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Ponce de Leon ApartmentsDesignated: Landmark Building Exterior
May 10, 1993

75 Ponce de Leon Avenue,
637 Peachtree Street
Fronting 244.2' on the southeast corner of Ponce de Leon Avenue and Peachtree Street
District 14, Land Lot 49
Existing Zoning SPI-2

Construction: 1912-13
Architect: William L. Stoddart

Located on the southeast corner of Ponce de Leon Avenue and Peachtree Street, the Ponce de Leon Apartments provided the ultimate in residential quarters in early twentieth-century Atlanta. Historically, this apartment building is significant as one of the city's first luxurious high-rise dwellings. It was designed by master architect William L. Stoddart and opened in 1913 as a companion to the architects' Georgian Terrace Hotel completed in 1911 just across Ponce de Leon Avenue. Architecturally, the structure is an excellent example of the grand apartment of the early part of this century and displays classical elements of the Beaux-Arts and Renaissance Revival styles. The Ponce de Leon Apartment Building sits at what has been called "the city's most famous intersection." The Ponce de Leon-Peachtree crossing has certainly been one of Atlanta's busiest for many years, and its buildings are widely recognized by the city's residents. Over its seventy-six years, the Ponce de Leon Apartment Building has served as a residence and gathering place for a diverse group of tenants and visitors important to Atlanta's cultural fabric.

THE APARTMENT BUILDING

The earliest multi-family dwellings in U.S. cities developed in the nineteenth century in response to the rapid increase in urban population. The huge demand for inexpensive housing for the working class was met with the advent of tenements and boarding houses. These dwellings, however, were often overcrowded and their residents were subjected to unsanitary and unsafe living conditions.

Though common in Paris and most large, European cities for some time, apartment houses were not introduced in American cities until the latter half of the nineteenth century. The structures offered tenants several modern conveniences: hot and cold running water, steam heat, elevators, separate toilets, electric lights, and most of all, privacy. But, unlike Parisian apartments where residents of various social classes mixed within the same building, distinct classes of these dwellings evolved in the U.S.

When the Ponce de Leon Apartments opened in 1913, a large classified advertisement in the Atlanta Journal described them as "the South's most luxurious apartments." Located on the southeast corner of Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue, the new building provided housing for some of the city's most affluent residents as Atlanta expanded north along its streetcar lines. The eleven-story dwelling was constructed by the George Fuller Construction Company at a cost of $450,000 as a companion to the grand Georgian Terrace Hotel which opened two years earlier on the northeast corner of the same intersection. Both structures were part of an early twentieth-century trend in American cities to erect elegant hotels and apartments along wide boulevards in upper-class residential neighborhoods.

Stately homes lined the Peachtree-Ponce de Leon intersection at the time the new apartments began accepting tenants. The high-rise offered "housekeeping suites of nine and ten rooms," as well as, "rooms and baths, singly and en suite." The small apartments were sometimes referred to as bachelor suites and filled the two uppermost floors of the building. The second through the ninth floors contained only two very large apartments per floor.

The apartment house boasted a dining room where tenants could take three meals a day if they so desired. Several small shops lined the street level of the dwelling. The building was sound and fireproof, and the city's first penthouse was located on the apartment roof. A resident manager, doormen, janitors, cooks, and elevator operators served the tenants' needs. In a basement plant, the staff made ice and delivered it daily to each apartment. The staff sorted the mail and were able to communicate with the residents through an in-house switchboard.

From the roof of one of the only two high-rise buildings in the midtown area, residents of the Ponce de Leon Apartments were afforded a magnificent view of downtown Atlanta to the south, Stone Mountain to the east, and Kennesaw Mountain to the northwest. Carrie Goodwin, manager and resident of the apartment house for over seventy years, recalled watching the Great Fire of 1917 from the building's roof. Over a two-day period, the fire changed forever the face of over seventy-three of Atlanta's city blocks. On the lighter side, after the Fox Theater opened in 1927, visiting opera stars performing at the lavish theater attended moonlit parties on the apartment's roof-top terrace.

The Ponce de Leon Apartment House was an oasis for the wealthy through the 1940s. As Atlanta's growth continued northward, it became less fashionable to live so close to downtown. Some long-time residents remained through the 1970s, but many of the midtown apartment's wealthier tenants moved to more modern structures in the city's newer suburbs. Large units in the old building were divided into smaller apartments to accommodate a less affluent clientele.

Since 1913, a number of individuals and corporations have held title to the Ponce de Leon building, some maintaining it better than others. By 1980, however, the structure had deteriorated considerably. The following year, developer Hiram Wilkinson purchased the apartment building for condominium use. The exterior of the building was renovated/restored, but before the interior could be completed, the firm had financial difficulties.

Approximately half the units are presently individually owned, while another development firm, Urban Properties VI Limited, owns the remaining condo units. "The Ponce," as the building is now known, is once more a fashionable place to live for the growing number of Atlantans looking for luxurious in-town living.

