Designated: Landmark Building Exterior
Constructed: ca. 1898-9; relocated on original lot, 1913; alteration 1914, 1919.
DESCRIPTION AND ANALYSIS
The Crescent Apartments is a three-story, brick-veneered building located at the corner of Peachtree and Tenth Streets. Constructed by Cornelius J. Sheehan as a single-family residence in a then-fashionable section of residential Peachtree Street, the building's original address was 806 Peachtree Street. In 1913 the house was relocated to the rear of its lot and given an address of 17 Crescent Avenue. By the end of World War I, it had been altered considerably and converted into ten apartments that opened in 1919 as the Crescent Apartments.
The Crescent Apartments are of national historic significance as the home from 1925-1932 of Margaret Mitchell, one of this city's most famous citizens, and as the place where she wrote the bulk of the book that would make her and Atlanta world-famous. The popularity of Gone With the Wind, first published in 1936 and made into a motion picture in 1939, is a cultural phenomenon of such long and widespread extent as to beggar description, other than to note that only the Bible has sold more copies than Margaret Mitchell's book. With the demolition of neighboring structures in recent years, the Crescent Apartments, the birthplace of Gone With the Wind, has become even more important to Atlanta.
Notorious since the Civil War as a haven for cut-throats and thieves, the stretch of Peachtree between present-day Eighth and Twelfth Streets originally looped around a thirty-foot ravine that ran east from present-day Crescent Avenue down toward Piedmont Avenue and got its name from the saying that it was a "tight squeeze getting through there with your life." In 1887, in preparation for the Piedmont Exposition being constructed at what would become Piedmont Park, the "Tight Squeeze" was eliminated by filling the ravine and straightening the course of the street. By 1900, Old Peachtree Street had been renamed Crescent Avenue.
In 1890 Bleckley Avenue (now Tenth Street) was opened from North Boulevard (now Monroe Drive) to Peachtree and an electric street car line began operating along Peachtree to Wilson Avenue (now Fourteenth Street). With the opening of the Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895, another car line was opened along Piedmont Avenue with loops to Peachtree at Tenth and Fourteenth Streets.
The streetcars made possible the development of residential districts farther and farther beyond the city limits at Fifth Street. By 1900, with the car line extended to Brookwood, several large houses for wealthy Atlantans had been built on Peachtree between Peachtree Place and Fourteenth Street. In the block between Peachtree Place and Tenth Street were the Frank Ellis house at the southeast corner of Tenth, the W. S. Witham house opposite Peachtree Place and the Sidney H. Phelan house at the southwest corner at Peachtree Place, all built circa 1898.
CORNELIUS J. SHEEHAN
Cornelius J. "C.J." Sheehan was born in Atlanta in 1867, the fifth of nine children born to Cornelius (1828-1888) and Elizabeth Sheehan (1839-1906). The elder Sheehan, an Irish Catholic immigrant, had come to Atlanta in 1855, working for the Georgia Railroad. Said to have been educated at the University of Dublin, he was apparently a man of some means for he quickly began investing in real estate, not only in Atlanta, but also in Decatur and Lovejoy. In 1875, Sheehan purchased a lot at the corner of Pryor and Fair (now Memorial Drive) where they were living when his son C. J. graduated from Boys' High in 1883.
According to Lucian Lamar Knight's biographical sketch, the Sheehans were "one of the South's most influential and prominent Catholic families" and the Constitution commented in the elder Sheehan's obituary in 1888 that he had "reared a large and interesting family." The name is not as well known now as it was at the turn of the century because seven of the nine children were girls. The oldest brother John moved to Butte, Montana, and C. J. Sheehan had only one daughter. Three of the daughters were said to have been the first "of our girls" to have been educated outside the United States, at Villa Marie Convent in Montreal. One of these, Agatha, married Claude W. Kress, one of the founding brothers of the S. H. Kress chain. Isabelle spent "several years in Europe where she studied painting . . ." before returning to Atlanta and becoming one of the first officers of the Atlanta Art Association." Leonora Sheehan married Robert Raines, secretary/treasurer of the Franklin Printing and Publishing Company, and spent fifteen years working for the New York Sun, including a stint as a war correspondent during World War I. All of the descendants of another sister, Margaret Claire Sheehan and her husband Jude Aidan R. Wilmot, were killed in the tragic plane crash at Orly field in Paris in 1962.
