Atlanta’s Shovel : 1964
In 1964, Ivan Allen, Jr. was Mayor of Atlanta. A businessman and the former president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, he had campaigned on an aggressive plan to improve the city.
Allen took office in 1962 with the support of Atlanta’s minority community which embraced his progressive views on civil rights. By 1964, ground was being broken in locations across Atlanta as Allen accelerated his push to make Atlanta a major league city.
This shovel broke ground in a neighborhood called Washington-Rawson, a former wealthy community fallen on hard times, an area targeted for aggressive urban renewal in the late 1950’s. Public projects like the Fulton County Juvenile Court building were erected there, but Mayor Allen called it the “greatest location in the world”, recognizing its development potential, cradled as it was between the commercial business community and the black neighborhood of Summerhill. His vision was to build an entertainment facility that would bring black and white Atlantans together.
Groundbreaking ceremonies took place on April 15, 1964. Allen crowed to the assembled crowd that he was standing at the best site “east of Houston, Texas and south of Washington, D.C.” for its purpose. Forty-seven dignitaries scooped the first chunks of clay with ceremonial shovels, and Allen himself mounted a bulldozer for the cameras.
Almost immediately, contractors, working under orders to have the facility ready for occupancy within a year, began to level off the site and prepare the foundations.
Eight days later a similar shovel would be used to improve the runways at Atlanta Airport.
On April 15, 1964, this shovel and 46 others broke ground for Atlanta-Fulton County stadium. Construction of a large stadium in Atlanta was first discussed in the early 1930’s as a public works project to provide employment during the Great Depression. Succeeding decades brought more interest, but it was Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. who recognized early on that major league sports would help the rest of the world see Atlanta as a major league city.
In the spring of 1963, Charlie Finley, the maverick owner of the then-Kansas City Athletics, came to Atlanta looking for a new home for his team. “We offered him a stadium not yet designed, to be built with money we didn’t yet have, on land we didn’t yet own,” Allen famously said.
The American League owners wouldn’t let Finley move the Athletics to Atlanta, but that didn’t deter Allen from finding another occupant. That same year an Atlanta delegation met with representatives of the Milwaukee Braves of the National League.
Recently purchased by a group of Chicago investors, the Braves were frustrated with declining fan turnout and the political situation in Milwaukee. The new owners recognized that the deep South did not have a major league team to call its own and offered a huge untapped market. By September 1963, the team had agreed to preliminary terms with the city for a 10-year lease on the yet unbuilt stadium.
The stadium was but one legacy of a go-go, anything’s-possible administration. Allen oversaw the expansion of Hartsfield Airport, the construction of interstate highways through the city, and federal urban renewal projects. The Atlanta Civic Center and the Atlanta Arts Alliance Complex were built on his watch, and he laid the groundwork for the coming of MARTA trains and buses.
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