This is an update to my Stewart Avenue Crime Time Part 1 post on what I believe to be a very important development for the Stewart Avenue / Metropolitan Parkway corridor. The City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs has just recently called for proposals to install art in and around the Zone 3 Police Precinct which is soon to be built at 2353 Metropolitan Parkway. Area residents, as well as the Police Chief, expect the precinct to contribute significantly to neighborhood safety but also to the revival of the area’s image. I find it interesting, and entirely appropriate, that the precinct will be located directly across from what used to be The Alamo Plaza where the nadir of Stewart Avenue took place in 1993. As an area native, I appreciate what I think is a strategic decision though even if it wasn’t, it represents a stabilizing bookend to that tragic event which I covered in Let’s Go Drink One. I’ll provide an excerpt here: (I know – how arrogant to quote myself though it is kind of relevant)
Some North side guys experienced a nasty bachelor party run-in with a transsexual hooker and his/her pimp. It was the 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 traveling families), 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.
The Stewart Avenue name had already become quite offensive to city leaders of the time and the resulting double murder at The Alamo (sounds like the name of a movie) was the proverbial last straw. Check the Atlanta Time Machine page for some more details. Atlanta likes to change street names as if that alone will fix things but I sincerely hope the precinct makes an impact. Logistically, the location is excellent as it provides plenty of room for expansion as well as rapid access to a number of areas. While I can’t be sure, I think this might be the essential turnaround event for this area to flourish. In-town properties are scarce and the Metropolitan corridor is minutes from Downtown or the Airport with almost no traffic when compared to all other parts of Atlanta. Lastly, if you are new to this blog, it’s pretty much devoted to the history (albeit a personalized one) of Southwest Atlanta so feel free to look around.
This is Part 2 of “Stewart Avenue Crime Part 1” so you might want to check that out before proceeding but, hey, do whatever you want ! I got a chuckle from this article wherein APD Chief Ericka Shields offered her opinion on the “dark days” of Stewart Avenue.
“We had people from all over the state coming to Stewart Avenue, and it wasn’t for shopping either. [A] Majority of the cases that we made involved those who lived nowhere near here”
What the Chief describes is the classic situation of people cruising an area for “services” they would never tolerate in or near their own back yard though feel entitled to as long as it’s in another neighborhood located far away. This is a variation (albeit a far more serious one) of the practice of cutting though residential neighborhoods during a rush hour commute but then calling for blood should it occur on your street. Once an area is perceived as being disinterested in its own safety (although that is hardly ever the case) it becomes ongoing justification for outlying city residents to ignore the fact that decent people might still reside in the area. And just because they lack the financial and political clout to address the blight and crime doesn’t mean they want (or deserve) for the problem to perpetuate itself. It’s like once a landfill winds up someplace, the outsiders want it to stay there forever because “God knows we don’t want it where we live”.
I was stingy with my sympathies for those caught soliciting prostitutes as it was their ongoing patronage that contributed to the decline of my neighborhood. It’s tough to watch what was once a thriving, prosperous area go down the tubes and when you encounter people who are enthusiastically contributing to that it’s easy to cop an attitude. I was probably more tolerant than most but others, especially business owners (mostly car lots), took great delight in the misfortunes of outsiders seeking illegal action who wound up getting ripped off, roughed-up, arrested, or maybe even all three. There is a rhythm unique to any urban region and those out of sync can easily be identified and exploited. Stewart Avenue had a rhythm as did Ponce de Leon and so did Moreland Ave – at least before the gentrification. And while they were similar, you didn’t necessarily get a pass at “Southern Comfort” just because you liked to hang out at “The Crystal Palace” or “Ray Lee’s Blue Lantern.” While all the inhabitants might not get along we did in fact recognize each other as part of some post-Appalachian, urban-hillbilly ecosystem though it was no guarantee of peace. I’m reminded of Hunter Thompson’s comment in “Hell’s Angels”:
[Nelson] Algren called them “fierce craving boys” with “a feeling of having been cheated.” Freebooters, armed and drunk—a legion of gamblers, brawlers and whorehoppers.
