Atlanta Varsity – Vintage Midtown Art
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The Atlanta Varsity is a landmark just by virtue of its existence. After all, it’s been part of Atlanta’s midtown since the 1920’s. In its original location on Luckie Street it was known as the Yellow Jacket. And yes, the Ramblin’ Wreck out front is a nod to its strong roots as a hangout for Georgia Tech students. The Yellow Jacket outgrew its first location and the owner, Frank Gordy, had bigger plans to own a chain of restaurants. Thus when its new location at the corner of North Avenue and Spring Street opened in 1929, it was known simply as The Varsity.
The chain has grown so far to eight locations, but the Atlanta Varsity is the original, and to my eyes the most beautiful. The current appearance of the Atlanta Varsity dates to a 1940 renovation. That’s when the exterior of the building was covered in stucco and given its now-classic streamline moderne style. Streamline Moderne is a late Art Deco movement. And there’s just something about that design that still speaks to me. When I see one of these beautiful old survivors, I hope that no one ever tampers with perfection! After all they are still trying to mimic this look in modern retro diners and restaurants.
The Atlanta Varsity has changed over the years. The curbside service of the original drive-in has greatly diminished while the interior seating capacity has grown. But no matter how many cars can be served outside, the Varsity will always be a beautiful vintage drive-in, you know? It just has that mid-century modern drive-in restaurant feel no matter what. And in a city that’s constantly growing, it’s no small feat simply to survive. The Varsity lost part of its parking lot to the I-75/85 connector through downtown Atlanta. And the Varsity Jr on Lindbergh, a John Portman designed-building, is utterly gone now. When I lived in Atlanta, I passed the Varsity Jr. almost every day so it’s hard to imagine. I’m sure Atlanta has changed even more for the people who grew up there in decades past.
That’s why it’s so necessary to celebrate the iconic places like the original Atlanta Varsity that manage to survive and thrive well past their contemporaries. These are the places that are truly local traditions. I’ve no doubt there’s many Tech students eating at the Varsity right now who are at least second and third generations of their family to dine there? The history and that great vintage style was why I chose to do this particular piece of Midtown art. After all as anyone who wanders through my work can see, I love history and architecture. The Atlanta Varsity has both!
Hope you might take a moment to share your own story. If you’ve found your way here, I suspect that you must either love classic Art Deco period architecture? Or you have a personal connection with this little corner of Midtown Atlanta? Or maybe some of column A and some of column B? I would love to hear your tales of the Atlanta Varsity and your take on my vintage style artwork.
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