It is a contrast to the November and December ritual of tens of thousands of frantic holiday shoppers descending on the area daily in hopes of finding the perfect gifts for their loved ones, creating a traffic quagmire that is to be avoided at all costs.
Lenox Square is credited as the first “mall” in Georgia. It was developed by Ed Noble and opened in 1959 as a contemporary, open-air shopping center complete with a bowling alley, Rich’s and a grocery store. With the tagline “Everything’s There at Lenox,” it seemed everything was. Today it is owned and operated by Simon Property Group. Lenox Square has more than 250 stores and more than 1.5 million square feet. Noble’s original mall was 80,000 square feet.
To appreciate the juxtaposition of what the property was to what it is today, look no further than John K. Ottley, the president of First National Bank. Ottley came to Atlanta by way of Columbus, Miss., where he was born. He arrived here in his 20s, working for Capt. J.W. English at American Trust and Banking Co., a forerunner of First National.
Starting out as a cashier, he would rise to become the head of the largest financial institution south of New York. He helped to establish a Federal Reserve Bank District in Atlanta and served two terms as director. He was recognized around the country as a leader in banking and finance as well, receiving an appointment from President Herbert Hoover. He also served on the boards of just about every major Atlanta company.
Ottley’s was a life of hard work. When he wanted to relax he headed to his country home where the mall sits today, on the corner of Peachtree and Lenox roads.
It was there Ottley reveled in his greatest passion: animals. According to Franklin Garrett’s book, “Atlanta and Environs,” his show horses — many which he personally trained — received more than 300 awards. The property was crisscrossed with trails for horseback riding and even had its own riding ring. He also had a fondness for thoroughbred dogs, which he raised there as well.
He had purchased the land, which had formerly been used for farming and before that for grinding corn by the Creek Indians, at the turn of the 19th century. The property was much different then. It was an elevated hill parallel to Lenox Road.
When he decided to move there full-time — with the advent of the automobile the trip became less arduous — he built a 12-room home on the hill called Joyeuse. A great civic leader, Ottley hosted many large social gatherings and the grand home became renowned for its Sunday suppers which drew friends and family to the estate.
Several elements of the bank were used in the stables and the dog runs. Old teller cages were used for the stalls, for example. The riding ring would be in the vicinity of the J.W. Marriott Atlanta Buckhead hotel today.
There is at least one element that harkens back to those early times. Ottley’s property had its own train stop. The Air Belle Line stopped at the family station on the back end of the estate. Today that same area welcomes hordes of shoppers as a MARTA station.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at email@example.com.