This site is dedicated to Stewart Avenue located in South West Atlanta, GA. Just as a simple matter of triage – if the names “Crystal Palace, Perkerson Park, The FirePlace Lounge, The Roman Lantern, Jolly Fox, Purple Onion, 72 Lanes, or FunTown” mean anything to you then you are probably in the right place. I say “probably” because it is likely you have done some Internet searching to determine if there is anyone who remembers these places and, more importantly, has anything interesting to share. It’s okay if you don’t want to admit to your current spouse, friends, or social group that you might have spent some time in these places (ha ha). But at this point I should point out that there are more wholesome references to the Stewart Avenue area which hearken back to a simpler time before the infamous early 70s “white flight” that triggered a general economic decline that has never really stopped. I’m talking about the slot car racing places in the space that became Shakey’s Pizza, or Caruso’s Italian restaurant, the Drive in Theater that became Arlans department store as well as the outdoor Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center that had many cool places, (e.g. Federal Bakery, Dipper Dan Ice Cream, Pet Jungle, and Orange Julius). That was in fact a kinder time that I will handle in another write up though for now let’s start with the grittier aspects of “The Avenue”, which is all anyone seems to remember anyway.
If The Avenue were a person it would be in jail or a mental institution or possibly both. In it’s heyday it was like a charming Mafioso who could appear to be your best friend and make you feel connected, buying you drinks, introducing you to women. But the moment you borrow money, which is what he has been setting you up for all along anyway, and find yourself unable to pay the principal, (let alone “the vig” ), then he will gladly grind you into dust while telling you, “Sorry, but I can’t have people thinking I’m soft”. The Avenue indulged most every vice at apparent low cost but there was always a time for collection, which could be years down the road or, as some found out the hard way, right there on the spot. The only thing consistent about The Avenue was its inconsistency. Beat downs for the smallest of infractions were common although anyone familiar with the territory understood the protocol and codes of behavior so the victims were usually of the flashy newcomer or loud mouth variety. However, the protocols in effect on one day might be completely ignored the next or reshaped in some way so as to rationalize spontaneous violent behavior. Also there were many loud mouths on The Ave it was just that they had taken the time to establish a support system to help protect them in case of conflict.
Let me be clear. I didn’t grow up NEAR Stewart Avenue I grew up ON Stewart Avenue and the difference is obvious to anyone who knows the area although for most people it’s not something one would normally lay claim to as an achievement. That’s okay. At the time most people wanted to protect their reputations and not screw up their chances for advancement that could lead to a predictable straight life though you would still find them at Dee Ford’s on “Nickel Beer Night” being paralytically drunk while listening to Dee work through one of his classics such as “I Want to Do Beautiful Things To You (In The Morning)”. The Avenue was mostly an antidote to boredom but it was easy to take it too far. A person seeking an innocent after work cocktail, (“Let’s go drink one” was a frequently heard invitation), could easily wind up at The Crystal Palace until 5 a.m. and, the next day, have only vague memories of activities that, if true, would require Miranda protection and an experienced criminal attorney should legal inquiries be made. Most people just wanted diversion and generic intoxication and were willing to take the consequences. A painter gets paint on his clothes and an electrician gets shocked so being on The Avenue would inevitably involve the accumulation of embarrassing experiences that could actually be pretty fun but had the potential for full on ugliness. As time went on and The Avenue got meaner the risk was greater especially given that a random drinking mate might have zero investment in the so called “straight life” thus a bloody barroom brawl resulting in a manslaughter charge was not a real problem for them. In some cases it could raise one’s credibility. It was just part of the territory.
