Where Creativity Lives

by Katie Black Frost, LoftLife, Spring 2009

In Atlanta’s revitalized Old Fourth Ward, a repurposed cotton warehouse harbors artists along with history.

A crumbling cotton warehouse from the early 1900’s sat abandoned next to derelict railroad tracks, just a few blocks from where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up, preached, and dreamed in Atlanta. Dr. King’s once robust neighborhood, Sweet Auburn, the center of black commerce for almost a century, also fell into decay after his untimely death. In 1980 a volunteer neighborhood group, the Historic District Development Corporation, banded together to save and restore Dr. King’s community. By 1995 the HDDC turned their sights to the cotton warehouse , envisioning a vibrant and creative live/work loft environment, and Atlanta’s Studioplex was born.

Today Studioplex’s 11 acres is home to 130 lofts, split approximately into thirds by residents, studios, and owners who both live and work in their spaces. “Creativity lives here”, says Mary Hillman, now retired longtime manager. The space is ingeniously planned, utilizing old brick walls and original hulking metal doors along with new sliding glass panels and open patio areas. The lofts, which morphed from rental units to resident-owned condominiums in 2007, share space with an upscale restaurant, retail bays, and planned townhouses, parking deck, and a black-box performance theatre. There is a large communal greenspace where residents can walk their dogs, play Frisbee, and lounge in the sun.

Matt Janke and his wife Kim established their glass-blowing studio at Studioplex over eight years ago. “We moved in only six or seven months after they finished up [the initial]construction, “Janke says. “There are only a few remaining original artists from move-in.” They shifted their business to Studioplex after starting in Marietta, an Atlanta suburb. “Business was growing so fast; we needed to focus, “ he recalls. “Our clientele was the intown crowd,” and it made sense to move the business nearby. “We started with a 10’ x 10’ space, then got another space, then two more, and then built out our ‘hot shop’. Our next step is a gallery expansion.”

Janke’s work is artistic and functional, beautiful hand-blown works of sculptural glass art. One can buy a colorful drinking tumbler in his store for under $20, or spend thousands on a commissioned, unique piece of art. He also offers glassblowing classes so that “people can learn”, and rents his ‘hot shop’ studio to independent glass blowers. He moved his family to the neighborhood after learning to appreciate its merits. He loves the “character and diversity” of Studioplex, Sweet Auburn, and the larger Old Fourth Ward district. “There’s no other part of Atlanta with this much character,” Janke says with a smile.

Ron Adams, a well known draftsman and printmaker whose work is displayed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is also a longtime resident. He moved six years ago from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Studioplex. “I liked the space, the open space,” Adams recollects. He put in walls so that it “works for me. If I have company they can have the privacy of the bed in the bedroom, or if I’m utilizing toxic stuff I can sleep in the other room.”

Adams selected Atlanta because of its warm climate, and he chose Studioplex because a couple of his artist friends recommended it. He “finds the people very nice—people here will speak to you. I’m doing what I want to do.” His favorite things about his space include “the light, it’s accessible and easy to find, the industrial effect. It’s a good working environment.” Adams purchased his loft a little over a year ago. “It was time to buy or fly”, he comments. “I wanted to buy.”
Phil and Lisa Dale and their 11-year-old daughter Angelique are relative newcomers to Studioplex, living and working here for the last year. Phil says they’ve “had a dream, working and living in loft space. I’d seen the building since 1974; I’d drive by. When it was made live/work, it got my attention.” He loves the “evolution of community—living and working out of history” that is the old cotton warehouse environment. Lisa concurs, saying she adores the small community. Angelique also thrives here. “I trust everybody. I walk around and make friends.”

Phil and Lisa are hairstylists, Phil paints, and Angelique makes jewelry and paints. In approximately 850 square feet of space the family has a hair salon with separate hair-washing booth, a jewelry boutique and art gallery, Angelique’s jewelry studio, a living room, a kitchen, two beds, and a full bath. Phil observes, “Being in creative thought we feel so alive. It keeps us together as a family. We are together, encouraging each other. We are the trinity.”

Lofts at Studioplex are selling well, despite the economy’s downturn. Spaces range from $169,900 to $429,900. “We’ve got a phenomenal location and incredible energy,” states Brenda Lee Stepp, Studioplex’s On Site Salesperson. “We are so unique. We’re a historic site and the mixed use zoning appeals to both the business user and the residential user.” The transformation from cotton warehouse to artistic live/work environment is a reality. Somewhere, the Reverend Martin Luther King most probably approves.

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