Located on the western edge of Downtown, Vine City was once a thriving neighborhood of subdivisions, churches, schools, and businesses fueled by the area's railroads, industrial complexes, and Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Atlanta Life Insurance Company Founder Alonzo F. Herndon purchased land and built a home on University Place in 1910. By the 1950s, the neighborhood was home to a solid, primarily African-American middle class. Famed Southern restaurant Paschal's had already become a landmark.
In 1967, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta, moved their family to Vine City. Despite the neighborhood's pockets of affluence and its prominent citizens, Vine City remained a mix of social and economic classes. In archival photos at the Atlanta History Center, King and the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, among other civil rights leaders, can be seen standing alongside residents at a substandard housing unit in Vine City where they were protesting living conditions.
Nearly 50 years later, suburbanization, poverty, drugs, unemployment, and natural disasters, including a flood in 2002 and a tornado in 2008, have left Vine City "a shell of its former self," lifelong resident Byron Amos told CL in 2009. The area is largely a food desert save a Walmart Supercenter on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive that opened earlier this year. Blocks of abandoned houses with overgrown lawns and broken windows are a stark reminder that Georgia has one of the country's highest foreclosure rates.
Today, some revitalization projects are in the works, including the 16-acre Mims Park along Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, but Vine City has a long, pot-holed road ahead of it before anything resembling its heyday comes into view. And while the Arthur Blank Foundation is promising improvement to communities such as Vine City that surround the new Atlanta Falcons stadium site, some residents are skeptical after broken promises from developers following the building of the Georgia Dome nearly 25 years ago.
"Sitting here at the very gate of prosperity and nothing being done about it of any significant nature," Lindsay Street Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Anthony Motley said to CL about the Dome in 2012 as discussions of a new Falcons stadium heated up. "You have this monstrosity towering over all this blight. And that's unseemly. And ungodly, I might add."
But travel south on Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard and things take a noticeable turn for the better once you turn down Rock Street. Tidy parking lots, trash-free sidewalks, and meticulous landscaping mark Quest Community Development Organization's two renovated apartment buildings, a new housing complex, and a new two-story resource center. Since its founding in 2001, Quest has assisted more than 4,000 individuals with supportive housing. The organization's charismatic founder, president, and CEO is Leonard Adams, a 43-year-old Detroit native and Gulf War veteran who has been a longtime Vine City fixture. He previously ran a temp agency and owned a handful of homes in the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods. He realized community residents, many of whom experience chronic homelessness and drug addiction, were in need of "a second chance."
Quest helps house homeless and low-income individuals, including veterans, providing them with a permanent residence and support services, including educational and job training. This fall, CL's Do Good Campaign is teaming up with Adams' nonprofit for a new project devoted to improving Quest Veterans Village, a 12-unit garden-style apartment complex on Rock Street that houses disabled veterans. CL will help facilitate an online fundraising campaign to raise $2,500, which Do Good sponsor the Home Depot Foundation will match dollar for dollar up to the $2,500 goal. Money raised for the project will go toward an outdoor gathering space with plantings and seating for the veterans, something the property currently lacks. A volunteer day will be announced for late November.
Resident Elleada Brown, an army veteran specializing in satellite communications, came to Quest after being released from the VA hospital.
"I was in quite a dire situation," she says. "The VA still has me under their care. The living situation out here is quite great — the amenities, the connection with Quest is always there. We always have someone to call on if we have any problems or a situation arises. We know we have a backup system."
The addition of an outdoor gathering place has long been on the wish list for residents at Quest Veterans Village.
"We love to socialize with one another. We're one unit, we're one military machine," says Brown. "We still feel that way even being out of the military, for some of us, a long time. We still have the heart of a soldier and soldiers like to commune with one another. [The project is] something to lift up spirits and give us reason to get up every morning and let us know that people still care, that we served and our services are valuable."
Brown continues, "The neighborhood has absorbed us into the atmosphere and knows that we're a community that helps one another, looks out for one another, and we're nurturing a neighborhood within the neighborhood."