After graduation from Boys' High, C. J. Sheehan was, in the words of his biographer,
feverish at once for business. With such splendid opportunities beckoning to him on every side he felt it folly to waste any furthertime in obtaining an education. Though amply able to bear the cost he repudiated the idea of a collegiate course further than to spend one year in Moore's Business College, preparing himself for a strictly business career.
About 1886, after a year in the offices of produce merchants A. C. Wylly & Company, Sheehan began working for John B. Daniel, a large wholesale manufacturer and dealer in pharmaceuticals. About 1905, he became an auditor for the Federal Post Office and worked there for twenty-eight years. Although he is reported to have graduated from Atlanta Law School and to have passed the bar in 1907, there is no record of a private practice. In addition to his real estate investments, he was also said to have completed "a course in auto engineering at the 'Tech'."
Sheehan married three times. His first wife was Carrie May Watson, daughter of Col. George W. Watson of Hot Springs, Arkansas; his second wife was Ruth Perrine; and his third wife was Loula Kenan White, daughter of Col. Thomas W. White of Milledgeville. He apparently only had one child, Burnham E. Sheehan (Mrs. John J. Dinsmore).
In January 1898, Sheehan paid $2,750 for a lot on the west side of Peachtree between Peachtree Place and Tenth Street. By the time information was collected for the 1900 City Directory, Sheehan is listed as residing at 806 Peachtree. Although no building permit survives for this structure, the 1911 Sanborn fire insurance map for that area shows a two-story brick veneer residence located somewhat closer to Peachtree than at present. The steep-roofed half- timbered gable and the demi-hexagonal bay extending up into it on the Peachtree facade of the Crescent Apartment building indicate that the original house might best have been described as styled after the Tudor Revival, popular throughout the first quarter of the twentieth century. The neighboring Phelan house (c. 1898) incorporated elements of the style in its eclectic design. One of the best surviving examples, and one that is contemporaneous with the Sheehan house, is Ernest Woodruff's house (1904) in Inman Park.
In 1902, the Morton R. Emmons house was built on the northwest corner of Peachtree Place just south of the Sheehan house. Both the Emmons house and Peachtree Place were featured in Art Work of Atlanta, Ga. , 1903 an early "coffee-table" book of architectural photography, as representing some of the best in residential architecture at the time. Peachtree Street was, in fact, reaching its zenith as a fashionable suburban residential neighborhood.
In 1904 the city limits were extended to Fourteenth Street and residential development of the old Collier estate north of Fifteenth Street began, opening up another six blocks of Peachtree for development. This development extended to many of the side streets where apartments and more modest houses were being built. Between 1905 and 1911, for instance, lots were subdivided and houses built along the east side of Crescent Avenue between Peachtree Place and Tenth, behind all of the Peachtree Street buildings except the Sheehan and Emmons houses. Construction of houses between the older and more scattered mansions along Peachtree had also begun as, in 1908, when Augustus D. Adair and Julian Field built houses for themselves on Peachtree between the Witham and Ellis houses.
In 1906 Sheehan sold his house to Charles Horace McCall for $11,000 and moved to 99 Capitol Square. By 1925, he had moved to 698 Myrtle Street where he was living when he died in 1944.
TENTH STREET BUSINESS DISTRICT
By the time Sheehan moved, commercial development had increased along Peachtree at Tenth. Although a few commercial buildings were located at Peachtree and Tenth in the early 1890s, after the area was annexed in 1904, businesses and apartments proliferated. Spurred by downtown congestion, retailers such as grocers, laundries, and automobile-related services were setting up shop in suburban locations like the Tenth Street area in order to better serve the sprawling developments along Peachtree and adjacent streets during the first quarter of the twentieth century.