Which is to say that despite a common regional lineage or shared socioeconomic status, the guy you might be drinking with might easily turn on you because of some perceived slight once the liquor had taken hold. So then, how do you think such a person would react to an outsider ?
Caught With The Pants Down In The Wrong Part of Town
Not all of those seeking “action” were outsiders but plenty were and many Cobb County, Ward Cleaver types would take the “long way” to and from Atlanta Airport airport with a stop for some action. And, if they had a flat tire or, worse, got assaulted by a hustler, it would involve an awkward phone call for help. There would be guys coming into Brothers Three or Banks Liquor trying to make you part of an alibi by using the store phone and telling their wives (or whomever):
My car broke down and I pulled into this store and am using their phone. Hey, What’s the name of this place ? Yea, Three Brothers ? Oh, Brothers Three. No, No, don’t worry I’ll call the tow truck from here. I gotta get off the phone now. Let’s talk later.
Actually their car was in the back parking lot of an Adult Bookstore where they had hoped to have met someone but that was all conveniently left out of the conversation. But the work was far from over as they had to cook up a plausible explanation as to why they were in the area in the first place. This was almost always a variation of “I-75 was packed so I got off onto Stewart Avenue and got lost.” Let me be clear. I could not be less interested in someone’s proclivities and personal vices just that they should pursue them closer to their own damn home and not attempt to sell off such an obvious bullshit story. Sometimes, we would have wives call us back and ask questions because their intuition told them that something was wrong.
On occasion an area native would get caught in a way that might expose a formerly hidden lifestyle. Getting nabbed with a hooker could be a problem but much more so if getting caught soliciting men which happened to at least two area business owners. Neither recovered from the resulting shame. I was surprised to see a highly respected teacher of mine cruising the Avenue which didn’t result in any major consequence until he was later busted for participation in an organized prostitution ring. He was successful and cultured but his yearnings for the flesh brought him down. Women weren’t immune from lapses in judgement either. My own history involves being approached by more than one married woman with a yen for younger men. They didn’t take rejection lightly which might later involve them telling their husband that I was the one who had approach them ! That could be incredibly awkward for all involved and I was grateful for having a number of surly co-workers glad to work as my advocate in these cases.
Stewart Avenue always had a significant degree of ambient crime including bar fights, vandalism, and the occasional mugging that might take place down towards University Avenue. The area winos aroused little interest except from angry car lot owners who didn’t like them breaking into cars to seek refuge from the cold or rain. Nothing worse than opening a car for a potential customer only to find a scabrous, urine-soaked drunk writhing on the front seat. Yanking them out and hosing them down was a favored form of revenge but it’s not as if they were guilty of any major crime. One of the more enduring winos was “Mike” who was rumored to have connections to steady money which might have been true since he kept going strong despite obvious health problems. That he was a slave to alcohol did not prevent him from refusing offers of beer even when in the grip of Delirium tremens. A can of Budweiser or Pabst Blue Ribbon simply didn’t pack the punch of his beloved Barton’s American Blended Whiskey. In a pinch he would accept some MD 20 20 or a bottle of gin but beer was for weaker men.
There was lots of fighting going on mostly at night and in the parking lots of various bars and liquor stores. Some of these altercations were a source of great amusement even to the participants themselves who would realize how foolish they must look taking swings that never landed. I watched a fight in the parking lot of Banks Liquor make it’s way to the other side of Stewart Avenue into the Adult Bookstore parking lot where the drunken pugilists (three of them) decided to call it quits since no one was willing to “tap out”. The fattest of the three decided to retreat in a peculiar manner by scaling the fence surrounding the 166 underpass upon which his pants leg got caught resulting in his being suspended upside down. Eventually his pants leg tore and he fell squarely onto his head. And like a bug with a tough exoskeleton he somehow scuttled up the sloping pavement to rest underneath the bridge. His was hyperventilating and vomiting. I had a pair of binoculars that someone had pawned for some Scotch so I could verify that he was sliced up pretty bad. Someone called the cops who showed up and basically screamed at the guy who responded with enough force to convince them that he was okay.
