Landmarks & Legacies: Ivan Allen, Jr.’s imprint on GWCCA campus

Landmarks & Legacies is an occasional unConventional blog series exploring the various identifying and distinctive physical features of the GWCCA campus.

Atlanta is among the fastest-growing large cities in the country, according to a report published by WalletHub, and its continued growth and success are due in large part to visionary city leaders both past and present. In this installment of Landmarks & Legacies, unConventional takes a look at the legacy of Ivan Allen Jr. and his footprint on the city and around the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) campus.

Born in Atlanta on March 15, 1911, Ivan Allen Jr. served as the city’s mayor from 1962 – 1970 and was a vital force in the growth of downtown Atlanta. His leadership was instrumental in transforming Atlanta from a segregated town to a thriving, progressive city. Allen oversaw the development of the Atlanta Civic Center, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority(MARTA), and the construction of I-285 and the downtown connector. Along with bringing major sports franchises to the city, Allen’s tenure propelled Atlanta forward and positioned the city as a future host site for the world’s largest events including the Olympic Games.

Photo by Miranda Reagan, Georgia State University.

As a tribute to his impact on the city, a statue of Ivan Allen, Jr. and his family (Ivan Allen Sr. and Ivan Allen III) was commissioned for the 1996 Olympic Games and currently stands in Centennial Olympic Park. Its original location was adjacent to the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce building, a nod to his work with the organization for which he was elected president in 1960. GWCCA purchased and demolished the Chamber building, adding more greenspace to the Park. The statue, moved during the Park’s $27 million capital improvement campaign, is now located at the southwest entrance at the intersection of Andrew Young International Blvd. and Marietta Street.

In addition to his economic leadership, Allen led the Atlanta through a tumultuous yet significant civil rights era during his two four-year terms. He worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and in July 1963, he made national waves as the only southern mayor to testify before the United States Senate in favor of the desegregation of public accommodations – the heart of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Photo by Jaleesa Fears, GWCCA Sr. Communications Specialist.

His efforts forged a new era of racial integration in Atlanta and these key moments are now memorialized on the Ivan Allen Jr. Legacy Bridge, one of the main gateways into the GWCCA campus adjacent to the north end of the Georgia World Congress Center’s Buildings B and C. The $1.5 million project was led by the PATH Foundation along with noteworthy donors, Jim Kennedy and Sarah Kennedy and the James M. Cox Foundation, to create a path for cyclists and pedestrians to travel west.

Photo by Jaleesa Fears, GWCCA Sr. Communications Specialist.

Dedicated in November and touted as an outdoor walking museum, the colorful bridge overlooks several downtown venues, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and connects downtown Marietta Street to Atlanta’s westside. Multiple placards line the bridge with a timeline of Allen’s legacy including his civil rights record, business accomplishments, and collaborative leadership. The outdoor museum experience is brought to life with mobile hyperlinks and QR codes that allow visitors to access video clips of pivotal moments in Allen’s career such as his Senate testimony in 1963.

The Allen Family statue in Centennial Olympic Park and the Ivan Allen Jr. Legacy Bridge are just two ways Mayor Allen’s impact is honored around the city. The next time you’re on the GWCCA campus, make sure you stop by these landmarks.