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Castleberry Hill – From Gritty Factories To Gallery Row

Castleberry Hill exists between definitions, a mosaic of its seedy industrial past and its gallery-fabulous future. Gentrified but not really, a community but one without a supermarket or park, Castleberry Hill is more than the sum of its parts.

Nestled in the southwest corner of downtown Atlanta, within walking distance of Centennial Olympic Park, Castleberry Hill is an overlap of turn-of-the-century industrialism and modern-day warehouse chic. Both stiletto-wearing artists and down-and-out homeless wander its main drag, Peters Street. Old warehouses with utilitarian names such as Swift & Company, Ty Stokes Cap and Gown, and Stable 1897 have been converted into high-priced galleries and residential lofts selling for upwards of $300,000.

“It’s one of the best finds of the New South,” boasts real estate agent Blaine Byers. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since the ’80s, Castleberry Hill has gotten a huge boost from artists interested in preserving the spacious buildings that create a continuous frontage along the downtown streets.

The work has paid off. Within a few square blocks, there are now close to 20 loft developments and 10 galleries – making Castleberry Hill Atlanta’s scaled-down answer to New York’s Chelsea. But the neighborhood, a triangle-shaped wedge bounded by Peter, Walker and Nelson streets, isn’t nearly as evolved as Manhattan’s west side.

“Castleberry Hill is like a big smile with teeth missing,” artist and resident Diane Hause explains. “Fill in the gaps and it will shine.” Hause has played no small role in Castleberry Hill’s rehab. In 1997, Hause, then a teacher at the Atlanta College of Art, first stumbled upon the area while visiting a student’s exhibition. She was shocked to see most of the flat-roofed warehouses boarded up. In some ways, Castleberry Hill > was a mirror of the nearby neighborhoods of Pittsburgh and Mechanicsville, which had long ago succumbed to high crime and the exodus of residents.

But despite Castleberry’s rawness – or perhaps because of it – Hause saw potential in the sheer size of the abandoned industrial buildings. She hired a real estate agent after her interest was piqued by a century-old hardware store-turned-thrift shop owned by the Rev. Bill Tate, a colorful neighborhood fixture.

Unfortunately, the eccentric reverend, with white hair flowing past his beltline and a penchant for playing Wagner full-volume, refused to strike a bargain. Instead, Hause’s real estate agent uncovered another gem, a 100-year-old auto warehouse across the street from the thrift store. The warehouse, like all the buildings in Castleberry Hill, needed work.

In fact, the entire back wall was missing; it was removed years ago so that mechanics could literally lift cars off the railroad tracks into the shop and, once repaired, drive them out the door. Once the wall was reconstructed, Hause had to wrangle with a “thick molasses-like” substance that coated the existing walls, the result of decades of accumulated car exhaust. It took just over a year for 3TEN Haustudio to morph into the alternative art exhibition space its owner had imagined. Hause then built a 2,000-square-foot condo above the 4,000-square-foot studio, which she shares with an acupuncturist, so that she could not only work but live in Castleberry Hill.

In Hause’s case, timing turned out to be key. Months after she moved to Castleberry Hill, developers swooped in and purchased most of the freestanding buildings. Development finally began in earnest a couple years ago. But it was not the developers who ultimately put Castleberry Hill on the map. Big-name visual artists such as Carolyn Carr, Michael Gibson and Christopher Hauk moved their studios into the area’s converted warehouses, followed by gallery owners hailing from as far as Athens. Last year, the Marcia Wood Gallery surprised its well-heeled patrons when it moved its swanky Buckhead operation to Castleberry Hill.

Monthly art strolls between galleries now draw an astounding 900 people. Mary Stanley, a curator who typically does business with uptown Atlanta galleries and is currently hosting her first two exhibitions in Castleberry Hill, says she’s urged patrons to explore the neighborhood because she has “found high quality in every single one of these galleries.” “The people who have chosen to live here are people I want to hang around,” Stanley says. According to Anne Irwin, owner of Buckhead’s Anne Irwin Fine Art, Castleberry Hill is an area “full of wonderful surprises.”

These days, Hause confidently states, “in the next year or two [Castleberry Hill] will be ready to pop.” In fact, Castleberry Hill is “popping” already. Just stop by Slice, the local pizza joint, on a Saturday night and try to get near the bar.

— By Rebecca Ford for Creative Loafing

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