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September 2010

Airport Remains

Last week my family met us at Thai Heaven in Hapeville to celebrate my birthday. This top floor restaurant on Virginia Ave overlooks the airport.

As we waited for our supper, Dad leaned over to Gayle and asked, "What does that remind you of?" He pointed to a crusty strip of concrete below.

"Going to the airport," she said, remembering with a smile. They have done this as long as I can remember– shared inside jokes and memories at the dinner table while we tried to guess what they're talking about.

Eventually, Dad explained that we were looking down on the former entrance to the airport, the bold symmetrical ramps that led to the 1961 terminal. This post card from Atlanta Time Machine shows how they would have looped the terminal.


"Did you fly much?" I asked.

Dad laughed.

"We were always picking someone up or dropping them off. I didn't fly for the first time until my 40s."

Then he told me about "Blue Lights," an infamous high school destination for necking near the runways. The long stretches of pavement were marked by low blue runway lamps, and virtually unsupervised.

I did the math. As Forest Park natives, my parents grew up with the airport, but it was the '90s before they ever actually flew anywhere. By then, it was a completely different airport– new name, entrance, tower, and terminal. It had become a place equipped to handle 4 times the passenger volume, and that volume included the very residents it had displaced.

The entire operation shown in that postcard now fits in one parking lot of the modern airport. Everything pictured there is gone, but for some reason, the entrance and exit ramps have survived. They lead nowhere and have no purpose. They are cut off and floating.  What planning oversight or sentimental urge allowed them to remain? I think the lingering concrete is part of a secret map of old Air Castle of the Jet Age, only visible from the air.

Public Housing


These are “the projects” down the street from my house. Isolated between Hillcrest Cemetery and the Highway 166 overpass, I routinely drive past them on my way to the freeway. Over the last 6 months, I’ve noticed that they are being vacated and boarded up. Only a couple cars remain parked out front, a few lingering porch lights are left on at night. I wonder if East Point is following the example of Atlanta, which has now demolished all of its large-scale public housing projects.


I knew almost nothing about the East Point Housing Authority until they made national news yesterday with their tragically disorganized effort to disseminate Section 8 applications. The sight of these boarded up buildings may have contributed to the urgency of the crowd. How can there be enough vouchers for everyone who has been displaced? I am constantly thinking about the ache of lost homes, and here that feeling is multiplied by hundreds.


I parked at the cemetery to visit the vacant complex. The plaque told me that it has a name: Hillcrest Homes, dedicated in 1951. With the blue sky and puffy clouds, and the cicadas humming along with the traffic, it reminded me of a summer camp after all the campers have gone home.

Set in Stone


After 5 years of driving past this graveyard on Cleveland Avenue, and many more years of eyeing it from I-75, I finally stopped to visit the Gilbert Memorial Cemetery. Maybe I put it off so long because I always imagined visiting the plot would require parking in the emergency lane and darting across a few lanes of highway traffic. Actually, you can park at Krystal, cross the exit ramp at a crosswalk, and enter through a circle of mature crepe myrtles. Inside, there’s a white marble obelisk that you would never notice from the interstate. This is a popular corner for prostitutes and other street professionals, a few of whom shared my fascination with the memorial. 


The Georgia historic marker says: “use of these grounds expanded to provide burial for members of various churches and fraternal lodges of the neighboring black community.” Down the hill, 50 or 60 concrete graves are nestled in the freeway exit loop. I had assumed the DOT built around the cemetery, but their uniformity suggests that these are not the original headstones. 

It’s a “memorial cemetery,” meaning that the graves were displaced and later marked in the perfect circle of grass created by the southbound entrance ramp. The obelisk marks the site of the original 1861 burial plot, but the graves were “destroyed by unknown persons in the late 1950’s.” Some time later, “concerned local residents and local clergy” rallied the Federal Highway Administration, Fulton County, and Georgia DOT to recognize the cemetery with a permanent monument. It's difficult to think that the memorials themselves needed a memorial. They placed the state historic marker in 1983.