’s the building's owner rather than a renter. The new space will allow Pecou to work on several large paintings at one time.
"I’m not one to wallow or let a setback hold me back," Pecou said after the fire. "As unnerving as they are, there are lessons to be learned in all this."
BONUS: Georgia Theatre in Athens (2009): The legendary venue, famous for launching such bands as R.E.M. and the B-52s, was gutted by a fire in the early morning hours of June 19, 2009. Only the building's shell, including its art deco facade and broad marquee, survived. The rebuilding effort took two years and included a fundraiser concert at Atlanta's Fox Theatre headlined by the Zac Brown Band.
Co-owners Scott Orvold and Wilmot Greene made some enhancements during the $4.5 million restoration. Capacity increased from 800 to 1,100 and the balcony space was enlarged. An elevator and a rooftop restaurant were added, the restrooms were expanded and the building was made more ADA compliant. Even the old wooden beams were sliced up and turned into countertops.
"It was definitely a public service," Greene said. "This building will be here a lot longer than either of us will."
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