One of Atlanta’s most desirable neighborhoods in the late 19th century before falling into disrepair in the 1960s, the Old Fourth Ward is also where Martin Luther King, Jr., grew up (you can visit his boyhood home) and honed his preaching style, delivering sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
In recent years, the “O4W” has become a striking symbol of intelligent gentrification in the Georgia capital, a place where abandoned warehouses are being converted to lofts and small businesses are thriving–while the authentic flavor of this historic area remains preserved.
Here are ten reasons to love this ever evolving neighborhood:
1. Ponce City Market. Housed in the former Sears, Roebuck & Company building, this mixed-use development is poised to become the city’s next hot spot for eating, shopping, working, and living. Modeled after Chelsea Market in New York City, Ponce City Market has already lined up top-shelf retail and restaurants to fill the massive space.
2. The Atlanta Streetcar. Atlanta’s public transportation system isn’t up to par with most major metropolises in America, but the Atlanta Streetcar is a good start toward getting it there. It’s also rekindling a link with the city’s past, when electric streetcars connected the community. The first phase of the project will link the MLK National Historic Site with Centennial Olympic Park, where further transfers can be made at the MARTA rail and bus lines.
3. The BeltLine. It started with a Georgia Tech graduate student’s proposal to transform outmoded railroad tracks line into a walking and cycling path through Atlanta. Now, the BeltLine is becoming a reality. The most commonly used section is the Eastside Trail between Piedmont Park and Irwin Street, which goes past Ponce City Market. This area is home to frequent art installations, as well as restaurants with open-air seating.
4. Epic Southern Brunch. Sunday brunch is one of the things at which the South excels, and no neighborhood does it better than the Old Fourth Ward. Head to Parish or Two Urban Licks, where you can stuff your face with eggs Benedict while watching the drama unfold on the BeltLine below. Highland Bakery is the ultimate in decadence, with French toast as big as your head, while diner-chic Home Grown, on the border of Reynoldstown, serves up the best biscuits in town.
5. Edgewood Avenue Nightlife. Atlanta’s young and hip used to make a beeline for Buckhead to wet their whistles, but Edgewood Avenue is fast becoming the place to find affordable dive bars with authentic ATL edge. Perhaps the best example is Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium (shortened to Church), where guests can people-watch or play table tennis while wearing choir robes. Mother is another popular bar, as is Joystick, where you can play your favorite childhood arcade games while sipping craft beers.
6. Jackson Street Bridge. Fans of The Walking Dead will immediately recognize the stretch over Freedom Parkway from the opening sequence of the show when Rick Grimes enters the abandoned city on horseback. The unassuming Jackson Street Bridge is frequently used as a backdrop for amateur photo shoots for fans and those looking for the best view of the skyline at all hours.
7. Street Art. Graffiti used to be an urban scourge; now it’s being embraced as a means of transforming otherwise drab brick buildings into works of art. This is especially true in the Old Fourth Ward, with the annual Living Walls, the City Speaks conference bringing in artists from all over the U.S. to beautify streets like Edgewood Avenue, Carroll Street, and Krog Street Tunnel.
8. Local Markets. Sweet Auburn Curb Market, established in the aftermath of the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917, is where generations of locals have gone to purchase fresh food. Dozens of restaurant stalls–notably Bell Street Burritos, Arepa Mia, and Grindhouse Killer Burgers–have also opened up. The Freedom Farmers Market takes a more traditional approach, setting up Saturdays in the parking lot of the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum (one of Georgia’s native sons). Pick up produce and meats from local farmers, as well as baked goods, fresh pasta, and ready-to-eat fare.
9. History: The Old Fourth Ward is one of Atlanta’s oldest areas. That’s why developers are taking pains to preserve that heritage while giving historical–but dilapidated–buildings new identities in the modern age. Ponce City Market is a prime example of this, as is the Masquerade, a popular indoor-outdoor music venue that occupies the old Dupre Excelsior Mill complex. Get a taste of what the neighborhood looked like before gentrification began in full force by touring the Sweet Auburn Historic District.
10. Community Pride. Most Atlantans are proud of their city, but O4W residents take even greater pride in their neighborhood. They come out to support events like the Georgia Marathon, which passes through the area, with pom-poms and signs. They also throw a great party, with festivals such as the Old Fourth Ward Arts Festival, Sweet Auburn Springfest, and One Musicfest.
Caroline Eubanks is a freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia. After spending years in Charleston and Sydney, she’s back in her hometown showing others what it has to offer. Catch up with Eubanks on her blogs, Caroline in the City and This Is My South, and on Twitter @cairinthecity.