Atlanta’s Urban Design Commission unanimously approved recommendations to designate two Midtown buildings – including the former home of the Eagle – as historic landmarks, despite the sometimes strenuous objections of the property owner.
The commission approved the landmark nominations on Jan. 27, votes that kick off a city legislative process to rezone the two properties on Ponce de Leon Avenue. The proposal will eventually include a public hearing by the city’s Zoning Review Board and face approval from the Atlanta City Council.
The city – and Historic Atlanta – wants to designate the two buildings – 306 Ponce, which housed the Eagle until it closed in November, and 300 Ponce, vacant since the 1990s – as landmarks to protect them from being demolished.
“This is a property that – it is significant, historically, culturally, architecturally. And from my review, I do believe that all the criteria are met at least to adopt the nomination resolution,” said Desmond Johnson, chair of the commission, during the commission meeting about the former Eagle property.
The vote last week came after a two-week delay, which was requested by Dennis Webb – an attorney for Shahzad Hashmi, the Gwinnett psychiatrist who owns both buildings. Webb asked for an additional two-week delay but the board declined and pushed ahead with the votes.
“The owner of this property is not a mega corporation, it’s not a real estate development firm. It’s a local psychiatrist with a very busy practice. And I’m sure this must seem overwhelming to him,” Webb said during the commission meeting.
“But he’s been doing all he can to meaningfully participate in this process as he has a right to do but we just need more time. It’s really that simple,” he added.
Webb said the property owner was notified of the historic designation nomination on Jan. 6. He has since hired engineers and architects to study the two buildings to learn more about their history and structural integrity.
“Historic Atlanta, who as mentioned was sort of the driver of this campaign, has been working on it for about 14 months. We’ve been on the case for about three weeks,” Webb said.
‘We’re focused on architectural significance’
The aging buildings – 300 Ponce was built in 1910 and 306 Ponce in 1898 – were constructed as residences. In the mid-1900s, they received significant renovations to convert them into commercial buildings. Both buildings are in disrepair, and portions of the 300 Ponce structure have suffered “considerable damage,” according to a city report.
Webb agreed with the city’s recommendation that the Eagle’s former home is culturally significant. But he challenged whether either of the buildings met the city’s guidelines for architectural significance.
“We can see there is cultural significance to the Atlanta Eagle. That’s really not the issue we’re focused on. What we’re focused on is architectural significance,” Webb said.
Webb said portions of the homes originally built on the two properties – including the front facades and sides – are long-since destroyed. Those and other alterations over several decades left the buildings with little architectural significance.
“There’s been no evidence that it was designed by one of the greats of the city of Atlanta. There’s very little information in the staff report itself about the architectural aspect,” Webb said.
Webb said pumping the brakes on the landmark designation process would also allow Hashmi to study the costs of repairing the buildings.
“One reason we’ve engaged some of these other folks is it’s certainly our belief that the cost of restoring these buildings that apparently may be preserved, certainly would exceed the cost of replacement. That may not be an issue for today, but it certainly is an issue,” Webb said.
“These are significant decisions that you’re about to make that will impact Dr. Hashmi both personally and financially,” he added.
Charlie Paine, secretary of Historic Atlanta and chair of its LGBTQ Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, applauded the commission’s votes to approve recommendations designating the two buildings as historic landmarks.
“The LGBTQ Historic Preservation Advisory Committee found that this was one of the most significant sites in the city to preserve using the city of Atlanta landmark designation preservation tools. And we are excited to have been the organization leading the advocacy effort of the building since February of last year,” Paine said.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced her intent to designate the buildings as landmarks in December. Granting landmark status to 306 Ponce could help bring the Eagle back to the location, owner Richard Ramey said at the time. But the structure needs “tons of repairs” before the bar would reopen there, he added.
In November, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation included both buildings among its 10 “Places in Peril” list for 2021.