Previous month:
May 2004
Next month:
July 2004

Research

Dear Jo Cranford, Alderman at Large-

How inspiring it was to run across a familiar face on the City of Hapeville website. It's been four years since we graduated from Agnes Scott and I'm thrilled that you've found success as a leader in a community that's meaningful to us both. My first childhood home was near Hapeville, in the area formerly known as Mountain View.

I found your contact information on the web, but no mention of the city of Mountain View. I wonder if you can help further my research. It seems that resources on our little patch of Atlanta are scarce, and generally slanted towards promoting a romantic version of history (relics of Gone With the Wind) or a stale pitch for developers (A Great Place to Live Work and Play). As if we're all down here skiing on Lake Spivey, sporting bonnets and ballgowns, etc. Surely you remember my Mountain View- a lost city briefly located on the cusp of Clayton and Fulton County, notable only for its traffic cops and one exceptional doughnut shop.

I shouldn't have to sift through websites for evidence of an entire city, even if it did only exist for a period of 20 something years. I’d have better luck pinning down a myth. Plus, we have such stupid names around here. Before it was Mountain View, the village was called Rough and Ready, supposedly from Andrew Jackson's nickname. The Rough and Ready Tavern was a haven for Confederate rebels, just south of the burning capital city. Maybe the reconstructors during Reconstruction opted for a more hopeful name. You could see clear out to Stone Mountain’s dome, twenty miles to the east. Is it true that they trucked off the entire crest of red earth to form an airport runway? Can a city charter be revoked based on aesthetic devaluation? Disowned like a runaway daughter?

Even a train station, even a tavern, a woodpile, a water tank along the Macon & Western Railroad, a shapeless collection of industrial parks, needs a name. God only knows what the Creek Indians once called this footpath leading off to the holy mountain. Now that the smog often blocks the view, it's only fair that the name faded from maps. And even a stupid name needs a population stable enough recall it and pronounce it. Like Quick Station, then Forest Station, Stumptown, then Astor, then Forest Park. If there's no longer any mentionable Forest or Park, how do you say it in Vietnamese? or Haitian or Mexican?

I'm collecting evidence of these implications. Last weekend my Grandma gave me a newspaper clipping from The Clayton Neighbor, August 1976. "Natural Childbirth: Moms and Dads Stick Together in Clayton Delivery Rooms." My mother and father are pictured in the county's first Lamaze class. Dad is smooth and earnest, supporting my mom from behind. Mom's arms are plump in her ruffled peasant blouse. Her eyeglasses and belly are extravagantly round. "Jesse and Jayne Slagle Perform Exercise. Mountain View Couple is Taking Soromundi Course." They’re poster children for a progressive, wholesome community. For the onward and upward. I can't tell you how ghostly this photo is to me, knowing my sister is balled up inside that shirt; knowing my mom and dad are younger than I am now, and that they did not, in fact, stick together.

See, the city of Mountain View, like their marriage, dissolved shortly after that article was published. I have yet to unearth a trace of protest or regret about it. Mountain View lost its city charter in 1978, a year of tornadoes. Jayne and Jesse were forced out of the old Victorian they rented on Southwest Street when the whole block was scooped up by airport developers. The houses were hoisted out of their foundations, paraded down Highway 19/41 draped in solemn Wide Load banners.

Not that I'm that too sentimental about 133 Southwest Street. Memories of the place are easily confused with old photos I've seen- the cool back stoop, peeling linoleum in the kitchen, possibly a swingset. It’s the general pattern that is freaking me out. The first home of my childhood, the entire street where it stood and the very city of Mountain View have been erased from history. The airport absorbed my next house on Barnett Road in the ‘80s and our family home on Phillips Drive in the ‘90s.

The chainlink fence blocking Old Dixie Highway from what used to be Southwest Street is choked with kudzu and honeysuckle. You can slip through a number of body-sized punctures and hike the wide path of crumbling blacktop through old growth trees, directly under the bellies of low Deltas, their feet outstretched for landing. Crepe Myrtles mark the old mouths of driveways and roam out into the empty blocks like feral cats. You'd have to pick closely through the undergrowth for even a footnote of the families that once lived here.

And I do. Just like I search these strip malls for the ruins of a lost civilization. You can tell the playful rooftop arc of a pawnshop once covered an Arby's. Back when the simplest architectures had to be signifiers, visible from the highway. The letters CARPET once read CAROL'S, a hangout for some other generation. I see the original Harvest Gold paint and woodgrain panels of Winn Dixie peeking from behind the flags of Thailand and Yemen in the International Farmers’ Market. Is it so odd to mourn an Arby's or an old supermarket? Architectural sketches are the most recklessly optimistic art. Brisk pedestrians, cloudless skies, permanent springtime. Like the names of subdivisions. Like City-of websites. Like feel-good pieces in local newspapers.

Jo, I accept that you can never go home again. I've joked that Atlanta's city seal should read "First Come, First Served," but I love, truly love, Hapeville's motto, "Progress through Transport," and I've no choice but to claim it as my own. While I'm wholly in awe of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (2nd Busiest in the World) and its continued expansion, I wish someone would tell the story that I recognize. What is so hard about passing on certain historical facts? i.e. the year of the move, the year of the divorce, neighborhoods swallowed, digested, the mass exodus. The bargains struck for air rights, relocated properties. A new runway is built, and something massive, unique and ephemeral is cleared out. Why would shame blot out this information, when we all agree its for the best, for progress, and no one is to blame?

You were my cheery and dutiful class president in college; I’ve no doubt you’ll do good work as a member of Hapeville's City Council. The presence of one of my peers there brings me hope. I hope Hapeville rebounds and lives up to its idealistic website, all the sacrifices of progress repaid in full.

Yours Sincerely,
Hannah