“Stick-up kid, but look what you done did”
Now if you want to talk “real crime”, there were holdups such as the one I was involved in at Brothers 3 wherein some guys busted through the sliding side door while slamming my co-worker Larry in the head with the butt of a shotgun. It was a move designed to signal serious intent and it worked. After dropping Larry, I saw them heading towards me so I just hit the floor as did an older customer and a young black guy named Ron who looked like running back Jim Brown. None of us had any money of which to speak and while they had made a bloody example of Larry they left everyone else alone except to verbally berate us and threaten certain death should we not remain on the ground for at least 30 minutes after their departure. (We were up inside of two). Their take was around $170 and a six pack of Schlitz Malt liquor which, in my opinion, reflected a lack of ambition. The main guy was an impossibly skinny, pimply faced black dude with a floppy hat who had come in earlier to case the joint. He had told me that I looked like Rod Stewart (completely untrue) and it was such an out of context remark that I mentioned it to Larry, but we just put it down to the guy being a flake job – which he was. In the aftermath of the robbery Ron told me that he knew one of the guys and guaranteed that he was going “handle it” though I never received confirmation that he did (not that he owed anyone). In any case, he turned out to be a cool guy who would drop in just to say hello now and then to shoot the breeze. I suppose there is something about being in a tough situation with someone that can help form a bond. He was definitely the kind of guy you would want to be robbed with – assuming you had to be robbed at all.
The problem with the incipient crime was that legitimate businesses simply trying to maintain or make a come back could do very little to combat the growing negativity associated with the area that persists till this day. As a prime example, Caruoso’s Italian restaurant attempted something of a reprise at the intersection of Langston and Stewart next to the new Kroger that itself had displaced Earl Bennet’s Trailer park – a place I detail in this post. However, no one wanted to drive in from other parts of town especially when there were plenty of eating options all over town. Even the famous Pilgreen’s restaurant located on Lee Street struggled to keep them coming in but they at least lasted longer. Atlanta had a problem with crime in the 70s which included on-again, off-again notoriety as the murder capital of the nation. Going back to the article referenced at the beginning, the Chief said the following:
When the name was changed to Metropolitan Parkway, it made many people cynical, and now the corridor has numerous potential for great things to happen. Our goal with the precinct is to integrate it into the community as we will have meeting spaces for local organizations and anticipate having officers moving within the area
I do agree that there is a great deal of potential but unfortunately that’s ALL there is at this point as no major real estate moves have been made. Very odd given the corridor’s proximity to the movie studios and the music amphitheater along with an abundance of cheap land that is also very convenient to downtown and the Airport. The demand for inside-the-perimeter living would suggest that it’s only a matter of time before the area blows up but it still remains dormant for the time being.
Note that this will be Part one of a two part series on the role that crime played in the demise of Stewart Avenue and the resulting negative reputation that persists until today.
In October of 2017, plans were announced to create a Zone 3 Atlanta Police Precinct on a square of land close to the former location of The Fire Place Lounge (an attempt at creating a “classy joint” on Stewart Avenue). The proximal area contains at least one new gas station which presages a nascent form of progress to which the Precinct would add a sense of safety. For those who remember the area in the 70s I think the new precinct would be across the street from what was once Thoni’s (pronounced “Thone-Eyes”) gas station – a dirt cheap but poorly maintained fueling establishment. The last time the city paid significant attention to this area resulted in the name change to “Metropolitan Parkway” which was a ham-handed attempt to “push the reset button” on south side history. The motivating event (and nadir of what was already a bottoming out period) was a bachelor party turned double murder that took place at the once wholesome Alamo Plaza. Some guys didn’t like it that the prostitute they had hired turned out to be a transvestite so payment became an issue and the pimp fired off some fatal shots. Overreaction all around. After that, no one wanted to know anything about Stewart Avenue. Anyway I think the precinct relocation project makes logistic sense as it would provide convenient and rapid access to many areas within Zone 3 while making future expansion much easier than it would be were the Precinct office to remain at its present location on Cherokee Avenue.
