I’ve been reading with interest George’s blogs about his trip to Atlanta (and not just because I appear as a major character). I was especially intrigued by his reflection on the transformations of Atlanta since he left during the “graduate school disapora” because I grew up just outside of Atlanta, and I’ve seen my hometown change considerably in the last few years (my old high school, for example, has been converted into loft apartments–no I don’t really miss it).
George vividly describes the gradual disappearance of Ponce de Leon Avenue’s “sleazy elegance” for something more generic, more commercial, less grungy. This erasure of its own history is something that Atlanta has faced for some time now. George mentions, for example, the recent sale of the Clermont Hotel and Lounge, Atlanta’s “ironic” strip club (rumor has it that the hotel might be transformed into loft apartments). Atlanta has also seen the closing of Pilgreen’s Restaurant, a landmark family restaurant and the closing and potential demolition of Paschal’s Motor Hotel and Restaurant, a prominent loction during the Civil Rights Movement. All of these questions are emerging at a moment in history when several prominent politicians, Maynard Jackson, Lester Maddox, and Ivan Allen, Jr. (for whom Georgia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts is named and who was also one of the first southern white mayors to openly support the Civil Rights Movement), have recently passed away, raising the question of how they will be remembered, and as this list implies, Atlanta’s memory is very much tied to the multiple histories of race and economy, Civil Rights and urban development.
These questions of remembering the past are important to me, and they seem intimately tied to place. Like George, who has fond memories of meals at the Majestic Diner and slices at Fellini’s Pizza, I don’t want to see parts of the old Atlanta go, and these places seem to face being crowded out by the gentrification of these older neighborhoods. I’ve never been to several of these landmarks (the Majestic, Paschal’s, or the Clermont, for example), but like Felicia Feaster, the author of the Creative Loafing article cited above, I can’t help but feel a sense of mourning for these lost and disappearing places, all of which hold onto some important trace of Atlanta’s past, whether personal or public (or both).
In a way, this seems a fitting way for me to revisit the identity thread one last time as well as George’s call for a distributed writing project on growing up in (and returning to) the south. I’m struggling to bring my thoughts on this topic to any form of closure (I’ve been typing and deleting for some time now), and perhaps that makes sense, since I’m still here, or back here, making new memories, creating my experience and memory of Atlanta anew. Perhaps my reflections on Atlanta’s sense of history and its attempt to “remember” itself point more toward the multiple Atlantas that are being invented, remembered, and forgotten every day.