Portman, known for his soaring hotel atriums and transparent glass elevators, was accused of isolating his buildings from the supposedly vital urban streets. Critics called his buildings soul-less fortresses.
As a right-thinking liberal Jane Jacobs admirer, I want to go along with the condemnation of Portman.
But I confess that Portman's twin-tower Peachtree Center in downtown Atlanta was one of my favorite places during my years of servitude at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Each morning, I left the MARTA train at Peachtree Center Station, to walk the several blocks to the AJC's threadbare cube on Marietta Street. At Peachtree Center, the well-dressed women with their spiky high heels and attorneys in business suits gave the Peachtree Street sidewalks a purposeful urban glamour that dissipated as I headed southward to the newspaper.
Sometimes before heading to work, I'd ride the MARTA escalator up to the tunnel that led to Peachtree Center. A couple of small businesses called the tunnel home, and at the door that led to the complex's buzzing food court, an old time newspaper vendor hawked the AJC, shouting out the latest headlines.
I liked the blueberry smoothies and muffins at a coffee stand staffed by always cheerful working class women. The rush of yogurt, bananas, blueberries and sugar would fortify me, no matter the weather or season.
When lunchtime rolled around, I loved walking up to Peachtree Center's Food Court. With an appealing terrace between the two office buildings, Peachtree Center, contra Portman's critics, was welcoming to the street. The long pathway bustled with people coming and going, their voices mingling in the open air.
At noon, the food court was crowded with people of all classes, standing in line at the fast-food counters, chatting at tables or reading books and newspapers. Jane Jacobs be damned, it was an exciting place.
For some reason, I often found myself sitting near elevator and escalator repairmen, who wore blue work shirts. As I ate my favorite lunch of Chick Fil A chicken soup and chicken salad sandwich on toast, I enjoyed eavesdropping on their talk about the latest football game or politics, finding them more interesting than most of my AJC colleagues.
I generally had time to peruse the shelves at a B. Dalton bookstore, look through magazines at a newsstand, or enjoy my favorite place, the architectural bookstore that opened to Peachtree Street. Through the years, I bought several Christmas presents jn Peachtree Center shops.
While I understand the validity of Portman's critics, I'm thankful to him for all of those happy moments at Peachtree Center.
If anyone wishes, here's my poem about my return to Peachtree Center a few years ago.
As in the old days, I take the train
to Peachtree Center Station,
to meet my daughter.
Rain lashes the skybridge window.
In the distance, those turquoise and red-brick towers
I once loved: Sacred Heart,
where she was christened as an infant
and I joined the church.
My fellow catucumens,
where are they now?
One who lost a son to suicide,
another, a young lawyer,
whom I often saw at noon Mass
those cold Lenten days
when I’d walk from work
past the hotels,
the fast food places
packed for lunch.
Faces radiant, we chanted
“Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.”
and lit the Paschal flame.
She walks from shadow into light…
“Only say the word, and I shall be healed.”