HenryGradyNo, no, say it isn’t so.

After surviving in downtown Atlanta when you could shoot a cannon down Marietta Street and not hit even a panhandler, when the streets were so barren that pedestrians could hear their voices echoing off the walls of empty office buildings, when even the original Underground failed to survive the out-migration of law firms, accountants and assorted merchants — that pillar of urban strength and anchor of sense and sensibility, that purveyor of news, information and wisdom, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, now says it may leave 72 Marietta Street.

The paper’s announcement says the decision is necessary to cut costs, and we certainly appreciate what a wringer newspapers have been through in this economy.

But now? Of all times, just when there are  signs of renewed life downtown, when you can actually see people on the streets who aren’t looking for a handout. That means poor Henry Grady will be left to stand guard alone at Marietta and Forsyth streets, where for decades he watched the center of his “New South” metropolis blossom, only to be abandoned by so many — so many except The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, until now.

I went to work for The Atlanta Journal (not The Constitution, mind you) in 1967, when they were around the corner on Forsyth Street. Let me tell you, those were the days when we would tell each other, “It’ll be better when we get in the new building.” Imagine, we went from wooden floors on Forsyth to carpeted floors on Marietta when we moved in the early ‘70s.

6a00e551d321cb8834011278e00e8328a4-800wiA lot of history is associated with that “new building.” It was from the Marietta Street office that then managing editor Jim Minter set forth one cold morning in the early ‘70s with a satchel full of money to ransom Constitution editor Reg Murphy, who had been kidnapped.

That’s where a youngster named Lou Grizzard abandoned the sports department to become a folksy columnist and pontificator on the passing scene.

This was the place where the newspaper went through the trauma of merging the talents of two competitive staffs — you were either “a Journal person” or “a Constitution person,” until 1982.

This is where the new technology of newspapering occurred, when we went from mechanical typewriters — remember them? — to IBMs and gradually to computers. Everything got so quiet. But dare I say it, no one would ever go back?

The composing room also went from hot to cold, as in type, which was an even greater cultural shock. I’ve always thought the demise of the printer, the Linotype operator, was a cultural loss. The newspaper composing room has probably always been a boundary between cultures, and it certainly was in Atlanta during the hot type days.

ConventionI could go on. There have been so many things. From the building at 72 Marietta Street reporters covered the political transition of Atlanta’s city government from white to black, the Democratic National Convention in 1988, the 1996 Olympic Games, the tragic “missing and murdered children” episode, the Braves, the Falcons — maybe I ought to stop now!

Of course, the most compelling memories are of people I got to know, both at the paper and as a result of working for the paper. I remember so many, but alas, in light of time’s passage, I’m finding it harder to recall the names that go with the faces.

Realistically, anyone who follows business could have known years ago that the AJC would eventually relocate its central office. I’ve always suspected that then publisher Jack Tarver regretted putting the AJC complex downtown, but the decision was made in the late ‘60s before the mass outward migration from downtown had begun in earnest.

The company eventually spent a bundle in Gwinnett County, where the main presses are now, a reflection of metro Atlanta’s suburban expansion. According to the announcement, less than 30 percent of the downtown complex is occupied — which means the office building facing Marietta is all that’s in use, the presses and warehouse now unused.

I have no idea where the AJC would go if it does leave downtown. Presumably it will leave the central business district. There’s certainly no shortage of good office space available at bargain prices these days, so my guess is all the commercial brokers in town are parked on the newspaper’s doorstep.

I don’t know where the AJC office building ranks as an architectural gem, or if it does, but it has won some awards over the years. There were many tales about things happening at that building, such as the senior executive who allegedly kept pigeons on the roof — I know who but won’t say. And then there was always the suspicion that just one more computer upgrade that required holes be bored in the floor would collapse at least the floor if not the building.

29479676_88e36c90fbIt’ll be sad when it happens, as any such event as a relocation would be. Thanks to employee buyouts over the last three years, not a lot of contemporary employees will have been there long enough to have my kind of recollections and reflections.

But I do hope that, as those who are left file out the front door for the last time, they will look just to the south and bid a fond farewell to Henry Grady. Or better yet, raise a glass at Manuel’s.


Tom Walker

Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina Aug. 11, 1935, Tom Walker graduated from the University of South Carolina and did post-graduate work at UCLA. He started work at The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina in 1958 and later worked for The Columbia Record, the afternoon half of the State-Record Co., covering politics, courts, police and civil rights in the '60s. After a little more than a year at the Los Angeles City News Service, a local news wire service in L.A., he joined The Associated Press in Charlotte, North Carolina. In February 1967, he came to The Atlanta Journal and was persuaded (forced?) to take the job as real estate editor. When the then-business editor left in 1970 Tom became business editor. When the Journal and Atlanta Constitution staffs merged in the '80s he became a staff writer, a post he held until leaving for a career as a free-lance writer in 2007.