W. W. Orr Doctors' Building: Atlanta's Second Oldest Medical Building

The W. W. Orr Doctors' Building, an Art Deco skyscraper built in 1930, is located in the most southern part of Midtown Atlanta, just north of downtown, on Peachtree Street, Atlanta's famous main thoroughfare. Nearby attractions include the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, Centennial Olympic Park, CNN Center, the Georgia Dome, Philips Arena and the Fox Theatre. The Orr Building is easily reached from the Interstate 75/85 Downtown Connector. MARTA, Atlanta's public transit system, has a train station about one-and-a-half blocks away, and a bus line serves the area.

The 11-story Orr Doctors' Building was constructed after a fire destroyed an old apartment building on the same site that had been converted to medical offices. Many patients' records and valuable equipment were lost. The owners of the building immediately commissioned a new building, one that would be designed specifically with the needs of doctors and dentists in mind. Moreover, they required that the building be fireproof. The well-known Atlanta architectural firm Pringle & Smith was hired to design the new building.

Robert Pringle and Francis Smith had been working together in Atlanta since the early 1920s and had already created several landmark buildings in the city, including the Cox-Carlton Hotel, the Norris Building and the Rhodes-Haverty Building. The Orr Building uses reinforced concrete and a steel service core, which, according to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission (AUDC), "were significant technological innovations in high-rise construction of the era.'' Until 1930, their work had been in the more traditional Beaux Arts style, but that year two of their designs, the Orr Building and the William-Oliver Building, took on elements of the Art Deco movement. Robert Michael Craig, author of Atlanta Architecture: Art Deco to Modern Classic, 1929-1959, points out that the subtlety of the building's Deco ornamentation reflects its nature as a structure both dedicated in its use to science and built using the latest engineering. Craig notes that the decoration is "not the brightly colored, glazed terra-cotta patterns of traditionally picturesque Deco, but the abstraction of machine-cut, incised patterns defined by light and shadow, not color.''

The Orr Building is also significant because it represented a shift away from downtown Atlanta, even as early as 1930. The AUDC points out that the use of the automobile, as well as the desire for modern amenities, began to push newer buildings to the north. "Such buildings offered amenities not typical in the older downtown area, such as modern mechanical systems, easy access by car, and adjacent garage parking.'' This period marked the beginning of the transformation of Peachtree Street from a residential avenue lined with mansions to the commercial corridor that it remains today.

The most important feature of the Orr Building, however, is that it has never stopped being used for the purpose for which it was built. It is owned today by Emory Crawford Long Hospital and still houses hospital facilities and doctors' offices. The building was designated by the City of Atlanta as a Landmark Building in 1989, in part for this reason. The AUDC explains that "the eleven-story, cream-colored brick building expresses its original character with uncanny intensity, particularly in its lavish lobby, and in part because it has been maintained and utilized for its original purpose without interruption over the years.'' According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the hospital wanted to demolish the building in the late 1990s, but its protected status would have made that difficult. Instead, they decided to continue to use the historic building as it was meant to be used, a decision that would have made its builders proud.

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