Old Fourth Ward
The Old Fourth Ward, often abbreviated O4W, is a neighborhood on the east side of Atlanta. The neighborhood is best known as the location of the Martin Luther King, Jr. historic site.
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Old Fourth Ward History
What is now the Old Fourth Ward is a smaller version of the historic Fourth Ward political area in place until the 1950s when the city changed to a district system. It is one of the oldest sections of the city, with the westernmost blocks developing soon after the Civil War. Different parts of the ward were, at different times, considered white, black, or mixed-race areas. From the 1910s onward, as Atlanta politicians moved to institutionalize racially segregated residential areas, Old Fourth Ward continued as a patchwork of whites living as close neighbors with blacks.
The foremost thoroughfare in today’s Old Fourth Ward, Boulevard, was in the 1890s called one of the most desirable residential streets in the city. However, after the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917, Boulevard’s grand houses were destroyed and replaced by brick apartment buildings.
As with most of Intown Atlanta, the Old Fourth Ward declined precipitously during the 1950s and 1960s as wealthier residents moved further out from central neighborhoods. Streets, houses and businesses that sat upon the land that is now Freedom Parkway were also razed to make way for a freeway that was never built. What was once a consistent and dense grid pattern of streets is now difficult to recognize, with Freedom Parkway occupying what had once been multiple city blocks.
Boulevard in particular witnessed a steady decline. The road is lined with apartment buildings constructed after the Great Atlanta fire of 1917, most of which are now section 8 housing. Boulevard became infamous throughout Atlanta and beyond as a haven of drug activity, prostitution, and other crime, a reputation that endured into the 2010s, despite gentrification to the north, south, east and west of the street.
Gentrification of the Old Fourth Ward began in the 1980s, and continued at a more rapid pace during the first decade of the 2000s. New apartment and condo complexes with ground-floor retail sprung up, particularly along the BeltLine, Ponce de Leon Avenue, North Avenue, and Highland Avenue.
The Old Fourth Ward is defined as the area that stretches from Piedmont Avenue and Downtown Atlanta on the west to the BeltLine and the Poncey-Highland and Inman Park neighborhoods on the east. Through it runs a main thoroughfare named simply Boulevard. West of Boulevard the Ward reaches from Ponce de Leon Avenue on the north to Freedom Parkway on the south, below which is Sweet Auburn. East of Boulevard, it reaches from Ponce de Leon Avenue on the north to the east-west MARTA rail line and Oakland Cemetery, and the Grant Park and Cabbagetown neighborhoods on the south. The neighborhood can be divided into three areas, with Freedom Parkway and Boulevard serving as dividing lines.
The area north of Freedom Parkway and east of Boulevard is one of the city’s most up-and-coming areas. It is home to The Masquerade, a music venue, and Historic Fourth Ward Park, a product of the BeltLine. In the very northeast corner of this area is the 2.1 million sq. ft. former City Hall East, which a developer, Jamestown, plans to spend $180 million to convert into Ponce City Market, a mixed use development. As a result, there have been several new mulifamily developments bordering the park, including BOHO4W, AMLI Ponce Park, and 755 North.
The area west of Boulevard and north of Freedom Parkway was once called Bedford Pine, and, prior to the 1960s, it was a slum called Buttermilk Bottom. In the 1960s, slum housing gave way to massive urban renewal and the construction of large projects, such as the Atlanta Civic Center, the Georgia Power headquarters, and public housing projects. Bedford Pine was officially absorbed into the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, whose boundaries officially extend west to Piedmont Avenue.
Boulevard itself, in the 1890s described as “one of the most desirable residence streets in the city,” has for decades been notorious citywide as a center of crime and drug activity, as well as the highest concentration of Section 8 housing in the Southeastern United States. However, in January 2012, City Councilman Kwanza Hall revealed a seven-point “Year of Boulevard” strategy to revitalize the corridor.
The largest concentration of single family homes are found south of Freedom Parkway, especially south of Irwin Street, and the area is perhaps the most eclectic part of the Old Fourth Ward. Auburn Avenue and Old Wheat Streets possess the unique character of the Sweet Auburn neighborhood and Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. In addition, Old Fourth Ward’s primary nightlife district is centered on the intersection of Boulevard and Edgewood Avenue, where there is a concentration of bars and restaurants.
Content courtesy of Wikipedia.org