National Geographic : 1978 Aug
Portman's first hotel, the popular Hyatt Re gency Atlanta. Through the atrium lobby I zoomed up 22 stories in a glass-bubble eleva tor right through the roof into a revolving satellite restaurant (preceding pages). With such innovative design, Portman in 1967 helped set the tone of Atlanta's renewal. A boom in hotel building ensued, attracting a profitable convention trade that now draws more than 700,000 delegates a year. By 1974 overbuilding, overspeculation (even by major banks), the oil embargo, and a national recession all took their toll. Atlan ta's boom, it appeared, might turn to bust. "No way," Portman assured me. "This year has seen a turnaround. Speculative ventures have gone under, losses are being absorbed, construction is starting again. We could even use another hotel downtown." Portman's newest hostelry, the 72-story glass cylinder of the Peachtree Center Plaza Hotel, thrusts Atlanta into the clouds (pages 212-13). Inside I had relaxed on a cushioned "conversation pod," like a private lily pad, on the half-acre lake that is the lobby. The architect explained: "My design philosophy is to bring people together in interesting, un expected ways. That really comes from be ing in Georgia, with its southern ideas of friendliness and courtesy, and the recogni tion of fellow men as individuals." Like any conventioneer I experienced the wonders of the other hotel megastructures. I skated at the Omni's Olympic-size ice rink, dined on pheasant at Nikolai's Roof at the Hilton, and then tried to burn off the calories at its tennis courts. At Colony Square I shopped at boutiques and admired an ab stract fountain sculpture. Into a Living Time Capsule Not everyone appreciates the new look. One disappointed visitor wrote back to the Atlanta Constitution: "In two hundred years Atlanta... will only be remembered for glass elevators, stark concrete, and conventions... another center for the fast-buck franchise." The letter writer did, "I just like to run," says high-school sophomore Vicki Whitlow. Joining more than 6,000 others, she finished well in last year's 10,000-meter Peachtree Road Race, an increasing ly popular Atlanta tradition on the morning of the Fourth of July. "It's a celebration of America and the values that we prize in our part of the country," says Max Cleland, head of the Veterans Administra tion, of the Fourth of July parade that in 1977 honored Georgians in Washington. Cleland, who holds a master's degree in history from Emory University, was disabled in Viet Nam but came home to win election to the state senate in 1970. He believes the Carter election to the Presidency affirms that "no longer must all political talent come from the North and West. The South has been developing. Now the seeds are bearing fruit."