John F. Schaffner
Let me make it very clear from the get-go: I am not a fan of the present Buckhead public library building on Buckhead Avenue. In my view, it borders on ugly and its functionality is less than perfect.
The likelihood is that Buckhead would get a better library if Fulton County were to accept Ben Carter’s offer to buy the present site for $24 million. After all, Carter would then turn around and build a brand new, presumably high-tech library on top of a parking deck in The Streets of Buckhead for about $5 million, leaving the county with about $19 million to spend elsewhere.
But I also thought that Catherine Fox, the art and architecture writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution effectively used the question of what to do about the Buckhead library to renew an old discussion that continues to hang over Atlanta like a dark storm cloud.
It is a discussion of which is most important: preserving a community’s civic values versus allowing them to give way to commercial interests.
Ms. Fox, whom I had a hand in hiring at the Constitution back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, makes the point: “More often than not, commercial interests and civic values are congruent. Economic success is any city’s engine. But there are times when the two concerns butt heads. And, when they do, the matter requires carful consideration.”
Yes, the Buckhead Branch Library stands in the way of what many would say is “progress.” But you can’t always apply the commercial standard of highest and best use to everything.
Only around since 1989, the Buckhead library has won a trophy case full of local, regional and national awards. The potential for it to be demolished to make way for the new shiny Streets of Buckhead development, has brought forth petitions, blogs and chat room debates in its defense.
Atlanta has not been known for emphasizing art and architecture over commercial development. That is not to say the library building should be untouchable. It is simply to say that the architectural significance of the building should equally be on the table along with such items as the questionable functionality of the building, the alternatives, value of the property and the estimated $1.4 million of upgrades that are needed to the present building, including some repairs to the building’s rusting exterior.
I for one am not enamored with the building. But, I am not a trained student of architecture either. I just know what appeals to me personally. I know from talking to people I am not alone in my opinions. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
I also know there are many who love the architecture of the building and even more who just feel comfortable with the building because they have been using it regularly for many years. They don’t want the change and they have managed to convince the Fulton Library Board to recommend not selling the property to Carter.
The final decision on its future is still up to the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.