In 1907-08 Jeremiah W. Goldsmith, a real estate developer who lived on Peachtree near Eleventh Street, completed work on two buildings in the lot between the Sheehan house and the two business buildings that R. L. Walker had erected earlier on the southwest corner of Peachtree and Tenth. Space was so valuable that Goldsmith's buildings appear to have been built abutting the side of the Sheehan house. Originally housing the Tenth Street Post Office and an L. W. Rogers Grocery with an apartment on the second floor, these buildings ended their days as Eng's Restaurant in the 1980s.
In 1909 Mrs. Mary Grant Dickson built the three-story Elysee Palace Apartments at 800 Peachtree between the Sheehan and the Emmons houses. Although it kept the same setback from Peachtree as the neighboring houses, the apartment building was constructed within inches of the earlier structures. That same year the Hampton Court Apartments went up across the street between the Field and Witham houses.
In November 1909, Horace McCall, after only three years at the old Sheehan house, sold it to George C. Rogers for $12,500. In 1910, Lee Ashcraft apparently rented the house and lived there until about 1912, the year he and Mell R. Wilkinson formed the brokerage company of Ashcraft-Wilkinson which would eventually become one of the South's largest.
During this period, the commercialization of the Peachtree/Tenth intersection continued as the houses built at the turn of the century began to give way to commercial development. In 1910, for instance, Frank Ellis built a new house at #1 Peachtree Circle and in 1912 secured a building permit for construction of a brick business building and "to move an old house." The old house was his own fifteen-year-old house at the southeast corner of Peachtree and Tenth. Ten years later, the Adair and Field houses across Peachtree from the Sheehan house were razed for the construction of store buildings.
A bond for title was recorded in April of 1911 between George Rogers, as owner of 806 Peachtree, and Mrs. Lena Swift Huntley who, through the L. S. Huntley Co., invested heavily in real estate in the area. In August 1913, a deed was recorded of her purchase of the back part of the property at 806 Peachtree for $5,000. Two days later, she sold the lot to John B. Thompson for the same price. In November of the same year, L. S. Huntley Co., purchased the more valuable front portion from Rogers for $17,000 although it was not until 1920 that a building permit was issued for construction of a one-story commercial building on that lot.
In the 1914 City Directory, #806 disappears as an address on Peachtree and #17 Crescent appears for the first time, listed as "vacant, September 17, 1913." Differences in the brick work on the first and second floors of the existing building and in lintel arches suggest that a full height basement level was built and the original house relocated onto that foundation at this time. This would not have been as complicated an undertaking as it might appear since Crescent Avenue is considerably lower than Peachtree at this point and the new location was only about ten feet away from the old. Other alterations included removal of the front porch, although the original porch may well have been lost when the Elysee Apartments and Goldsmith's buildings were constructed a few years earlier.
In April 1914, Thompson conveyed 17 Crescent Avenue to Monroe Oppenheim, editor of the Georgian Deutsch Zeitung, for $14,600. For two years, he and his wife Helen lived in the house, publishing the paper from the basement of 17 Crescent Avenue, until losing the house due to a legal action in 1916. John B. Thompson assumed title again in 1917, and in 1918 conveyed it to William E. Thompson for "$10 and other valuable considerations." No city directory was published in 1917 but the 1918 directory lists the house as vacant as of September 1917. The final tenant of the house, in 1918-19, seems to have been the widow of W. T. Denton.
By the mid-1920s, the Phelan, Emmons, Adair, and Field houses had all been demolished for commercial construction. By the 1930s, the Witham house was gone as well and commercial buildings had even been built in front of the Elysee Palace. What had been a quiet and fashionable stretch of residences just after the turn of the century was, by 1926, when Mr. and Mrs. John Marsh rented Apartment #1 at the Crescent Apartments, the thriving commercial district for northside Atlanta. Besides the groceries and hardware stores, there was a theatre, a Woolworth's, and an office building at the intersection of Peachtree and Tenth. Away from the bustle of Peachtree, however, were quiet streets of middle-class homes like the one on Cypress Street that the Mitchell's apartment overlooked.
