Once upon a time, the intersection of Auburn Avenue and Jesse Hill Jr Drive was smack in the middle of a thriving and bustling community. Nowadays, the Oddfellows Building on Auburn overlooks a significantly different landscape than the one that surrounded it at its construction in 1912. One of the few surviors is the former Atlanta Life Insurance Co. branch office building. Started by Alonzo Herndon in the early 20th century, Atlanta Life Insurance, Co. quickly made the former slave the wealthiest man in the city. The building also once served as the headquarters of the Atlanta Dance Theater. The building is located in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, a 19-acre homage to black history in Atlanta. The Fulton County Board of Assessors reports the property was recently transferred into the ownership of the Butler Street Community Development Corporation, a division of the Butler Street YMCA. The property was purchased for only $10, a drastic depreciation since its last sale in 1996 for $191,000. This may be due in part to the damage the building suffered during a tornado Atlanta endured in 2008. While Atlantans saw a hands-on, fast-paced effort to restore many businesses and residences immediately after the disaster, unused structures like this one saw no relief. The building attached to 229 Auburn was essentially leveled by the natural disaster. The space has since been cleared and covered with gravel for use as paid public parking. However, once the adjoining building crumbled, the Gold Dust twins mural was revealed for the first time in many decades. The painted advertisement for Gold Dust dish soap, a fanatically popular brand in the early 20th century, has been declared racially insensitive and some believe the building should be destroyed. On the contrary, I believe the mural and the building should both be preserved. These artifacts serve as a constant reminder of the past, both good and bad aspects. We can’t just destroy history because it isn’t pretty! If there are no reminders of our mistakes as a society then we are bound to repeat them. Personally, I feel the state of the structure after years of neglect and decay implies something very negative about the value of the black community to the city of Atlanta. Because of this I feel it would be in the best interest of the city to start working to preserve this and similar buildings in the area.
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