ARCHITECTURE

Facing the intersection of Ponce de Leon Avenue and Peachtree Street, the front facade of the Ponce de Leon Apartments gently curves around the southeast corner of Ponce de Leon Avenue. With only a few low, wide steps leading from the sidewalk to the portico, the imposing structure seems to sit almost in the intersection of the two major thoroughfares.

The plan of the eleven-story apartment building is a symmetrical one; a pair of square towers flank the central portion of the building and extend high above the structure's flat roof. Four, rounded arches with Tuscan columns create a belfry in each tower. These towers are capped with ceramic tile, hipped roofs with wide, bracketed eaves. Curved metal balconies visually connect the towers to the central section of the building, repeating the bend of the front facade. Three elaborately decorated masonry balconies break the mass of this facade.

Architect W. L. Stoddart successfully utilized the classical design elements of the Beaux-Arts and Renaissance Revival styles. The building's light-colored masonry construction uses a smooth stone for the visually heavier lower floors and pale brick for the upper floors. A classical colonnade of two-plus stories with six paired and six single Tuscan columns stretches along the front facade from tower to tower. To maintain the symmetry so vital to the style, a rounded, arched entrance with matching windows was placed in the center of the colonnade.

Though somewhat restrained, the Ponce de Leon Apartment Building contains many Beaux-Arts details. Horizontal moldings are present between several stories. A cornice with modillions separates the portico from the upper stories, while a heavy, bracketed, overhanging cornice caps the structure. A classical balustrade runs along the roof line. The building's terra-cotta relief work utilizes garlands, swags, and other floral patterns as well as medallions, shields and figural sculptures in the form of lions to enrich the surface.

Unfortunately, one of the original features of the structure was altered in the early 1980s with the replacement of the twenty-pane French windows with sealed, thermal pane glass. In spite of recent changes, the Ponce de Leon Apartment House is vital to Atlanta's architectural history as one of the earliest luxury, high-rise apartment buildings still extant in the city. The Ponce de Leon Apartments is also important for the function it plays with the Georgian Terrace to form a gateway to Ponce de Leon and anchor the corner opposite the Fox Theater.

WILLIAM LEE STODDART

W. L. Stoddart was born in Tenafly, New Jersey in 1869. He studied architecture at Columbia University in New York, and to gain experience, served as a draftsman for a number of the city's firms. In practice for himself he became a noted designer of a number of large hotels widely scattered across the eastern states. Some of his works include: the Lord Baltimore Hotel, Baltimore, Md.; the Reading Hotel, Reading, Pa.; the George Washington Hotel, Washington, Pa.; the Charleston Hotel, Charleston, S.C.; the Tutweiler Hotel, Birmingham, Ala.; and the Savannah Hotel, Savannah, Ga. In addition, Stoddart was commissioned to design the Federal Building, East Akron, Oh., and a number of bank buildings in New York. As mentioned above, this New York architect designed the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta.

URBAN CULTURE

The Ponce de Leon Apartment Building is located at one of the city's most travelled intersections, and along with the Georgian Terrace Hotel and the Fox Theater, is widely known by residents throughout the city. This high-rise dwelling has served as a residence and gathering place for Atlanta's affluent beginning in the 1920s. Serving the cultural needs of a vast array of the city's residents for over seventy-six years, the Ponce de Leon Apartments have reflected the changes in the midtown neighborhood, making it an invaluable cultural resource.

REFERENCES

Atlanta Constitution, 2 July 1987.

Atlanta Journal, 17 Aug. 1913.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 24 June 1979, 18 Mar 1982, 17 May 1987.

Atlanta Journal Magazine, 13 Nov 1932.

Barth, Gunther, City People: The Rise of Modern City Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1980.

City Builder, April 1916; May 1920.

Fulton County Deed Records.

Klima, Don L. "Breaking Out. Streetcars and Suburban Development, 1872-1900." Atlanta Historical Journal Vol. XXVI, No. 2-3 (Summer-Fall 1982): 67-82.

Mitchell, George. Ponce de Leon: An Intimate Portrait of Atlanta's Most Famous Avenue. Atlanta: Argonne Books, 1983.

National Register of Historic Places Nomination of Fox Theater District, prepared by H. Lee Dunagan, Consultant, AUDC, 1976.

Whitney, Henry F. and Elsie Rathburn. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects. Los Angeles: Hennessey and Ingalls, Inc., 1970.

CRITERIA
(criteria descriptions)

Group I (1) (2) (3)
Group II (1) (3) (6) (7) (9) (10) (11)
Group III (1) (2) (3)

FINDINGS

The proposed nomination of the Ponce de Leon Apartments meets the above referenced criteria, as well as the minimum criteria, for a Landmark Building or Site as set out in Section 16-20.004 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Atlanta

Contact Info
City of Atlanta
Atlanta Urban Design Commission
(AUDC)
55 Trinity Avenue, Suite 3400
Atlanta, Georgia 30335-0331

Tel: 404.330.6200
Fax: 404.658.6734

Doug Young
dyoung@atlantaga.gov

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Last updated: 6/11/2013 1:17:22 PM