This Gothic-Revival building was built in 1916 for Ponce de Leon Methodist Episcopal Church. Architect Charles H. Hopson (1865-1941) designed the building.
Two other Atlanta churches were designed by Mr. Hopson, Rock Springs Presbyterian (1923) and Peachtree Christian Church (1928). Both buildings are on the National Register.
Modern design critics have praised Hopson’s impressive handling of contrasting building materials at the Ponce de Leon church, particularly the ornamental patterns on the corner tower. Also notable is the high level of craftsmanship in the church’s construction – supervised by church member Jasper N. Hoagland.
“The new church which is now completed save for pews and radiators, delayed in freight, has been built by local labor and from supplies purchased of firms in the vicinity. The brick came from Rome, Georgia. The pews are from Tennessee. Much favorable comment has been made not only upon the unique and beautiful Gothic lines of this church which is a distinct addition to the public buildings of the city but upon the exceptionally fine windows.” – November 11, 1916, The Atlanta Constitution
The inside floorplan, with the pulpit between the two main Ponce de Leon entrances, was a unique “innovation”. The south end of the church featured a departmental system of Sunday school classrooms that opened into the main auditorium.
In the 1950s, the building underwent a massive renovation by the new occupant, Faith Memorial Church. A three-story classroom building was added to the south end of the building, removing the back stained-glass windows. In the west, a two-story meeting hall wing was constructed – creating a Escher-like collection of stairwells and levels. A new, “modern” system of electrical wiring and air conditioning was added.
In 1977, the building was transformed into a restaurant. The adaptive reuse by the Gro Corporation saved the building from demolition and won an Award of Excellence from the Urban Design Commission. The restaurant renovation created an immense kitchen in the basement level, constructed the rear “chapel” lounge, leveled the auditorium and balcony floors, built a new dining platform over the altar with a “harpist loft” above, added the nonperiod black railings and stuck medieval themed décor wherever possible. A third, “state-of-the-art” system of electrical wiring and air conditioning was added.
From 1844 to 1939, the Methodist Church was split over the issue of slavery. The Ponce de Leon church was one of the principal “northern” Methodist churches in the South. The congregation was founded in 1867 and had met at three prior locations – Central Avenue, Marietta Street and Fulton Street. When Bishop Frederick Leete arrived in Atlanta in 1912, he began a campaign for the Ponce de Leon church with a construction budget of $35,000. He delivered the first sermon in the building on November 12, 1916. Services were held at 11:00 am and 4:30 pm with Sunday school starting at 10:00am. For many years, the church pastor also served as the Atlanta District superintendent. When the Methodists united in 1939, the congregation was absorbed by other surrounding Methodist churches.
Click here for an article about this new church in the Atlanta Constitution – Oct. 15, 1915.
Beginning in 1935 in a tent, Rev. Ralph P. Byrd led an Assembly of God congregation that moved in 1944 to the Ponce de Leon church. Mr. Byrd’s Sunday morning sermons were televised live in Atlanta. Faith Memorial Church sold the Ponce de Leon building in 1970 and moved to Briarcliff Road.
First opened in an old Unitarian church on West Peachtree in 1968, owner Bill Swearingen moved The Abbey Restaurant to Ponce de Leon in 1977. The restaurant was an Atlanta landmark, with monkrobe wearing waiters serving fine continental cuisine.
“As a dining destination with an ecumenical gimmick, the Abbey is almost scandalously successful. Slyly ministering to locals and conventioneers alike, skillfully positioned between sacrilege and titillation, the venerable shrine-with-a-menu combines nondenominational dinner theater (three courses under stained glass), farce (waiters wear shorty monks’ robes over regular trousers) and elegant goofiness (a harpist in the choir loft skips effortlessly from ‘Ode to Joy’ to ‘Tara’s Theme’). Perhaps because it’s a temple dedicated to wedding anniversaries and expense-account rapture, nonsacramental wine takes the third most prominent part – after architecture and decor – in the Abbey’s rites.” – Elliott Mackle, April 14, 1995, The Atlanta Journal Constitution
St. Paul’s Presbyterian was planted by Pastor Chris Robins in 1999. We have met in locations around Midtown, including, The Mill at Piedmont Park, the Atlanta Women’s Club, the Wyndam Hotel, SciTrek Museum and Defoor’s Centre. St. Paul’s Presbyterian was constituted as a full “Particular Church” in 2002 and purchased the Ponce de Leon church in 2006. We are part of the Presbyterian Church of America (www.pcanet.org).
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