My, what a lovely little park next door to the Fox on Peachtree! Office workers strolling, tourists relaxing on the benches, walkers admiring the greenery. Who would have thought that on that spot for more than 60 years stood the First Baptist Church of Atlanta before its move to the old Avon Building on I-285.
Newcomers to Atlanta now have to mentally picture a classic red brick church with white columns and a tall steeple amidst the trees on that spot.
Up until the early 1990s Sunday mornings saw crowds of people walking up Peachtree to get to First Baptist and after noon, throngs spilling out onto the veranda to go home. During the week there were always people lounging on the front steps in those days much the way people lounge on the benches now. It was a shaded spot to rest in the summer then as it is now.
In early 2001 the building was torn down to make way for the "shorter" AT&T building at the back of the block and the front portion on Peachtree was made into a park as a "holding" action until it could be redeveloped. It is still a park and impossible to know when it will change into its next iteration.
The Atlanta Business Chronicle's Martin Sinderman in an article in February 2001 had this to say about the church and the site:
"In October 1988, the church paid a reported $20 million to Avon Products for 52 acres along North Peachtree Road and Interstate 285 in north DeKalb County to be used as a site for its newest home. Two years later, First Baptist sold the bulk of the church's Midtown holdings for $43.5 million to G. Lars Gullstedt, a Swedish developer who spent some $100 million for five blocks along Peachtree and West Peachtree early in the 1990s, announcing plans for a massive high-rise redevelopment project that would link downtown and Midtown. The recession of the early 1990s put a hitch in a lot of real estate plans -- including those of both Gullstedt and First Baptist. Gullstedt filed for bankruptcy in Sweden in 1993. First Baptist, which had been paid a reported $15 million of the total price, had to swing a deal with Gullstedt's Swedish lender to regain control of the land. First Baptist's Midtown site sat idle for a number of years. Finally, in a transaction Atlanta Business Chronicle cited as "Honorable Mention -- Land Deal of the Year" for 1999, BellSouth Corp. purchased the property for a reported $16.3 million."
Atlanta is said to be "a city with a church on every corner" and Peachtree is dotted with churches throughout downtown, Midtown, uptown and Buckhead. Many of them started in downtown when "anything north of Ellis Street was the suburbs," as Atlanta's historian, Franklin Garrett loved to say.
First Baptist wasn't the first to move out of Midtown and I daresay it won't be the last, though those that have remained realize their value in central Atlanta and don't show any signs of leaving. Churches are a vital part of a vibrant city and its real estate. First Baptist chose a different path but I, for one, miss the elegant building on the corner of Peachtree and Third.