John B Gordon School

January 16, 2012

The John B. Gordon School in East Atlanta was named after John Brown Gordon, who was the son of a preacher man, a University of Georgia student and a brigadier general during the Civil War. He was a senator from 1873 to 1880, and went on to become Governor of Georgia in 1886. He’s buried in Oakland Cemetery, and there’s a statue of him riding a horse at the Georgia State Capitol.

John B. Gordon School class play photo, 1936.

JBG School class play photo, 1936. The kids are dressed in costumes representing people from different countries. Credit: Georgia Archives

But this post isn’t about General Gordon, it’s about the elementary school, which was built in 1909 as the East Atlanta School by Battle & Barili. At some point, I suspect around 1925, the school was renamed for John B. Gordon, but I haven’t found a source for that yet. There was an addition built in 1934.

JBG School, 1958. Credit: Jerry L. Bowen

According to a related Facebook group, in the 1950s there was an A&W Root Beer drive-in across the street. In the 60s, local kids liked to stop at Charlie’s Hamburgers and the East Atlanta Pharmacy’s soda fountain, where you could get cherry Cokes (5 cents), lime sours, and hot dogs (10 cents). Mayberry, anyone?

The John B. Gordon school closed in 1995. Two years later, the property was purchased for $200,000 by Inman Park Properties, who intended to convert it to the J. B. Gordon Lofts, to begin leasing in 2006. Then, as with many IPP properties in Atlanta, it sat empty and forgotten for more than ten years. The loft conversion never happened, and the property was foreclosed on in early 2009, under a debt load of more than $4 million. The building is currently for sale, listed as a “Premium Development Opportunity” or “Flex Space” at $1.65 million for 41,000 square feet.

I don’t know whether the school will eventually be renovated or torn down, but in the meantime, this old brick building once filled with children quietly decays. Despite the likely presence of asbestos and other chemicals, the earth is beginning to reclaim her. Here’s how she looks today.

April 2015 update:
The John B. Gordon school was purchased about a year after I took these photos by Paces Properties, who planned a $15 million project to demolish the building and build high-end rental units. In April 2014, a fire broke out in the upper floor of the west wing and burned much of the wing and the roof. Demolition began in January of 2015. Paces Properties reportedly plans to use some reclaimed brick from the original building in the new construction, and word is that the new Old Fourth Distillery is repurposing some of the school’s marble, so some parts of this historic East Atlanta landmark will live on. As disappointing as it is that the building couldn’t be preserved, I feel very fortunate that I was able to capture these photographs before the school was gone forever.

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