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Atlanta’s first Equitable Building was an early skyscraper (1891–1892) designed by Chicago architects Daniel Burnham and John Root. Located on the northeast corner of Pryor Street and Edgewood Avenue, it was demolished in 1971. Much like Georgia-born Root’s earlier Rookery Building in Chicago, the eight-story Equitable’s exterior brick and terra-cotta walls looked to the past in its traditional load bearing masonry construction, while the steel frame of the future was more directly expressed in the inner-court elevations. By contrast, the second Equitable, built on nearby Peachtree Street by the New York office of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, is a thoroughly modern skyscraper, with a black steel and glass frame.
By the mid-1960s, the Equitable Life Insurance Company required additional office space and desired a more modern image than afforded in the Burnham and Root building. The new skyscraper was erected at the edge of the already saturated Fairlie–Poplar business district, on the former site of the 1903 Piedmont Hotel at the northwest corner of Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta. Its abstract rectangular black frame contrasts with the white tones of the nearby Candler Building (1904–1906) and Trust Company Building (1966–1968), and, at the time of its construction, the 32-story Equitable Building dwarfed the Rhodes Haverty Building across the street, which was the tallest building in Atlanta when it opened in 1929.
Sited back from Peachtree Street, the Equitable angles its broad rectangular form so that it aligns with the grid of the Fairlie–Poplar district streets rather than with Peachtree Street, and the rotational shift creates the triangular plaza. The plaza recalls (at a much smaller scale) the more frontal plaza of Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson’s Seagram Building in New York, built ten years earlier. The Miesian aesthetic of the Atlanta Equitable Building may be seen as representative of the homage still being paid at this time by younger modernists to the older generation of modern masters.
The Equitable Life Insurance Company owned the building until 1997. The building had always been recognizable in the city skyline because of its glowing “Equitable” sign. In 2018, however, new owner Zeller Realty Group replaced the sign with two 174-foot-long, digital LED signs advertising the building’s main tenant, Georgia’s Own Credit Union, along with local artwork. The interior amenity spaces have also been remodeled.
Kelley, Colin. “Former Equitable building in Downtown gets new digital signage.” Atlanta InTown, January 15, 2019.
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