Designed by the world-renowned Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm at the turn of the century, Vine City’s Mims Park was known for its grassy meadows, stately fountains, pedestrian paths, and lovely shade trees. The park was named in honor of Mayor Livingston Mims and featured what some believe to be Atlanta’s first integrated playground, bringing together the area’s children, regardless of race, in an attempt to forge bonds for the city’s future. For many decades, Mims Park was a source of community pride and an immensely popular gathering spot for all Atlantans.
In the 1950s, the neighborhood lost its park when the land was incorporated into the grounds of what is now Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School. Vine City’s Sunset Avenue remained a sought-after address for many of America’s most influential Civil Rights leaders and families, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, The Honorable Julian Bond, and The Honorable Maynard Jackson, but over the course of several decades, the population gradually dwindled. The neighborhood fell into serious decline. Today, Vine City is one of Atlanta’s most distressed communities, characterized by abandoned homes, vacant lots, persistent crime, and extreme poverty.
Despite the challenges Vine City faces, there is hope for a brighter future. With the new Falcons stadium underway, the entire community is poised for significant transformation. Complementing broader efforts to uplift the area, a group of dedicated citizens is working with the Atlanta-based National Monuments Foundation (NMF) to make a difference right in the heart of Vine City, drawing from the neighborhood’s storied past to build a future around Historic Mims Park. Mayor Kasim Reed, the Atlanta City Council, and Vine City stakeholders have pledged their support to this project, recognizing it as a unique greenspace amenity and a catalyst for sustainable revitalization.
In 2012, the National Monuments Foundation forged an agreement with the City of Atlanta to lease 16 acres for the purpose of recreating Mims Park on the site of the former Wachendorff nursery, two blocks west of the park’s original location. After extensive planning and community engagement, the NMF has developed a plan for Phase I of Historic Mims Park which includes replicating the Olmsted park design. Later-phase development will add a state-of-the-art urban farm with high-yield greenhouses, monumental sculptures, museum facilities and educational elements, paying homage to the rich history of Vine City and the legacy of Georgia peacemakers.
Changing the Face of Atlanta’s Westside
Since the early 1990s, Vine City has been the focus of multiple local and federal revitalization efforts, yet there is little to show for these investments. In sharp contrast, much progress has been made just blocks away in the area surrounding Centennial Olympic Park. Development on the east side of Northside Drive, however, has not brought significant development to the west. Long-term Vine City residents have expressed their frustrations with poor city planning and short-sighted community development programs, feeling disconnected from the urban renewal occurring less than a mile from their homes.
During the past four years, the Vine City community, the Mayor and City Council have embraced the vision of Historic Mims Park as a new anchor for the development of Atlanta’s Westside Tax Allocation District. What distinguishes the Historic Mims Park plan from other unsuccessful redevelopment attempts is the very intentional way that the project re-establishes the greenspace which once defined the community and allows the neighborhood to build on its historical strengths. Where children once played and families picnicked, they will again. Where plants once flourished in greenhouses, they will again. Where residents once had opportunities to work within their own community, they will again. Where civic leaders once gazed up at the skyline of their city and felt inspired to make the world a better place, they will again.
Historic Mims Park will generate substantial community benefits starting in Phase I, addressing the community’s need for healthy recreational pursuits. It will create dozens of jobs in construction, grounds and facilities maintenance, public safety, restaurant and museum operations, and concessions sales. The park will enhance public safety through a robust partnership between the residents of Vine City and the Atlanta Police Foundation. And it will become a hub around which renovation and new construction will take place, much as it has around other vibrant parks in our city.
The Historic Mims Park project offers solutions for Vine City’s most pressing needs while respecting the neighborhood, empowering existing residents, and ensuring the ongoing availability of affordable housing. Less than 10% of the housing stock in Vine City is currently owner-occupied, and there is no shortage of vacant property, creating meaningful opportunities to repopulate the area and build a renewed sense of community. The neighborhood has great potential to appeal to families, and by building on the neighborhood’s strengths, Historic Mims Park can bring about a twenty-first century renaissance in Vine City.
One hundred years ago, Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood was alive with activity. Residents strolled the tree-lined streets, churches and schools dotted the landscape, and local businesses thrived. The community was home to Wachendorff Brothers, an expansive and meticulously maintained nursery with acres of greenhouses and raised beds, operated by a prosperous German immigrant family. Lush vegetation grew year-round in Wachendorff’s gardens under glass, giving the neighborhood an uncommon beauty and its distinctive “Vine City” name.
EARLY 19TH CENTURY WACHENDORFF NURSERIES, SUNSET AVENUE AND BOONE; PROPOSED SITE FOR HISTORIC MIMS PARK
Vine City was conveniently close to the bustling Peachtree Street business district and downtown railway lines, with the Atlanta University Center to the south and Georgia Institute of Technology to the north. A desirable place to live for both blacks and whites, it was among the most diverse neighborhoods in Atlanta at the time. In the early twentieth century, Vine City had something that appealed to everyone… and at the center of it all was a park.
“I’ve lived in Vine City for 25 years, and I have talked to hundreds of neighbors about Historic Mims Park… I even took the project’s video door to door to show it to residents in their homes. The neighborhood is very excited about this park. The timing is right, coinciding with construction of the new Falcons stadium, the designation of the Sunset Avenue Historic District, and other projects preserving the legacy of local change makers. The City made a great contribution in assembling the land for Historic Mims Park, and now we can make it come to life.
I believe that Historic Mims Park will provide a catalytic change that can transform our community.”
Makeda Johnson, chair of the MLK Merchants Association, board member of the Vine City Civic Association, and former NPUL Chair