Will ‘historic landmark’ status save Atlanta Eagle’s home?

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The longtime home of the Atlanta Eagle is being designated a historic landmark, which could breathe new life into the iconic gay bar that shut its doors in November. 

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced Thursday that the city started the process to designate the 126-year-old building on Ponce de Leon Avenue as a landmark. It’s the latest – and most public – step in the process to save the building and possibly the bar, which called the building home for 33 years.

“The Atlanta Eagle has a rich history and is a beloved place for so many people in Atlanta and across the world,” Bottoms said in a press release. 

Designating the building as a landmark would prevent it from being demolished and mandate that exterior changes be approved in advance by the city’s Urban Design Commission, according to Bottoms.  

The building’s condition is suffering, and Eagle owner Richard Ramey said when the bar closed that the landlord was reluctant to make improvements and looking to end the bar’s lease early so the building could be sold. In November, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation included it – and the neighboring Kodak Building – among its 10 “Places in Peril” list for 2021.

If the building wins the landmark designation, it’s not clear if the Eagle would re-open there. Ramey said in November that he was looking for a new location to open the Eagle again in 2021. But he hinted in Thursday’s announcement that the Eagle’s former home will be its new home.

“Many have called the Atlanta Eagle home over the last three decades,” Ramey said. “I am grateful to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the City of Atlanta for ensuring that many more can call it home in the years to come.”

Ramey could not be reached for comment early Friday. The bar is hosting a Facebook Live on Friday at 9 p.m. to discuss the landmark designation. 

Eagle building an ‘LGBTQ historic resource’

The city’s Urban Design Commission will hold a public hearing on Jan. 13 to consider the historic designation for the building. Preservationists submitted more than 70 pages of documents to support the historic status in June, according to Historic Atlanta. The group’s LGBTQ Historic Preservation Advisory Committee focuses on protecting historic LGBTQ sites in the city.

“The Atlanta Eagle is undoubtedly among the most important LGBTQ historic resources in the City of Atlanta,” Historic Atlanta said in a press release. “In comparison to other LGBTQ sites in the City of Atlanta, the structure retains a high degree of integrity while also achieving uniquely-multifaceted significance that has undoubtedly influenced the development of the LGBTQ community.”

Historic Atlanta applauded the city for moving to preserve the site and others that showcase “historically marginalized communities often underrepresented in historic preservation.” If approved, the Eagle building would be the first recognized and protected LBGTQ landmark in the Deep South, according to the group.

The Eagle closed Nov. 14 after a series of parties at the bar. On its final weekend, the bar hosted limited-capacity parties for patrons to make the rounds one last time, toast the bar and even buy bricks from the building constructed in the late 1890s.

In October, Ramey told Project Q Atlanta that he was one year into his final three-year lease and that the building owner had a buyer. That, combined with plummeting revenue thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, convinced Ramey to shut down the Eagle.

“I thought we could operate through the summer, but I kept trying to figure out how we were going to survive the winter. That’s when I decided maybe this was the time for us to throw in the towel for a while and give everybody a break,” Ramey said at the time.

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