This will solve everything — or so a special section in the Sunday, October 14, 1964 edition of The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution assures us. Atlanta can keep growing. The 2-mile Downtown Connector has opened and will assist in the go-go development of the central city.
Major League Baseball was coming to Atlanta. So was the National Football League. First National Bank was building a 41-story tower at Five Points. Atlanta was pulling way ahead of Birmingham as the regional capitol of the southeast.
Traffic was heavy on downtown streets as drivers moved between the old South Expressway and Northeast Expressway. The downtown streets carried traffic at a glacial pace. The 8-lane connector would move people and goods through the city with more speed and efficiency.
The Journal and Constitution in those days were regarded as boosters of business bordering on Babbittry. The headline to the special section’s front page story proclaimed “2-Mile Section Unclogs Arteries to Atlanta’s Heart.” The story, filed by reporter Frank Wells, quoted Rawson Haverty, president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce as not only being optimistic about the improvements for downtown but also for other parts of the city.
“People who have lived in hard-to-get-to areas will have easy and fast access to the remainder of the city, and the growth and development of many of these areas, which because of (previously) poor access have been thwarted, should mushroom and grow basically.”
“Grow basically.” Okay, whatever. The What’s-Good-for-General-Motors-is-Good-for-America creed had its own application in Atlanta. Another story on the section’s front page stated, “It’s a Success, Say Construction Experts.”
One would think all of Atlanta’s traffic problems were solved forever. Atlanta’s central business district and adjacent areas appeared as the south’s new land of milk and honey.
But that wasn’t the case everywhere along the connector’s path. Areas that were mostly or all black were cleared for highway expansion, as well as for Atlanta Stadium and the Atlanta Civic Center. The connector cut right through Auburn Avenue, which had been called “the richest Negro street in the world” by Fortune magazine in 1956. Auburn Avenue lost much of its retail district and languished for decades. Babbittry ruled a few blocks west while a thriving and important black community found itself in a Dickensian environment. Politicians, civic leaders and the city’s newspapers failed to spread the gospel of business success equally.
An advertisement inside the special section congratulates the officials of the “Expressway System of Atlanta.” Placing the ad was the Continental Wrecking Corporation which participated in the building of the connector. The ad copy reads:
During the expressway site-clearing years, Continental took down hundreds of buildings by many methods. Some were even moved by our house-moving division and rebuilt at new locations. This included homes from Atlanta’s once finest residential section on Capitol Avenue. Among these was the old Piedmont Hospital complex.
That’s quite the advertising message. Atlantans are usually ashamed of or at least hesitant to discuss the city’s tradition of tearing down old structures, many of them historic. The Continental Wrecking Corporation was in the business of tearing things down. Naturally, they embraced that tradition.