Many people ride MARTA every day without giving much thought to the history or even why a station is named the way it is. Seasoned travelers may notice that MARTA’s station names aren’t very conventional compared to other major cities where transit stations are named after nearby streets. History buffs and old city residents may also tell you that some stations once had different names.
So, why is there inconsistency? And what is the hidden history behind station names or how certain stations have influenced Atlanta growth? Read on to discover some of the lesser known and quirky facts about MARTA station development to learn more.
1. Urban sprawl was a likely reason MARTA stations got their names
Most MARTA stations are named after neighborhoods or nearby landmarks. But why? City sprawl likely played a role.
MARTA was conceived in the 1960s and it wasn’t until the late 1970s when the first stations and lines were built. At that time, Atlanta looked very different from today. The population in the region in 1970 was approximately 1.7 million, according to census data, about three million less people than in 2010. The interstates were smaller, white flight was underway, so the city was shrinking while the suburbs were growing. Midtown, for example, wasn’t a very nice place to be, so when MARTA was being planned, most people could care less about 10th Street and were more concerned about avoiding the area entirely.
It is also important to note that Atlanta is a smaller and less dense metropolis compared to New York or Chicago where walking is a norm. Not only is Atlanta spread out and missing a grid of streets due in part to railroads and rolling-hill topography, but parts of the city today still don’t have many pedestrians even when sidewalks are in place. So naming stations after landmarks vs. street names makes sense if streets aren’t always thought of as viable pedestrian pathways.
2. Cain Station wasn’t able to keep its name
There’s a good chance that even if you don’t ride MARTA very often, you have used the bustling Peachtree Center MARTA station that provides access to many attractions and hotels in downtown Atlanta. But, as these 1975 MARTA development plans reveal, the station was originally named Cain Street, not Peachtree Center. if you’ve never heard of Cain Street, you aren’t the only one. It was renamed Andrew Young International Blvd. around the 1996 Olympics, so it worked out in the end that Peachtree Center was selected as the station name.
But why not at the start? Keep in mind that in 1975, the Peachtree Center business district was not fully built, with just about half of today’s buildings in place. When MARTA lines and routes were being decided, the Peachtree Center we know today was mostly architectural plans and construction projects.
3. King Memorial isn’t the Memorial you think
The King Memorial MARTA station is closest to the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District, though the walk isn’t short or always the safest. Most people assume that the ‘memorial’ part of the station name relates to the historic site and the MLK memorial, when actually it is referencing nearby Memorial Drive. In addition to King Memorial, there are a few other MARTA stations that do use streets as naming conventions, including East Lake, Avondale, Kensington and North Avenue.
4. More than one station has been renamed
Naming transit stations based on nearby landmarks makes it easy to navigate to major destinations with ease. There’s a problem though when the landmarks are taken off the map. One of MARTA’s rail stations is about to experience it’s second name fail: Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN. It was originally named the Omni MARTA station after the Omni Coliseum, which was torn down to make room for Philips Arena (see above video). The station was renamed to include Philips Arena and several other nearby destinations for good measure. But the Georgia Dome is being replaced by a new stadium next door, which brings up the question if the station will be renamed again. (West Downtown, anyone?)
The Hamilton E. Holmes MARTA station also had a different name originally, Hightower after the nearby Hightower Road. Both were renamed to honor Hamilton E. Holmes, a physician who was one of the first two African-American students admitted to the University of Georgia. Early MARTA maps also had a Pershing Point station (now Arts Center) and Moreland station (now Inman Park-Reynoldstown).
5. The Five Points station killed Atlanta’s Underground
Unless you were an adult living in Atlanta in the 1970s, Underground Atlanta has been a place to avoid except for getting to a Braves Game or seeing the Peach Drop on New Year’s Eve. But at one point, the shady underground mall with trinkets, sporting good apparel and restaurants that never seem to stick was three times larger and was the happening place to be before MARTA came to town.
It’s hard to believe, but due to alcohol laws in Georgia, Underground Atlanta was once one of the few places to get a cocktail around the metro area, so people flocked downtown for blocks of nightclubs, music venues, bars and restaurants when the first underground redevelopment project was complete in 1969. But construction of the east-west MARTA rail line and the Five Points MARTA station destroyed blocks of popular venues and parking lots. Crime spread quickly as a result and several businesses sued MARTA for damages. As one court document explained:
Plaintiff contends in Count 1 that Underground Atlanta is a unique subterranean entertainment and shopping area and, as such, each of the businesses located therein are mutually dependent upon one another for their success… and that with the razing of the buildings on the east side of Old Alabama Street, now totally destroyed, plaintiff was deprived of a valuable stream of commerce provided by those businesses.
Today the area around the Five Points MARTA station still struggles to recover, and while having transit is a wonderful option to have, it is sad that it also cost Atlanta a thriving underground entertainment district. A third redevelopment of Underground Atlanta is planned and will include a grocery store and apartment towers.