Atlanta’s Hidden Gem: Terminal West
“Is this it?”
It took College sophomore Harmeet Kaur about 20 minutes to find Terminal West when she visited to see her favorite band play. She and some fellow Emory students drove right past the new concert venue, even with their GPS devices out.
“It’s a really deserted area,” Kaur said, noting all the alleys and lonely buildings surrounding Terminal West. “We were really surprised when we finally found it.”
The abandoned warehouses and long stretches of empty roads railways in the area make it difficult to find one of the most promising, hippest music venues in Atlanta — especially at night.
“We’re off the grid a little bit,” said Alan Sher, founder of Terminal West.
The venue is part of the King Plow Arts Center, located west of the Georgia Institute of Technology in what is now called the Marietta Street Artery, a long strip of land that follows old railroads.
Today, this unique center hosts a variety of spaces, including small theatre company Actor’s Express and Terminal West, which has become extremely popular since its doors opened a year ago.
The rest of the King Plow Center began construction in 1990 and used to be the home of a company that manufactured agricultural plows from 1902 to 1986. It is located in a neighborhood of Industrial-era warehouses and steel mills, most of which are no longer in use today.
The neighborhood itself was a thriving metropolis after the Civil War, due to its proximity along the Western and Atlantic railroad, which in the 1800s helped bring business and create Atlanta as a city. It’s one of the oldest parts of town.
However, as the world began to modernize, the area’s facilities and commodities began to fall out of use — including the King Plow factory.
“Nobody knew what to do with it,” said Frances Hamilton, a designer with the Marietta Street ARTery Association, a neighborhood group that aims to revitalize the area through the arts. “It was deserted.”
In the early 1990s, after failing to sell the building, the owner, King Shaw, came up with the idea to turn parts of the space into cheap lofts that would be rented to artists and other creative types — including Sher, who thought up the idea to create a concert venue after having played and hosted live shows in the King Plow Center.
“We’ve preserved a lot of the history of the space,” Sher said, noting that he made a point to keep the broad, dark steel columns intact with Terminal West to give it an old factory feel. “It’s really cool to build stuff in a 100-year-old building.”
Part of the development of Terminal West included creating a top deck that exists both inside and outside the venue.
Inside, you have a birds-eye view of the acoustic action, but outside the deck overlooks the railroad, providing an interesting, profound contrast between the old and new.
“Old buildings tend to have so many more layers of meaning than newer ones,” Hamilton said, agreeing with Sher. “It fosters a creative spirit.”
Today, the King Plow Center and Terminal West have blazed the path for other warehouses to be transformed into creative venues, like the Goat Farm, a visual and performing arts center near King Plow that also came from 19th century industrial buildings.
The Marietta Street Artery today is similar to the early days of New York City’s Greenwich Village, according to Hamilton, who is also a longtime resident of the area.
“The west side of town is just booming right now — it’s getting a young, cool, hip vibe,” Sher said. “When King Plow opened, we were kind of the only thing over here, so it’s cool to see, 15 years later, that we’re in the middle of all this crazy development. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
In the last year, Terminal West has gained a lot of popularity through word-of-mouth and especially through social media, where it has gained over 14,000 “likes” on its Facebook page.
“We’re definitely a grass-roots operation,” Sher laughed. “It’s really rewarding to see all that feedback [on social media].”
Terminal West’s high, vaulted ceilings and wooden warehouse quality evokes its industrial past, and it’s certainly uncommon in today’s ultra-sleek and modern designs. This makes the space all the more enticing, especially to younger demographics.
“It’s a really cool, intimate place,” Kaur said, referring to Terminal West’s 600-person capacity, a much smaller figure than many Atlanta venues. “It definitely has an edgier vibe.”
Terminal West’s edginess comes mostly from its surroundings — the brick-and-mortar frameworks, the winding alleyways, the flat, desolate landscape punctuated by empty roads and vacant railroads.
It looks as if it’s from another time, but the venue itself is home to some of the most high-tech lighting and production equipment in the city, according to Sher. Terminal West seems like a true fusion of Atlanta’s industrial past and technology-infused present.
“It’s a really creative area,” Kaur mentioned. “It’s not just some random building in downtown Atlanta. Its history adds character to it. I like that it’s part of that.”
— By Sonam Vashi