John C. Portman Jr., the renowned architect, developer and artist who died Dec. 29, is being remembered locally for his Buckhead interior design center and a new sculpture that was among his last works.
Portman, a longtime Sandy Springs resident, was 93.
One of his last projects was a sculpture made for Buckhead’s Charlie Loudermilk Park, named for his longtime friend and fellow legendary Atlanta business leader. Unveiled earlier this year with Portman in attendance, “Aspiration” is an abstract sculpture of steel and water.
Jim Durrett, the executive director of the Buckhead Community Improvement District, which led the effort to renovate the park, recalled “fond” memories of meetings he attended with Portman and Loudermilk in 2015 when they discussed the possibility of Portman creating a sculpture for the park.
“They were extremely close friends, and listening to them talk about their lives very intimately made me feel very privileged,” Durrett said in an email. “John lived an extraordinary life.”
“Charlie Loudermilk and I share more than a love for the city of Atlanta; we share a deep friendship and mutual respect for one another,” Portman said in a statement to the Reporter in 2016, when his commission to create the sculpture was announced. “I am honored to have been asked to create a sculpture for his park. I put my heart into creating something of meaning for him and also in recognition of the significance of Buckhead in our urban fabric.”
Sam Massell, the president of the Buckhead Coalition, said he had known Portman for nearly 60 years, meeting Portman during Massell’s tenure as Atlanta mayor.
“John was a giant of a man, taller than any of his tallest skyscrapers,” Massell said. “I’ve not met many John Portmans in my 90 years.”
Massell said Portman’s legacy in Buckhead will be his expansive interior design showroom operation, the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center.
Portman founded ADAC over 50 years ago, according to the center’s website. Located on Peachtree Hills Avenue, it caters to interior designers, architects, trade professionals and designers with over 60 showrooms of interior design products.
“It’s an exceptional, big operation,” Massell said of ADAC, which is marked by the tall, colorful pipe sculpture that stands outside of the building.
Katie Miner, ADAC’s general manager, said in a statement that Portman’s focus on “relationships over real estate” is what has made ADAC a success and the staff is “honored to continue his memory.”
“All of us at ADAC are most fortunate to have had the privilege of working with and learning from Mr. Portman,” Miner said. “He also valued the power of relationships over real estate. When people ask what the secret is to ADAC’s success, it is this personal connection and the desire to create something new and exciting that are hallmarks of his legacy.”
“While our hearts are heavy, we are honored to continue his memory,” Miner added.
Portman’s greater legacy is of “saving” downtown Atlanta, an act for which all residents should be grateful, Massell said.
“Atlanta owes him a great debt of gratitude for absolutely saving downtown,” he said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a social media post that the “passing of John Portman is loss for all Atlanta. His work & love of our city defined who we are across the world. My sincerest condolences.”
“Mr. Portman is one of our city’s great men,” said former Mayor Kasim Reed on social media. “My heart goes out to his wonderful family and all who loved him. May God’s grace cover and console them.”
Portman first gained notice in the early 1960s when he began transforming the skyline of downtown Atlanta with hotels and office buildings. He soon became globally famous, designing and construction similar complexes around the county and the world.
Portman also was among the group of civic leaders who steered Atlanta’s “city too busy to hate” philosophy in the civil rights era, quietly pressing for racial integration while aiming to avoid protests or riots.
Aside from his architectural work, Portman was known for his large-scale sculptures, often in a geometric or abstract style, that often adorned his buildings. A respected artist, Portman was featured in a High Museum show several years ago.
–Evelyn Andrews and John Ruch