Monroe Drive or Boulevard

Posted in Georgia History, GSU photo archive, Race by chamblee54 on July 17, 2016









It is an Atlanta cliche. Boulevard turns into Monroe Drive because one was black, and the other white. The white people did not want to live on a street with the same name as the black neighborhood. You hear this all the time, with very little explanation. It is plausible. At one time, Ponce de Leon Avenue was a dividing line between the white, and black, neighborhoods. There are, however, a few questions about this name change business.

In the space between I-85 and Dekalb County, there are four streets that change names when they cross Ponce De Leon Avenue. These are Juniper/Courtland, Charles Allen/Parkway, Monroe/Boulevard, and Briarcliff/Moreland. Several streets cross Ponce without changing names, including Spring Street, Peachtree Street, Piedmont Avenue, and North Highland Avenue.

Four thoroughfares are affected by the Ponce rebranding. Juniper/Courtland is mostly commercial, at least south of Ponce. Briarcliff/Moreland is mostly white until you get to the railroad tracks south of Little Five Points. When Moreland Avenue goes under the MARTA line, the neighborhood is Reynoldstown….which was not named for Burt Reynolds.

Charles Allen/Parkway does change from white to black at Ponce. The street name then changes to Jackson Street, the original name, at Highland Avenue. Monroe/Boulevard also goes from white to black at Ponce. However, when you cross the railroad tracks, Boulevard goes through Cabbagetown, a white neighborhood. Boulevard residents change color several times before the road dead ends at the Federal Prison. Oakland Cemetery, and Zoo Atlanta, do not play a role in this drama.

If this litany of street names is boring, it is all right to skip over the text. The pictures today are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”.

Roads change names all over the metro area, for a variety of reasons. In the area between Ponce De Leon Avenue and I 20, there are roads that change at railroad tracks (North Highland/Highland, Krog/Estoria.) Others change at Highland Avenue (Parkway/Jackson, Glen Iris/Randolph) or Decatur Street (Hilliard/Grant, Bell/Hill.) Some of these changes are racially motivated, while others are not. Some make sense, while most do not.

No one seems to know when this Monroe/Boulevard thing happened. An 1892 “Bird’s eye view” shows Boulevard sailing off into the horizon, past a racetrack in today’s Piedmont Park. A 1911 map shows Boulevard starting near “L.P. Grant Park,” and sailing past Ponce up to Piedmont Park. A 1940 map shows Boulevard going past Park Drive, only to turn into Monroe Drive at Montgomery Ferry Road. Finally, a 1969 map of “Negro Residential Areas” shows Monroe Drive changing into Boulevard at Ponce De Leon Avenue, like it is today. Boulevard is a stand alone street name at all times.

If anyone knows about this name change business, please leave a comment. It would be interesting to know when these changes were made, and what government agency made them. Google has not been helpful, except for pointing the way to several map collections.








8 Responses

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  1. Cal said, on July 18, 2016 at 8:49 am

    I thought I heard once that the library at the Atlanta Historical Society had an index card (note: non-electronic) file of street-name and street name change info. Might be worth a phone call to see it this is so, or even a visit. There are many interesting things not yet digitized – especially at the AHS. Another possible resource: the probably non-digitized index (also at the AHS, among other places) of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and its predecessors, which would presumable have reported any name changes (and the background to same) to major streets, especially during the eras when that was a rare, rather than a semi-common, occurrence.

    • chamblee54 said, on July 18, 2016 at 8:57 am

      Thank you. I don’t know if I am motivated to actually get off the internet and do non digital research. I discovered a collection of WPA maps at the GSU library yesterday. This is a rabbit hole I may never get out of.

  2. Gus Kaufman said, on July 18, 2016 at 9:33 am

  3. […] neighborhoods. There are, however, a few questions about this name change business. This is a repost. In the space between I-85 and Dekalb County, there are four streets that change names when they […]

  4. Faset (Bill) Seay said, on February 4, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    North Boulevard was renamed Monroe Drive in 1937
    to honor noted Landscape Architect W.L. Monroe who built his house and a plant nursery on the road and was noted for his many landscape projects and public parks in Atlanta

    • chamblee54 said, on February 4, 2020 at 4:58 pm

      Thank you. I suppose their might still be a racial motivation to make this change.
      Also, how far did Monroe go in those days I am guessing that the north part was built when the expressway was built in the fifties.

  5. William Lott Monroe, Sr. | Chamblee54 said, on February 5, 2020 at 10:44 am

    […] “North Boulevard was renamed

  6. Anonymous said, on October 13, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    In researching the neighborhood I grew up in, I discovered that the neighborhood off Monroe Drive, starting north of 10th St., was once called Boulevard Park (beginning around 1919, when it was developed, through the 1930s at least). I had been told by my mother that the reason for the name change at Ponce de Leon was motivated by racism, so I wonder if dropping the neighborhood designation, with its association with Boulevard, was as well.

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