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Column: Subtle improvements a smart play for history center
by Thornton Kennedy
Northside Neighbor Columnist
April 17, 2013 05:10 PM | 2181 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
Sheffield Hale didn’t wait long to make his presence felt.

A little more than a year ago, March of last year to be precise, the Atlanta History Center named Hale president and CEO. While the title was new, he had been hard at work on a $27 million capital campaign meant to “transform” the center, according to the news release announcing his appointment.

First came the hideous gates that closed off the campus from West Paces Ferry Road depending on the day of the week, the time of day and who was manning the door that particular day.

The large rolling metal gates may have been an attempt to improve the flow of traffic on West Paces, where the center is located, or perhaps they were meant to keep visitors from trying to merge onto the busy thoroughfare, but they sent the wrong message. On a subliminal level they told the public at large that they were not welcome.

The improvement was subtle but very much appreciated by those of us who would like nothing more than to see throngs of people lining up outside the front door to learn about our rich history. Every little bit helps. Apparently the gates were just the beginning.

Soon the center took down the last house on the block fronting West Paces, a home that impeded the view of the center from the corner of Andrews Drive and West Paces. The center sign, a flag pole and some cypress trees largely served as its front door to the world because that last residential home was in between the corner and the museum.

The house went down quickly and quietly, and the grounds around the John Fentener van Vlissingen wing, which houses the Centennial Olympic Games Museum, underwent a dramatic transformation. First, the woods were cleaned up, and then the cypress trees came down, and then the sign and the flag pole, until there was a perfect view of the Olympic wing in all its glory.

It had for too long been shrouded on the center’s southwest corner. My little secret for many years is that I regularly tell friends and family to walk the grounds of the history center on pretty days. One of the most beautiful features the center has to offer is its 33 acres.

This includes a garden in front of the Kenan Research Center, a quarry garden and the trails around the Swan House. And there is so much more. We don’t have an abundance of parks in Buckhead, so I am always encouraging people to just walk around the center’s campus. I have no idea if that is against the rules.

I have never asked but I am sure to run afoul of some administrators. It seems I am not the only one, though. The overarching plan for the campus, and one of the drivers for the capital campaign Hale headed before being named CEO, was to “adapt and transform our visitor experience for all ages, cultures and learning styles to tell a more complete history of our city and meet the needs of the growing Atlanta metropolitan area in the decades to come,” again according to the release.

This means opening itself up and being more inviting. It is a smart play. Already, just by seeing the opening of the corner and the removal of the gates, I am excited to not only walk the grounds this spring, but to buy some tickets and experience again what the center has to offer on the inside.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and can be reached at

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