By John Ruch
The Buckhead Heritage Society exists to provide residents with a window to the past, and as it rolls out a long-planned series of interpretative signs, it’s taking that mission literally.
The first sign, currently being fabricated for installation in Loudermilk Park early next year, will feature a historic photo of the 86-year-old Buckhead Theatre on a transparent sheet of plastic. Viewers will be able to look through the sign to see the historic and current versions of the theater at the same time.
“The thing that’s exciting about it to me is it’s not a traditional historic interpretation sign,” said Carmie McDonald, the society’s executive director. “It’s like street art with a didactic component … sort of guerrilla history tactics.”
The Buckhead Theatre sign is the first element to be built from the society’s Interpretative Master Plan. In 2013, the society hired the firm Signature Design to develop the master plan, which identified key neighborhood history stories to tell and concepts of interpretative signs and artworks. The plan was developed with input from a 28-member steering committee with representatives from neighborhood associations, nonprofits and government.
The overarching idea, McDonald said, was for interactive displays that let visitors “draw their own conclusion about the changes that have taken place.”
“For the younger generation, this is the direction history is taking,” with interactive, on-site elements instead of expecting people “to go to a museum for a history lesson,” McDonald said.
Turning the master plan into actual signs depends on funding and sites becoming available. Loudermilk Park, at the triangle where Roswell and Peachtree roads meet, is the first site because the park is undergoing its own final renovation touches and offered the opportunity to partner with such groups as the Buckhead Community Improvement District.
The park offers a clear view of the Buckhead Theatre across the street at 3110 Roswell Road. The Spanish Baroque-style theater dates to 1930, according to its website, when it was built as a movie palace by the firm Daniell and Beutell. Construction costs were $250,000—about $3.6 million in today’s dollars, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator.
Over the decades, the theater operated as the Capri and the Buckhead Cinema ’n’ Drafthouse. In the 1990s, it became a popular concert venue called the Coca-Cola Roxy, which closed in 2008 and is now being revived at the Atlanta Brave’s new SunTrust Park stadium complex in Cobb County.
After the Roxy closed, the building was renovated by Charlie Loudermilk, the founder of Buckhead’s Aaron’s, Inc. and the namesake of the park. It reopened in 2010 as a concert and event venue under the original Buckhead Theatre name.
The Heritage Society’s display, currently being manufactured by the Douglasville firm DeNyse, will feature two signs. One is the see-through historic photo and the other is a narrative sign that will describe “the history of the commercial core of Buckhead and specifically address the history of the Buckhead Theatre,” McDonald said.
Locations for other interpretative signs are yet to be determined, McDonald said. The society will look for opportunities when new sidewalks or redevelopments take place, she said. That’s partly because space and money might become available, but also to give the society a chance to talk about preservation, if a historic site is involved.
She said the sign program is “a literal and figurative stake in the ground for our preservation [effort] in Buckhead… Our goal is to ensure that preservation is a consideration.”