GSU to restore historic Hurt Park, add stage to greenspace along Atlanta Streetcar route

August 16,2016

Georgia State University plans to restore Hurt Park in downtown Atlanta, an historic greenspace that was opened in 1940 and later heralded as a major accomplishment in the first administration of legendary Mayor William B. Hartsfield.

The park is owned by the city of Atlanta. GSU and the city have reached terms for the university to pamper the park and make it more usable for student activities. The park is located along GSU’s northern border, a few blocks west of Grady Memorial Hospital.

The arrival of more students in the park is expected to disperse a group of folks who lounge and sleep on the ground next to bags of personal belongings. The absence of these folks might attract more visitors via the Atlanta Streetcar, which has a stop at the park on Edgewood Avenue.

Landscape architects working on the plan are mindful of preserving the historic nature of a park named for Joel Hurt. He was one of the city’s most influential business and civic leaders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to a GSU history of the park.

“This improvement plan is focused on bringing back the historic glory that was there,” said Steve Provost, vice president of jB+a, inc., the planning and landscape architecture firm devising the plan.

“As we went through the process, we realized we’re really looking to make improvements to the park as a historic site,” Provost said. “We’re looking to make improvements to the site that work within the framework of the original design.”

The most extensive change that’s planned involves widening a walkway and grading the oval lawn. This will result in the creation of a permanent performance stage that will be slightly above the heads of onlookers. No stage structures will have to be added to elevate the performers above the audience.

Plans call for the lawn to be graded about 2 percent, starting near Edgewood Avenue. This small grade will taper down toward the fountain. The walkway near the fountain will be widened from 10 feet wide to 20 feet wide. This walkway will serve as the stage. It will be about 2 feet higher than the lawn at the point where the two meet.

“We came up with a system that would make a minor adjustment to the historic hardscape and maintain existing forms of the site, while still providing a 20-by-30 foot performance stage,” Provost said. “We’ll rework the oval lawn, which is in poor condition, so it slopes to the fountain. It will be imperceptible, almost.”

The park’s original design was produced by William Pauley. Provost said Pauley was the first landscape architect to base his practice in Atlanta. Others had worked in Atlanta, including Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., whom Hurt hired in 1890 to design the landscape of what became the Druid Hills neighborhood. But neither Olmsted nor the others were based in Atlanta.

Pauley served in World War I and moved to Atlanta in 1919 with his German-born wife. He designed parks for lavish estates in Buckhead and moved on to public projects after the Great Recession dampened interest in ornate gardens. Some of his parks, including Hurt Park, included fountains with elaborate light shows that created the effect of “dancing waters,” according to the GSU history of the park.

“The fountain was pretty far advanced,” Provost said. “It had a fantastic light show. Part of is plan is to determine what further studies need to be done to restore the fountain. That’s on the agenda.”

Atlanta’s Urban Design Commission has reviewed and accepted comments that Provost provided at the commission’s July 27 meeting. The UDC voted to confirm receipt of comments. No further action is required.