Eiseman Facade

Somewhere I heard a story about that facade at Five Points station being there only because of an agreement the city of Atlanta had to make with Eiseman. As the following article shows, that is merely an urban legend.

Atlanta Constitution Fri 8 April 1977

MARTA Saves Sculpture For Transit Station Wall By Sharon Bailey

For years, Atlanta's pigeon population and perhaps an occasional passerby who craned his neck to look six stories up were the main admirers of the elaborate terra-cotta sculpture on the old Eiseman Building on Whitehall Street.

Guarding the street were the building's two gargoyles (hideously ugly, in the finest gargoyle tradition) and two female statuettes (amply contoured, in the finest classical tradition), all intertwined with leaves and flowers and fruit and nuts.

The building vanished a year ago, leveled along with adjacent structures by a MARTA demolition contractor to make the hole that will eventually become the Five Points rapid transit station.

But the gargoyles, the statuettes, the pineapples and roses and scrolls, were not destroyed by the wrecking ball. Instead, workmen removed the decorative facade piece by piece so that it could be reassembled and used within the station as a major focal point.

John Carlsten, an Atlanta architect, first came up with the idea of incorporating the turn-of-the-century sculpture into the station, where it will occupy a space 67 feet wide and 33 feet high.

At the time, Carlsten was helping to prepare an architectural guide to Atlanta for the national convention of the American Institute of Architects, held here in 1975.

"We were studying which buildings were worth noting and came to this one. We realized it was doomed, but felt something needed to be done about it", recalls Carlsten.

Six stories high, the building was constructed in 1901 to house a haberdashery and clothing store at 47 Whitehall Street, in those days a prestigious commercial address.

Instead of a "last ditch effort of lying down in front of the bulldozers we thought we could incorporate some of the facade into the (station) design", Carlsten says.

At the time he was part of a team assembled by Finch-Heery, an architectural joint venture, to design the Five Points facility under a MARTA subcontract. The transit agency readily accepted the suggestion, he recalls.

It fell to Paul Turco, another architect on the team, to oversee the removal of the detailed drawings that will be followed to reconstruct it within the station.

Much of the facade is handsculpted terra cotta, a clay product somewhat similar to brick except for an exterior glaze.

Using a miniature jackhammer, workmen dismantled the facade into hundreds of pieces -- 844 in all. Each was numbered, photographed, drawn to scale and packed in wood shavings for storage in a MARTA warehouse.

Most of the facade escaped injury, but there was an occasional mishap. A gargoyle lost his crown and nose when a jackhammer slipped and sheared them off. And parts of the sculpture -- including arms on the female statuettes -- were already missing.

Tearing the building down, workmen found one of the missing arms and a hand. The facade will be repaired as necessary during the reconstruction, with a sculptor creating still-missing parts out of Fiberglas or some other material. The repairs won't show, explains Turco, since the entire facade must be cleaned and painted with special masonry paint to restore its original cream color.

"The pigeons roosted up in it and so forth. The grime is crusted on there", notes the architect. Too soft for sandblasting, the surface will be cleaned with steam before painting.

MARTA patrons will get a close-up look at the sculpture never enjoyed by sidewalk pedestrians in days gone by. If they look hard, they may discover the outline of a dog's head entwined in the intricate leaf pattern. "The sculptor was just having fun when he did it", theorizes Turco.

And they'll also be privy to a new view of the semi-nude female statuettes, whose realistic figures "must have caused some comment at the time they were put up", muses the architect.

"We just wondered how they got by with this in the early 1900s", he adds, recalling an uproar in the mid-1950s over the design of a goddess of plenty which adorns the state agriculture building. A public furor resulted in a carved veil being added to partially cover the goddess' upper torso.

The facade was originally produced by the now-defunct Atlanta Terra Cotta Co. headquartered in East Point.

Work began on the station Thu 12 Feb 1976 and the North/South platform had a grand opening on Fri 4 Dec 1981. That same day the Garnett and Peachtree Center stations opened; Civic Center was under construction.