When the bulldozers began digging this summer for the new sand volleyball courts behind the GSU Sports Arena, the construction workers found an unexpected surprise below the surface. There were deep concrete freezing tanks below ground used 100 years ago to provide ice and storage for foods that were going to be shipped via the railway that runs beside the land.
That little bit of knowledge sparked a research project to find out a little history of the land and area. GSU folks had already uncovered a lot of history from Civil War battles that took place in this area, where the Capitol stands, where the GSU football facility was built and the Carter Presidential Library area. So, we know there was plenty of activity in the 1860s during the Civil War time.
A call to the GSU Library Archives and Laurel Bowen turned up a 1995 study by Sandra Garber that showed this area more than 100 years ago around the turn of the century in 1900. In 1903, an Atlanta businessman named Ernest Woodruff, who had founded the Atlanta and Edgewood Street Railroad for electric trolley cars in 1889 and was President of Trust Company Bank, had combined three small ice and coal companies into the Atlanta Ice and Coal Company. On the current spot of the GSU Sports Arena, the Ice and Coal Company provided the frozen ice services to the railway, while also providing office and home deliveries throughout the city. Mr. Woodruff later restructured the Atlantic Steel Company (where the Atlantic Station Complex now sits). But, perhaps Mr. Woodruff's biggest move came in 1919 when he took control of a young Coca-Cola Company. Woodruff's two sons, Robert and George, would become legends in the industry and Atlanta. And, GSU's campus already had a building that is on the National Historic Register with the 1890 building that was the first-ever Coca-Cola bottling plant at Edgewood & Courtland. At the time of the Atlanta Ice and Coal Company, the road did not intersect the railroad as Piedmont does today. In 1900, Atlanta was still a "town" that had just passed Grand Rapids, Mich. and Dayton, Ohio, with its 89,000 residents to rank as the 43rd largest city in America.
In the 1960's, a fledging downtown university was growing, expanding and building at a rapid pace. Georgia State College built its Pullen Library in 1966, Classroom South in 1968, the 10-story General Classroom Building in 1971. Then, came the Physical Education Building in 1973 and the Urban Life Building in 1974.
Forty years ago in 1972, when the digging for the P.E. Building (now the Sports Arena) was beginning, the intersection of Piedmont and Decatur was full of parking lots. In the area where the new Parker H. Petit Science Center stands, was a headquarters for the Atlanta Police Department. Where the Waffle House now sits was a little garage and shed to house and repair police cars and motorcycles. The red-brick Courtland Building was already here.
When the P.E. building opened in 1973, the athletics department was a handful of employees with the number of men's teams only one could probably count on one hand. The staff and coaches doubled as teachers. The only offices that athletics staff had were in the first floor area where the Sports Communications Offices reside 40 years later. The building was primarily occupied much like today's block-long Recreation Center across the street is now and the Rec Center staff was housed here. The kinesiology and health department taught a variety of classes in the building and had offices. The P.E. Center was a T-Shaped Building as the third and fourth floors jutted out from the main structure's first two floors. The first Georgia State basketball game played in this building was on March 10, 1973, when the host Panthers beat the cross-city rival Georgia Tech squad, 77-73 in the final game of the season.
But, more than 100 years ago, this site was really a "cool" place to be, especially in the summer, with all its ice storage tanks and ice for delivery all around town. By the end of this summer, this site will be the only place in town with sand volleyball courts and cool drinks to enjoy the competition.
Take a look at the Photo Album for some historical archives photos from more than 40 years ago.