Zone 3 has its own Urban Dictionary entry which I suppose is a form of recognition “reppin’ the O-3 all day long, bitches!” although the entry has questions as to whether East Point and College Park are part of any Zone when they, as cities, maintain their respective police forces. Speaking of East Point. When I was a kid it was one of those cities with oppressive law enforcement that preyed on residents as a source of income. Speed trapping “outsiders” is one thing but leaning heavily into your own community is another level altogether. In my experience they preyed mostly on younger drivers and generally anyone who seemed incapable of hiring a decent defense attorney. Things that Atlanta City police would generally NOT pursue (driving with no shirt, loud muffler, cracked windshield, busted license plate bulb), would be pounced upon by East Point’s finest and if there just happened to be some underage drinkers in the car or a pack of rolling papers then all the better. A friend of mine was pulled over for “singing while driving” ! The cop’s analysis was, “Acting the fool like you did coulda caused a wreck. That rock music is too loud anyways”. Ah yes officer, so was it perhaps that “hippie music” that attracted your attention with the hopes of finding a “lid of grass” or two upon which to base your application for sergeant ?
For those who forgot or just weren’t around then, the State of Georgia used to have an annual car inspection requirement that could easily be met by slipping some extra cash to the “inspector” (usually a bored-out-his-mind gas station attendant) who would, for enough money, deem a go-kart as being fit for the road. I once assiduously studied the inspection requirements and walked through the parking lot at Stewart Lakewood shopping Center with the checklist in hand. It didn’t take long to realize that few automobiles could legitimately pass the evaluation or remain in good enough condition over time to comply for more than a few months. So almost anyone could be “legally” stopped. Cops could say, “I stopped you because you car is unsafe to operate – I could impound your vehicle right now”. So then, the reason for the stop could be to create the reasonable suspicion required to make the stop in the first place ! (If you just experienced a “what the fuck” moment then congratulations). While the inspection law might not have been conceived specifically to bypass the 4th amendment rights of citizens it most certainly was exploited by various municipal law enforcement groups (almost always smaller cities) to do exactly that. Once the state abandoned the annual inspection approach and moved to the emissions model then things improved considerably but it took some time.
Fairness requires me to say that the Atlanta City Police didn’t really engage in this behavior nearly as much as did East Point, College Park, and the Ga Highway Patrol. Probably because Atlanta Police had its own internal problems and they could always find plenty of felonies to address thus eliminating the need to build a budding (no pun intended) career on hassling long hairs and returning Vietnam veterans. As an example of this different attitude, I was, at the time, driving a junked out, barely-held-together-with-bondo Pontiac Le Mans that was so visually offensive that an Atlanta City Cop pulled up next to me just to say, “I could write you a bunch of tickets but your car is a form of entertainment to me – it makes me laugh whenever I see it”. And then he sped off. I didn’t know whether to be insulted or thankful. Bondo was used to fix holes and dings in the body of a car. The idea was to fill, sand down, and paint but for those of us with real clunkers there could actually be more bondo filler on and in the car body than actual metal. And if you didn’t care to paint the car (or have the money to do so) then it looked all patchwork-like (see picture) especially so if there was an abundance of rust which could produce a kind of car leprosy effect. I had so much rust on the car that I made sure to get an updated tetanus shot.
