The Old Fourth Ward, often abbreviated O4W, is a neighborhood just east of Downtown Atlanta, Georgia, United States. The neighborhood is best known as the location of the Martin Luther King, Jr. historic site. However, the Old Fourth Ward has also garnered national attention as “a cradle of culinary and artistic innovation and as a symbol of gentrification.
The Old Fourth Ward is defined as the area that stretches from Piedmont Avenue andDowntown 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-westMARTA rail line and Oakland Cemetery, and the Grant Park and Cabbagetownneighborhoods on the south. The neighborhood can be divided into three areas, with Freedom Pakway 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 hosting national acts, 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 complex of retail, restaurants, boutiques, offices and residential space, featuring a food hall of national importance along the lines of Jamestown’s own Chelsea Market in New York. The area furthest east along the BeltLinewas once an industrial area where former factory and warehouse space now contains restaurants and galleries, located in complexes like Studioplex and Southern Dairies.
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. However, Central Atlanta Progress, in an effort to improve the area’s image, have renamed the area west of Central Park “SoNo,” or “South of North Avenue,”despite the fact that the areas fall under the jurisdiction of the Old Fourth Ward.
Boulevard itself, in the 1890s described as “one of the most desirable residence streets in the city,”has for decades been plagued by crime and poor quality housing endemic in intercity neighborhoods in cities throughout the United States. The turnaround began over 30 years ago triggered in large part by the Historic District Development Corporation. Founded by Coretta Scott King and others, the HDDC implemented a block by block strategy for revitalization in the residential portions of the community that set the tone for todays improvements. In January 2012, City Councilman Kwanza Hall revealed a seven-point “Year of Boulevard” strategy to revitalize the corridor and continue moving the neighborhood forward.
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 around the intersection of Boulevard and Edgewood Avenue, where there is a concentration of bars and restaurants.
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. New residents were attracted to the neighborhood due to its close proximity to Downtown, Midtown, Inman Park, and Virginia-Highland, its urban vibe, its walkability, and its cultural offerings. By the 2010s, Old Fourth Ward had become one of the most dynamic and sought-after areas of the city, winning Creative Loafing‘s 2010 award for “Best Bet for Next Hot ‘Hood”.
In 2010, Creative Loafing awarded Old Fourth Ward “Best Bet for Next Hot ‘Hood.” In 2011, the neighborhood celebrated the opening of the Historic Fourth Ward Park and saw the kickoff of the Ponce City Market project.