Every day after school I rounded the corner of Langston turning left onto Stewart past Sylvan Motors and past the gaggle of hookers blurting out promises of carnal delights every time they saw me. Once I got to know them, (not in the Biblical sense I assure you), I might even stop now and then to exchange some banter as I moved on to work at Brothers Three package store located in a lot next to the 166 overpass just down from Stewart Lakewood Shopping Center. These women would amaze me with their tales of cheapskate johns, unimaginable perversions, and dreams of finding a way out of the life. Despite their sometimes soul crushing stories I always had a feeling of returning to a familiar, safe place – a place where I could be myself and experience life without censorship or as part of a sermon being delivered by a moralizing preacher who later that week would be sampling the pleasures offered by one of those ladies of the evening I encountered each day. (I would know because they would tell me). With the passing of each day it was as if I was being exposed to some cosmic ray that resulted in an aura the color of a neon beer sign that became noticeable to my friends at school. More than one person said I “corrupted” them though I was just a doorman to a demented party and what someone did after gaining access was on them. Early in life I came to understand that there are people who really enjoy being outraged and it’s all just an act. Their reactions of offense are just for show designed to convince themselves that they aren’t responsible for what is going on around them and maybe they aren’t. However, they could always leave the party but few did. In any case many later moved away when their families bolted to the suburbs in the early 70s, which is something my family probably would have done had we been able to afford it. Some of those people did come back for a visit – they had had a serious taste and loved to drop in now and then for some sweet action that could never be found in the suburbs.
Anyway this is just a “hello, is there anyone out there who can relate” kind of post and I’ve seen various Internet discussions on specific locales, such as Stewart Lakewood shopping center or The Southeastern Fair. I’ve contributed to a few of those blogs though I’m interested in more recognition for this part of town as there is a lot more to discuss and document than just the sleaze and party mentality that many associate with the area. I do want to get past that element as lots of families lived there (some still do) and it represented essential life experience for many of us who remained during a pivotal era for both the area in particular and the city of Atlanta itself. Many lessons were learned most of which have largely been ignored by existing city planners and neighborhood revival groups although I’m largely supportive of them and their efforts to bring things back if something like that is possible. I had to laugh when a young, hipster type told me about the “cool house” he had just bought “across from a place you’ve probably never heard about called Perkerson Park”. I asked what his address was and he flipped out when I told him about some graffiti in the basement of his house that a friend of mine and myself had put there back in 1974. I took a chance on assuming that the “artwork” was still there and indeed it was.
For the time being “The Avenue” lies dormant under the “new” name of Metropolitan Avenue which was given by City Hall after some Northside guys experienced a nasty bachelor party run-in with a transsexual hooker and his/her pimp. It was a classic consumer case of “we didn’t get what we paid for” although the “Returns department” issued a “lead refund”. So the City stepped in, closed down the the Alamo Plaza, (once a wholesome motel for families making the trip down to Florida down via Highway 41), repaired some potholes, did some repaving, and applied a new name with little expectation that anyone would buy in to the idea that it would change anything. But it was all that they could really do. I mean by that time it was all on ice anyway and it became like the end of a Japanese monster movie wherein Godzilla would slip down deep into the ocean to cool off until a future seismic event would disturb his slumber at which point he would reemerge hot for action. Will The Avenue ever return ? And if it does will it pick back up where it left off like a binge drinking uncle ready for a new bender or will it perhaps be ready for some much needed rehab ?
Prior to the economic recession the neighborhoods surrounding The Avenue such as Sylvan Hills and Capitol View were slated for gentrification and increased sales activity occurred before it all ground to a halt. Some developer was intrepid enough to erect a condominium complex across from what used to be Thoni’s gas station but the timing was bad and units didn’t sell as expected despite the touted proximity to the Airport and Downtown. Nearby East Point definitely experienced a revival and pockets of West End had some growth. But unfortunately, The Avenue remains an expansive barren automotive killing field where numerous former used car lots once stood. Even the prostitutes and petty thieves are gone – well most of them anyway. You can’t rip people off if there is no one to be ripped off. In any case there is much, much more to say about Stewart Avenue and this is just a start. Please feel free to contribute. © 2016 The Stewart Avenue Kid