Sunday, March 6, 2011

R.I.P. Roosevelt House: 1973-2011

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, ATLANTA, GA – Traditional public housing came to a dramatic end in Atlanta when Roosevelt House was imploded at precisely 7:30am on Sunday, February 27, 2011. The implosion was the culmination of the Atlanta Housing Authority's (AHA) 16-year effort to eliminate project-based public housing.  But unlike the stereotypical discourse surrounding “The Projects”, Roosevelt House was not crime-infested, run by violent gangs, nor located in a high poverty, racially segregated area.

As a matter of fact it was right across the street from the Georgia Institute of Technology campus, not far from recently built luxury condominiums for convenient “in-town” living. And the 17-story, 150 unit-building with spectacular views from its upper floors was a place low income seniors and disabled citizens called home over its 38-year life span. Many of the seniors retired to Roosevelt from their jobs as railroad workers, cooks, maids, janitors, and Licensed Practitioner Nurses (LPNs) because it made for a nice home that they could afford on their meager pensions.

Roosevelt was coming down simply because it was old. In 2009 it was deemed beyond repair by the housing authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “It needed to come down, I got tired of all those cockroaches coming over for dinner every night, but I still miss it,” one former resident told me.

All of this seemed lost on the surprisingly large crowd that showed up to watch its implosion even though the AHA had circulated some history about Roosevelt House prior to the event, and had flyers (along with refreshments) at the staging area. The crowd was there merely to watch a building go KA-BOOM. Parents brought their sleepy kids along with blankets and lawn chairs, Georgia Tech architecture students came with their fancy camera equipment; and the media with microphones, tape recorders, television cameras, and notebooks.  There was even an engineering group holding a big banner demanding to know the truth about the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse. The fact that this group would equate the implosion of a low income senior high rise many people once called home with 9/11 seemed particularly callous. The subsequent media accounts were equally as shallow -- but footage of the implosion did make the national news. I guess TV audiences like to watch buildings go KA-BOOM as well.

The “show” did not disappoint. Although most of the spectators were oblivious to this, as part of the official ceremony a group of former residents hit a symbolic detonator while the demolition experts set off the real one. Almost immediately there was a series of deafening KA-BOOMS that prompted me to scream right along with the kids while others ewed and awed. Within seconds smoke started to appear and the building began to collapse. It was over less than a minute later with a huge cloud of lingering smoke rising from the rubble. As the audience continued to cheer loudly I quietly cried. I wasn’t crying so much for the residents who were moved out – while the relocation process was very stressful on them most found nice apartments and say they are happy now. I was crying more because the history and life of this important building was seemingly obliterated by a clueless crowd who could have cared less about what Roosevelt House meant to so many people over the years. Without the promise of KA-BOOM most of them wouldn’t have even shown up.

The following pictures show the one-minute sequence of Roosevelt’s implosion -- rest in peace Roosevelt House.

Deirdre Oakley is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Georgia State University and the Editor of Social Shutter. Along with her colleagues Drs Lesley Reid  and Erin Ruel she is part of the GSU Urban Health Initiative, a research project following about 350 former public housing residents who were relocated in Atlanta, including 70 from Roosevelt House. You can contact her at To view more photographs of the Roosevelt House implosion event, log on to Social Shutter's Facebook page.

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