THE CRESCENT APARTMENTS
In July 1919, Thompson conveyed the property at 17 Crescent Avenue to Mrs. Pearl Langston and, by the end of 1919, the Sheehan house had been totally re-oriented to Crescent Avenue and converted into ten apartments. It was probably at this time that a three-story porch was added on the Crescent Avenue facade. Mrs. Langston sold the building for $29,500 in 1922, "including all furniture except in #2, 5, & 9.according to list furnished the grantee." In 1923 it sold again with the same stipulation about the furniture.
The Crescent Apartments survived into the early 1950s. After a period of vacancies in the mid- fifties, it was no longer listed as a single apartment building but only by individual apartments. Beginning about 1970, it began to be operated as the Windsor House Apartments until it was abandoned about 1980 and allowed to deteriorate until finally threatened with outright demolition in the late-1980s.
Widening and realignment of Tenth Street over the last twenty years resulted in demolition of the Tenth Street Theatre at the southwest corner of Peachtree as well as of the two commercial buildings next door to the Crescent Apartments. In 1987-1988, the remaining commercial buildings on the west side of Peachtree were demolished, with the exception of the commercial row that had been constructed in 1924 on the site of the Emmons house.
Unquestionably, Margaret Mitchell was one of this city's most famous citizens. Born in 1900 at her parent's home on E. Cain Street near Jackson Street, Margaret Mitchell spent most of her childhood in the Jackson Hill neighborhood where her mother's parents had owned property since the 1850s. In 1902, the Mitchells moved into a new house at the southeast corner of Jackson and Highland Avenue where they lived until 1912. Both of these houses as well as much of her Grandmother Stephens' real estate were destroyed in the "Great Fire" of 1917.
In 1912, the Mitchells moved from Jackson Hill to a new Colonial Revival house at 1147 (now 1401) Peachtree just north of Seventeenth Street. Margaret began attending the famous Washington Seminary beginning in 1914 and graduated in 1917. In 1918 she enrolled at Smith College but only attended for a year. She gave her own succinct account of her life at that time in a letter to a friend in 1936:
I did not finish at Smith, as my mother died (in 1919) and I had to come home and keep house for my father. made my debut here in Atlanta shortly afterwards, ate chicken salad for a year, had a big time and then got a job as a reporter on the Atlanta Journal.
Unmentioned in this account was her marriage to Berrien K. "Red" Upshaw on Labor Day 1922. By the end of the year they were separated and Margaret had begun working at the Journal as a writer for the Sunday Magazine. Working under Angus Perkerson, editor of the Magazine, she quickly made a name for herself with her feature stories. On July 4, 1925, she married John R. Marsh, whom she had met while working at the paper. After a brief honeymoon, the couple set up house in apartment #1 at the Crescent Apartments where they lived for the next six years.
GONE WITH THE WIND
The Marsh's marriage started with them deeply in debt from John Marsh's prior illness but they were determined, in Margaret's words, "to live poor as hell and get out of this jam." Thus, they decided to take the small basement apartment that consisted of two rooms plus a kitchen, a bath and a porch. She called it "The Dump," probably more in response to the privilege of her own upbringing than to the actual condition of the building itself.
In spite of the cramped quarters, the Marshes quickly made it their home. They tacked two calling cards to the door, one of which read "Mr. John R. Marsh" and the other "Miss Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell," which scandalized some of her old society friends, and appeared to welcome all comers. As Margaret herself told people, "No matter where your relatives or friends are going, Atlanta is on the way." The apartment, as had been her father's house after she went to work at the newspaper, became a center for gatherings and visits by friends and especially her co-workers at the newspaper. Besides the frequent small dinner parties, their favorite way to entertain, was to throw large parties throughout the year, "brawls" she called them, that might attract as many as a hundred callers.