Back in the 70s the police didn’t do much in terms of patrolling on Stewart Avenue at least in my experience. Once the frequency of low-level street crime reaches a certain level in any area the cops start to ignore it because they realistically cannot address it in any meaningful way. Plus, they get the idea that the community isn’t really doing much to help itself so why bother ? The city then decides to redirect police resources to other locales where complaints are being made by well-heeled citizens whose voice might more easily be heard in the Mayor’s Office. It’s a true sign of transition when cops start blaming you for being a victim of petty crime. “So why were you walking around late a night anyway ? What did you expect ?”. There is some tragedy here in that domestic violence winds up being all too common in these environments and if someone doesn’t have much money then it becomes very difficult to “stay somewhere else” even for a night or two while things cool off at home. I would see women from time to time with bruises and black eyes stroll into the store avoiding eye contact. It was clear something wasn’t working at home but what recourse did they have ? Many of them didn’t work or if they did there wasn’t enough money to leave. This is why some of the waitresses up at the Huddle House would spontaneously leave town with a truck driver. While such a move could look completely irresponsible it could have been the very thing that kept them out of the hospital (or worse).
Whew. I got off track there. So back to East Point…. I had the misfortune of rear-ending a friend of mine. His car I mean. So I got a court date in front of the infamous “Judge Duffy”, a well-known hater of long hairs and, in my view, probably anyone who had NOT participated in one of the World Wars. (I guess The Korean War too). As we sat awaiting the case, an unhappy defendant put on an exhibition of flagrant courtroom defiance:
“Don’t make no difference what you gone do Judge. I ain’t gone bow down to you. In fact YOU da one that gone bow down to ME”.
The courtroom erupted into laughter not because of what the guy had said, but because of to whom he had spoken. Duffy went apoplectic and his gavel oscillated faster than a piston in Richard Petty’s Plymouth at the Dixie 500. By the time order was restored, the lunatic had been dragged out by the bailiffs. I had also been laughing just because everyone else had but then Duffy calls my case and is staring straight at me. “Oh no – he saw me laugh”. He quickly asked if the damage had been addressed (it had) after which he slammed the gavel and shouted, “$35 or 10 days”. So I realize that he has to offer an alternative to the fine in case a person doesn’t have money. But 10 days ? I mean 3 days I could see. Maybe 5. But 10 ? It was then I noticed that the courtroom clock read straight 10 a.m. Hmmmm. Of course, I chose to pay the fine rather than become a guest of the East Point jail which, as I was told by an indigent defendant, “wasn’t really that bad”. “Besides”, he said, “I could use the rest. My old lady is driving me crazy”. I never thought of jail as a possible respite from marriage but perhaps his relationship had some quirks not commonly found in the typical union. So much for connubial bliss. It was also helpful to know that, “No one does the full-time anyway unless you make trouble. You would do at most 4 days out of 10“. Good info but I still had plans that did not involve eating jailhouse food.
There was some intersection of interests between East Point and Atlanta City Police relative to an area in West End called Dimmock Street which was a “stop and cop” – a place to purchase weed typically the absolute worst quality available (so I was told). It was so well-known to police that they would mess with the dealers in the winter by rolling up hard and extinguishing the flames from the burning barrels the weed merchants had going just to keep warm. The dealers would scamper like roaches as the cops blew in and laughed triumphantly as they doused the fire. Sure, they would make arrests now and then but it was just as likely to be customers as dealers. A lot of the customer traffic came from College Park and East Point so the respective police departments of those cities would be on the lookout for cars with loads of “young punks” to roust on the suspicion that they were “holding” something especially if they were coming down Lee Street (which turns into Main Street) from West End. See, going through West End towards downtown was a favored route to rock concerts at The Omni. And while not everyone was interested in Dimmock Street (or what could be bought there) the cops didn’t care and assumed that any group of young people coming from that direction after a certain hour at night just had to be up to no good. Going back to the inspection thing – a noisy or smokey tailpipe would be all that was necessary to pull someone over.
I’m going to end Part 1 here as I’ll need to transition to the more serious types of crime and how it impacted the area. I don’t want to cram too much into one post so I’ll post Part 2 soon.