By Marilena Stephens

Growing up across from Chastain Park, I remember jogging around the golf course (so many seasons), preparing for some Pace Academy sports event.

Most of the park’s visibly dramatic changes for our neighborhood, in the past several years particularly, continue to be a positive improvement.

Since the start of the 20th century, Chastain Park lands, historical and fascinating, have existed in one form or another. The Chastain Arts Center and Galloway School structures, originally built between 1901 and 1911, were used as almshouses for the elderly, disabled and unemployable.

Largely unknown is that veteran soldiers who were injured, physically or mentally, as well as male and female prisoners, resided on the land now making up the Arts Center.

Together, the two brick buildings — separate almshouses for whites and blacks — housed roughly 200 residents before and after the Depression.

The smaller almshouse (85 residents) was on ground that today is the Chastain City Gallery.

Male Fulton County prisoners were housed in a prison building where the baseball fields are located. They raised livestock and vegetables to feed the residents of the almshouses.

In the early 1940s the Fulton County Commission helped set aside acres to create North Fulton County Park. Walter Hagen designed the golf course with Bobby Jones’ consultation.

The Works Progress Administration then built the 18-hole golf course, amphitheater — June 1944 marked its debut — and swimming pool, initially filled by a manmade pond.

Erin Bailey, the current Arts Center facility administrator, has been at the helm for three years. Last spring the center received a $250,000 grant for a long-overdue new roof.

Camille Love, director of Atlanta’s Cultural Affairs Bureau, said “cultural funding” remains a city priority. Chastain Arts Center produces more revenue than any other artistic center affiliated with the Cultural Affairs Bureau, and Bailey noted at a meeting of Neighborhood Planning Unit A this month that the Arts Center makes money for the city, with only her salary coming out of the city coffers.

Late registration for fall classes runs through Oct. 4. Drawing, painting, pottery, printmaking, jewelry, frame making, tai chi and fabric arts are among the classes and workshops offered for adults and children. People who live outside Atlanta may sign up for classes at the center at a slightly higher rate than residents pay.

Periodically workshops from individual artists, some nationally and internationally acclaimed, are part of Chastain Art Center’s eclectic programs. Visit ocaatlanta.com for more information, including art class descriptions and dates.