Cheshire Bridge Road is an alluring look into a diverse southern urban community within Atlanta, Georgia.
In 1998, I moved to a neighborhood connected to Cheshire Bridge Road. This one-mile road is known for its many strip clubs, gay bars, and adult novelty stores. In 2005, I began capturing the lives of people, and the places they belong along this road.
Cheshire Bridge Road has never been a planned urban community. Its first major transformation was in the 1920’s when the land was far enough from downtown to be cheap for businesses to spring out of homes when residents fled to the suburbs. For decades, Cheshire Bridge Road offered places for people to freely express themselves regardless of gender, race, and sexual orientation.
After years of experiencing an overwhelming amount of rejections to photograph people on the road, and inside the establishments, people began to not see my camera as a threat. I slowly established a presence, and trust within the community. Twelve years later, the images reveal the humanity of an edgy diverse disappearing urban community.
Cheshire Bridge Road is suffering from an explosion of redevelopment. Many historic places are being demolished and replaced with ‘luxury’ high-rise apartments, storage facilities, and chain stores. This unique community is becoming extinct before of my eyes. Soon, the diversity along the road will no longer exist, and its soul lost forever.
If our neighborhood had an official beginning, it probably started around 1838 when Captain Cheshire settled on a large farm in Atlanta - now known as Cheshire Bridge Road. He was born in Maryland, and served in the war of 1812.
Captain Cheshire’s son, Napoleon, lived in the hilltop house on Cheshire Bridge Road after he fought in the Confederate War. He and his family continued to run the farm late into the 1800’s. The house is now the Colonnade Restaurant that was established in 1927.
In the early 1870’s, the Atlanta to Charlotte Railroad Line was completed. The railroad brought commercial development to the area. Large farms became residential neighborhoods with commercial activity on thoroughfare roads. Cheshire Bridge Road became the commercial road out of Atlanta into the neighboring farm country.
In 1948, James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, owned and performed in his first rhythm & blues bar on Cheshire Bridge Road. After James Brown moved on, the bar became "Sweet Gum Head". In the 70’s, it was known as the best drag show bar of the South. Later, Sweet Gum Head became the notorious 24K Gentlemen’s Club that encountered many problems with the law. Today, the building is the ‘Tease’ strip club.
1951 was the year that Interstate 85 construction began to impact surrounding neighborhoods. Homes suffered cracks in the concrete foundations and driveways, and window glass broke from the dynamite blasts used to build the highway, also impacting businesses and homes along Cheshire Bridge Road.
In the early 1950’s, Hastings Nursery, LaVista Hardware, and Happy Herman’s opened along Cheshire Bridge road. Happy Herman’s was one of only three liquor stores around. At the time, much of North Georgia was "dry" and these liquor stores were the first and only one available to many surrounding counties in Georgia.
In the 1970’s and 80’s, drag shows hit the scene. Then, it was illegal in Georgia for men to dress in women’s clothes. Georgia law required drag queens to have on at least one item of male clothing. Clubs were often raided by police, and drag queens had to show they had on male underwear or go to jail.
From the late 1980’s to early 2000’s, the adult entertainment vibe along Cheshire Bridge Road remained unchanged. In 2005, the surrounding neighborhoods banded together with Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan to remove all adult establishments on this road through a rezoning effort. But, the rezoning only succeeded in prohibiting new adult businesses from opening.
In 2013, Councilman Wan introduced legislation, supported by neighborhood associations, to remove all adult entertainment businesses from Cheshire Bridge Road by 2018, but this legislation did not pass. It was opposed by a mix of gays, strip club owners, and other real estate interests.
Recently, developers have created assemblages by purchasing contiguous small tracts of land along Cheshire Bridge Road to create large tracts for high-rise apartments, and storage facilities. Many businesses are in jeopardy of closing because they only lease the buildings on the land. When their leases are up for renewal – that’s the end.
Developers are destroying every inch of land and filling it with concrete. Jungle Atlanta, the best dance and drag bar in the state, closed its doors November 11, 2017. The developer (who owns the land, and the land of the new ‘luxury’ apartments next to it) doesn’t want a gay club near the apartments (according to Jungle Atlanta’s website announcement).
The neighborhood associations surrounding Cheshire Bridge Road failed to strip the area of its character earlier this decade. Now, real estate developers are plowing down everything in sight, with no regard to creating a place for all people to go for entertainment.
With over forty-five thousand cars a day traveling on Cheshire Bridge Road, no planned community development exists for this transforming area, just more car pollution, and an intense infiltration of reckless and frustrated drivers cutting through the neighborhoods to avoid the traffic on Cheshire Bridge Road.
Runners, walkers, and people pushing strollers in the neighborhoods risk their lives because there is no plan for creating sidewalks. Like so many others cities, redeveloping areas without community involvement benefits the few, and pushes out the many.
Cheshire Bridge Road
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