Whitehall Street Retail Historic District Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

August 10,2020

ATLANTA (August 10, 2020) – The Whitehall Street Retail Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on August 6, 2020. The nomination was sponsored by property owner, NEWPORT US RE, L.P., and nomination materials were prepared by Ray, Ellis and LaBrie Consulting, LLC.

The Whitehall Street Retail Historic District, which is centered on Peachtree Street SW (formerly Whitehall Street) and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive SW (formerly Hunter Street) and whose principle streets include Forsyth Street SW, Broad Street SW (formerly Market Street), Peachtree Street SW, and Mitchell Street SW, is the intact core of a larger historic commercial urban area in downtown Atlanta (Fulton County). When the tracks of the Georgia, Macon and Western and the Western and Atlantic railroads reached what was to become Atlanta in the 1840s, they formed the nucleus around which the rest of the city would be developed. Peachtree Street SW, formerly called Whitehall Street within the district until 1976, quickly became the primary commercial corridor for the city, fueling a local building boom that put the district at the forefront of commerce beginning in the mid-19th century. The district is characterized by the late-19th and early-20th century single and multiple retail and office buildings that line its streets.

The Whitehall Street Retail Historic District is significant under National Register Criterion A in the areas of commerce and community planning and development. The district is significant for commerce as it quickly developed into a commercial shopping corridor for the city and for its continued role as a major retail area in the “Heart of Atlanta” throughout the period of significance, as well as for the events that took place within the district that directly targeted and affected retail businesses, such as the 1960 student sit-ins at lunch counters during the American Civil Rights era and a strike by the Atlanta Sanitation Workers in 1970. The district is significant for community planning and development as it continues to exhibit the original street grid as platted by Allen W. Pryor in 1846. The Pryor Survey grid is tilted on a northeast-southwest axis to align with the railroad tracks on its northeast and northwest borders. The street pattern remains essentially the same with the exception of the addition of Broad Street in 1865, which did not disrupt the grid pattern. Viaducts constructed in the late 1920s raised the street level in the northern portion of the district along Alabama Street SW, but the street pattern remained intact. The district saw the burgeoning of Atlanta’s development, and contained many developmental firsts for the city including the first streets to be paved, the first sewers laid, and the first streetcar route.

The Whitehall Street Retail Historic District is also significant under Criterion C in the area of architecture, as it contains good examples of late-19th and early-20th century commercial building types and architectural styles, and is an example of a retail commercial district that has changed over time. Building types are one-part and two-part commercial block, two-part and three-part vertical block, and multiple retail, and have elements of identified architectural styles such as Italianate, Neoclassical Revival, Italian Renaissance Revival, Art Deco, and Art Moderne. Later buildings in the district were constrained by lot size, street orientation, and density already established in the area, which resulted in the character of the district today which still exhibits the scale of a pre-skyscraper, late-19th and early-20th century commercial district in an American urban environment. A number of well-known architects were involved in the design of buildings in the district, including Willis F. Denny, A. Ten Eyck Brown, and Edward F. Sibbert. Prominent Atlanta-based firms such as Morgan and Dillon; Hentz, Reid, and Adler; and Hentz, Adler, and Schutze designed buildings in the district. Storefront alterations throughout the period of significance illustrate the national trend of updating retail buildings in commercial districts as business owners wanted to present updated façades reflecting new styles, new technologies, and new building materials. Many of the buildings still exhibit their mid-20th century façade and storefront alterations and help to convey the evolution of retail aesthetic practices, and the district exhibits a high level of overall historic integrity to the period of significance.

Prominent department stores emerged from small shops and created several of America's first large businesses, a fact evidenced in Atlanta by the shopping emporiums that got their start on Whitehall Street including Rich’s and McClure’s. Later, national department store chains such as McCrory’s, Kress, and H.L. Green would settle there. As the concept of the five and dime stores emerged on the American shopping scene, they became a fixture on Whitehall Street as well, eventually outlasting the more upscale department stores. The district is being nominated at the local level of significance as it contains a range of late-19th and early-20th century commercial building types and architectural styles, as an example of a retail commercial district that has changed over time, and as a rare snapshot of Atlanta’s early growth and development.

The National Register of Historic Places is our country's official list of historic buildings, structures, sites, objects, and districts worthy of preservation. The National Register provides formal recognition of a property's architectural, historical, or archaeological significance. It also identifies historic properties for planning purposes, and insures that these properties will be considered in the planning of state or federally assisted projects. National Register listing encourages preservation of historic properties through public awareness, federal and state tax incentives, and grants. Listing in the National Register does not place obligations or restrictions on the use, treatment, transfer, or disposition of private property. 

The Historic Preservation Division (HPD) serves as Georgia’s state historic preservation office. Its mission is to promote the preservation and use of historic places for a better Georgia.  HPD’s programs include archaeology protection and education, environmental review, grants, historic resource surveys, tax incentives, the National Register of Historic Places, community planning and technical assistance. 

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For press inquiries contact Historic Preservation Division Outreach Program Manager Allison Asbrock at 770-389-7868 or allison.asbrock@dnr.ga.gov.