Feb 23, 2023 - News

Historic Black church in Atlanta gains landmark designation

old St. Mark AME Church in Atlanta

The old St. Mark AME Church in Atlanta has received Landmark Building/Site designation from the city's Urban Design Commission. Credit: Atlanta Preservation Center

An old church building in Atlanta's English Avenue neighborhood has gained a designation that further cements its place in city history.

Driving the news: Atlanta officials will host a Landmark Building ceremony for the old St. Mark AME Church at 1pm today at 491 James P. Brawley Drive NW.

Why it matters: The status, granted last year by the city's Urban Design Commission, will now require property owners who want to alter the structure to get city approval.

What they're saying: Winston Taylor, a pastor and architect who bought the building in the 1990s, told Axios that the designation will allow the church structure to reassert itself as the centerpiece of English Avenue.

  • “You have to have a centerpiece now that becomes the focus of why we're doing what we're doing,” he said. “Now it's gotten to the place where now we have enough traction now to really do that.”

Flashback: According to nominating documents shared by the Atlanta Preservation Center, the property was originally home to Western Heights Baptist Church, an all-white congregation that got its start in 1904.

  • It used that space until 1940 when it moved to LaGrange, according to the commission.

Meanwhile: St. Mark AME Church opened in 1895 on what was known as Chestnut Street, according to its website. It was destroyed in a fire in July 1948 but later moved to the former Western Heights facility in October 1948, the preservation center notes.

  • Over the years, St. Mark hosted notable community gatherings, such as the midterm graduations for Booker T. Washington High School and notable speakers, including Lillian Carter, former President Jimmy Carter's mother, former Mayor Maynard Jackson and former Gov. Herman Talmadge.
  • Due to the lack of parking at the site, the congregation in 1976 moved to its current church at 3605 Campbellton Road SW in Atlanta.

Between the lines: The English Avenue neighborhood was originally established as a white working-class neighborhood — but after the Great Fire of 1917, residents of the nearby Black neighborhood of Vine City began moving there, "much to the dismay of the white residents living there," the preservation center noted.

  • Additional white flight over the following several decades transformed the neighborhood into a Black enclave.

The bottom line: David Y. Mitchell, executive director of the Atlanta Preservation Center, told Axios that the designation will help save a structure that could otherwise become a "victim of urban renewal."

  • "What you're doing is you're really growing the catalog and showing the experience of Atlanta through this rich inclusion," he said.

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