In 1926, she ended her reporting career at the Journal and began writing her novel. She said later of the genesis of that book:
Due to a number of mishaps and accidents, mostly automobile accidents, my health was not very good and I was forced to give up reporting. I started "Gone With the Wind" when I had a broken ankle and couldn't walk. I finished it several years ago and never even tried to sell it. Therefore you can imagine my complete consternation when an editor came along, dug it up, published it and made a best seller of it.
John Marsh later recalled the difficulty that he had in keeping his wife, who was a voracious reader, supplied with books while she was convalescing. At his suggestion, she began her story of the Old South, typing it out on a portable Remington typewriter set up on "a spindly sewing table" in the bay window looking out onto Cypress Street. By 1930, according to her husband, she had finished the essential elements of the story after which she worked on it only sporadically until 1935.
In 1932 the Marshes moved from the Crescent Apartments, which by then had only one other tenant besides themselves, to a larger apartment on Seventeenth Street just around the corner from her father's house on Peachtree. They were there in April 1935 when the rough manuscript of her novel was read by Harold S. Latham, an editor with the MacMillan Company. A contract was quickly signed and Margaret, with her husband's help, spent the next few months rewriting, revising, and researching the facts of history that she had written from her considerable memory. By January 1936, a completed manuscript was in the hands of the publisher and by the end of June the first edition was released.
An instant success, the book had sold over 180,000 copies by July 30, 1936, when the film rights were sold to Selznick International Pictures for a record price at that time of $50,000. By the end of 1936, over one million copies of the book had been sold. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for 1936, Gone With the Wind has since been translated into twenty-six foreign languages and as of 1987 had sold over 26,000,000 copies. In addition, more people have seen the movie than have read the book: 110,000,000 in its 1976 television debut alone. Beyond the sheer numbers, however, the story's characters, places and themes have become so much a part of modern American culture that references not only to Scarlett and Tara but to "not giving a damn", "thinking about things tomorrow" or to knowing "nothing 'bout birthin' babies" are immediately understood.
Margaret Mitchell spent most of her time dealing with the enormous fame the book and movie brought her. Bushels of fan mail to be answered, curiosity-seekers to ward off, and unwanted callers of all sorts consumed her life as a simple Atlanta housewife. In spite of the end of their money problems, the Marshes, like others of their generation, never bought their own home but simply moved, in 1939, to a larger apartment on Piedmont Avenue at the South Prado. Besides volunteer work during World War II, Margaret nursed her father through an extended illness until his death in 1945. John Marsh had a heart attack that same year and his health had only just begun to improve to the point that Margaret was contemplating writing again when, on August 11, 1949, she was struck by a drunken taxi driver while crossing Peachtree near Thirteenth Street while on her way with her husband to see a movie. She died five days later at Grady Hospital and was mourned around the world.
Atlanta City Directories. 1885-1960.
City of Atlanta Building Permits.
Clower, George W. "The Sheehan Family -- Atlanta Pioneers," Atlanta Historical Bulletin. XIII, no.4.
Garrett, Franklin. Atlanta and Environs. 2 vols. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1954.
Garrett, Franklin. "A Short History of Land Lot 105 and 106 of the Seventeenth District of Fulton County, Georgia. Part One, Land Lot 106, " Atlanta Historical Journal. XXVII, #1. Spring 1983.
Knight, Lucian Lamar. "Cornelius Sheehan," Georgia's Bicentennial Memoirs. Atlanta: 1933.
Mitchell, Stephens. "Margaret Mitchell and Her People in the Atlanta Area," Atlanta Historical Bulletin, IX #34, May 1950.
Williford, William B. Peachtree Street, Atlanta. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1962.
Group I (1) (2) (3)
The proposed nomination of the Windsor House Apartments meets 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.