Designated: Landmark Building Exterior
817 West Peachtree Street, N.W.
The Atlanta Biltmore Hotel is located on a city block bounded by West Peachtree Street on the west, Cypress Street on the east, Sixth Street on the north, and Fifth Street on the south. The two contributing structures are the hotel building facing West Peachtree and the apartment building facing Fifth. Both were part of the original 1924 Biltmore project and meet criteria for significance in all three categories. Historically, the hotel is an excellent sample of the grand hotels which sprang up in cities across the United States in the 1920s. The inclusion of a separate apartment building was part of the same trend catering to the affluent. Designed by Leonard Schultze, architect for several Biltmore hotels of the period, the Atlanta Biltmore is architecturally significant for its neo-Georgian design elements and the craftsmanship with which they were executed. Important too is the hotel's grand scale, which dominates the streetscape along West Peachtree Street. The Biltmore served as a major gathering place for residents of the city, as well as visitors from around the state and nation, and held a place of prominence in Atlanta's cultural past.
THE MODERN HOTEL
In the 1920s, a climate of financial speculation and seemingly unbounded prosperity existed for the nation's affluent. At the same time, the mass production of relatively inexpensive automobiles improved transportation for large numbers of Americans. The large modern hotel was developed to accommodate those who were experiencing a new-found prosperity and mobility.
Atlanta's prominent hotels, which first clustered around the railroad stations at the center of the downtown, had begun to move north along Peachtree Street by the beginning of the twentieth century. The Georgian Terrace (1911) and the Briarcliff (1925) Hotels signaled the move of first-class hotels into the northern suburban areas. The Biltmore dramatically represents this trend, which continues to this day. The impetus for the Biltmore's construction came from capitalist William Candler, son of the Coca-Cola magnate, Asa G. Candler. He purchased the property along West Peachtree in 1921, and two years later, incorporated the Atlanta Biltmore Hotel Company in conjunction with Holland Ball Judkins and John McEntee Bowman of the New York Biltmore hotel chain.
The six-million-dollar hotel opened on April 19, 1924 with grand ceremonies. A train chartered in New York, called the Atlanta Biltmore Special, brought influential northern hoteliers to the southern city. Georgia Governor Walker and Atlanta Mayor Sims presented this delegation with a large, cotton key upon arrival. The opening-night dinner-dance was part of a national radio broadcast, and during that initial weekend, reportedly 1000 automobiles made the circular drive through the hotel garden. As is the case today, early twentieth-century Atlantans wanted the city to be seen as progressive. Many viewed the Atlanta Biltmore as the appropriate setting for the rapidly growing commercial and social activities of the region. It was said that if Atlanta stood for the New South, the Atlanta Biltmore stood for Atlanta.
The incorporation of a separate apartment building in the Biltmore project was not unique to Atlanta, but part of a trend to develop apartment hotels in cities across the nation. These new facilities were usually planned to face a wide boulevard in an upper-class residential neighborhood in close proximity to downtown. The exterior design was to be somewhat restrained, with the idea that this would attract a higher class of prospective tenants. The Biltmore Hotel project fit this pattern in Atlanta in the 1920s.
The Atlanta Biltmore, once known as the South's supreme hotel, staged galas, tea dances, debutante balls, and recitals by visiting Metropolitan Opera stars. It served celebrities such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mary Pickford, Bette Davis, and Charles Lindbergh. The building was the initial home of the Atlanta Historical Society and the meeting place for many of the city's civic organizations. For over thirty years, WSB, the South's first radio station, broadcasted from its studios within the hotel. The station's radio tower positioned on the hotel roof became a landmark on the city skyline.
In the 1960s, the once-prominent hotel felt competition from Atlanta's modern downtown hotels, and in 1967, the Sheraton chain took over operations of the Biltmore. The corporation spent $5 million in renovations, but eventually sold the business to another firm in 1979. Biltmore Hospitality Partners ran the hotel until 1982, when that company finally shuttered the hotel and sold many of its furnishings.
Both the hotel and apartment building were occupied by Renaissance Investment Corporation in 1984. This firm planned to restore and renovate both buildings for condominium use. The corporation began with the smaller apartment structure. Renaissance completed the project and sold the building to an investment partnership which operates the hotel suites at the present time. The original Biltmore Hotel was not so fortunate. Unable to obtain financing for restoration, Renaissance's mortgage was foreclosed, and in 1986 the company went bankrupt. At this time, the Atlanta Biltmore Hotel sits boarded up, awaiting restoration to its former prominence in Atlanta.
ATLANTA BILTMORE HOTEL AND TOWER
Facing west on West Peachtree Street, the monumental, eleven-story Biltmore Hotel stretches the entire block between Fifth and Sixth Streets. The apartment building is ten stories high, smaller in size and scale, and fronts Fifth Street. Non-contributing structures on the property include a one-story exhibition hall (1956) fronting Sixth Street, a two-story open parking deck (1969) fronting Cypress Street, and a three-story hotel addition with swimming pool (1969) which abuts the south side of the exhibition hall. The addition of these structures over the years has largely usurped the original garden space and the terrace is no longer extant. For the Biltmore, the architect Leonard Schultze selected neo-Georgian architecture which was felt would reflect the refined grace of New South society, as well as signify its economic successes.
The hotel and the apartment building are rectangular and symmetrical, typical of the neo-Georgian style. They are constructed of reinforced concrete framing, faced with red tapestry brick laid in English bond, and their decorative details are done in limestone. Central front and rear entrances to the main building feature two-story porticoes with balustrades supported by paired Corinthian columns. Entrance porticoes of the apartment building are similar, but narrower, and the north portico features only single, not paired columns. Other significant details include triangular and broken-scroll pediments over several window courses, and brackets and dentils under the eaves. Five, two-story rounded-arched windows framed by paired, limestone pilasters, perforate the north and south ends of the hotel's front facade.
In spite of years of neglect, much of the exterior integrity of the hotel remains. The apartment building has been more fortunate. Its renovation project was completed in 1985, combining historic architectural elements with modern features like marble jacuzzis and skylights. The building now functions as an executive suite hotel.
The Atlanta Biltmore was a focal point of social life in Atlanta for almost sixty years. It served as a gathering place for the city's residents attending events from high-society galas to civic association meetings and local political fundraisers. The hotel also provided luxurious accommodations for travelers from across the country and around the world. During its early years, it was a symbol of Atlanta's leadership role in the New South, helping to establish a modern image of the city, significantly contributing to the cultural fabric of Atlanta.
Atlanta Constitution. 1 December 1982, 6 April 1983, 13 August 1986,
Atlanta Journal. 16 June 1982, 19 April 1984, 23 April 1985.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution. 3 July 1987.
City of Atlanta Tax Records and Plat Maps.
National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1979.
Group I (1) (3)
FINDINGSThe proposed nomination of the Biltmore Hotel and Tower meet the above-referenced 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.