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Feb 28, 2018
Underground Atlanta is changing...again!
Underground Atlanta has a long and storied history.
I won't go into detail here, but you can read about it on Wikipedia if you'd like. I don't recommend Wikipedia as a definitive source, but for something like this, it'll do.
Back in the mid-to-late 1990's, we were living in Peachtree City (south of the airport) and had some friends visit from out of town.
We'd heard about Underground, but we'd never been.
We took the kids and drove to the city and walked around and had lunch.
At that point, Underground was bustling and busy on a Saturday afternoon, and we had a fun time checking it out.
It was interesting because of the architecture and history and the fact that it was...well...underground! Although, at the time it did seem to be mostly a tourist trap with shopping, restaurants and lots of little kiosks full of souvenirs, sunglasses, and other junk.
I didn't go back to Underground for many years.
About six years ago, I was downtown with friends, so we went over to Underground to check it out.
I was stunned to see how deserted it was.
There were so few people, and it looked as if many shops had closed their doors for good. I wondered how any of the shops were able to stay open.
In 2014, when I moved to the city, I went down to the Five Points area with friends while on a photo walk. Walking through the area around Underground, there were lots of homeless - shopping carts piled high with worldly goods. The smell of weed was prevalent.
We witnessed fighting in the street.
I went with a friend one more time on a photo foray last year, but again, it was surprising that the place was even open.
Here we are now, 2018, the bonds are finally paid off, and the City of Atlanta has sold Underground to a private investor.
No notice to the residents, that I'm aware of, and one neighborhood group threatened to sue.
But, it's a done deal.
I'm hopeful that things will turn out well.
Underground has been closed for about six months.
My friend, Lauren, who runs the Atlanta Urban Photo Walkers, wanted to do a photo meetup at Underground.
She'd had a meetup back in June that ended near Underground, but the security guards told us to leave, saying cameras weren't allowed on the property.
Lauren raised this point with the developer at a public meeting recently - that what once were public city streets were now private, and apparently not everyone was welcome.
At the meeting, the folks from Revel (the retail consulting and development firm) said that wasn't true and they'd be happy to host a meetup and let us all inside.
They told her it was fine to have cameras on the property.
Lauren worked with a couple of people via email and after several attempts was finally able to get the okay and set up a meetup to get inside the currently closed Underground.
Sunday dawned, rainy and cloudy, but that didn't stop about 150 people from showing.
The air was electric with impatient photographers ready for their chance to get inside the empty property.
The Revel representative showed up a little late and informed us he had to leave in an hour, but that we'd be able to wander the property outside after he left!
Wow - that was disappointing.
An hour for a photographer to wander in a place like that and get photos feels like about 10 minutes.
And...weren't we free to roam around outside any time? Or was our prior experience the new normal - please leave if you have a camera?
Regardless, the rep unlocked the doors, and we were in.
Photographers swarmed in all directions.
It was hard to get a photo without another photographer in it.
The rep was wandering around trying to find lights to turn on.
The atmosphere was a little creepy and dark - not the best for photos, but I loved the odd lighting.
Guess I'm a little weird, but I love being in old abandoned or semi-abandoned places. It fires my imagination, and I love thinking about all the people who have been there before me and what they've done.
I was wandering around deciding what to photograph when I realized the guy from Revel was opening up Dante's Down the Hatch.
Dante's was a nightclub down underneath the main Underground level.
I ventured down the stairs into the dark, trying not to stumble and fall with my camera gear. I pulled out my phone to light my way the last few feet that were nearly pitch black.
A few lights finally came on, and I looked up to see wine bottles hanging everywhere from the ceiling.
I was told there used to be a moat with a live crocodile.
It was crazy down there.
Some of the photographers were talking about having been to Dante's in its heyday. It sounded like fun, though the place gave me a touch of claustrophobia.
Dante, who owned it, is said to be quite a colorful character.
At any rate, it was hot and humid and smelled of mold, and as I feverishly worked to get some photos, I felt that uncomfortable feeling of my shirt sticking to my back.
But, I had a blast.
I tried to get as many pictures as I could in the small space before it was filled with other photographers.
I didn't get as many photos as I wanted, but I got a few.
I went back upstairs to see if I could get some more photos of Underground before we had to leave.
I could have stayed in there all day exploring and taking photographs.
It's nice that they gave us the opportunity, and I'm grateful, but I do wish they'd given us more time. It felt like we were just getting started when the rep came around asking us to wrap it up and leave.
We headed outside.
It was pretty dreary out, but we managed to get a few more photos before we left.
I hope that the new owners of the Underground work with the community to keep it accessible to all, including those who happen to be toting cameras!
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