In a city of big floorplans like Atlanta, the notion of living in 300-something square feet could make the average person’s palms sweat. But for others it means an opportunity—a foot in the proverbial door as intown rents and home prices continue to swell, despite an era of economic uncertainty.

That seems to be the case in Adair Park, where move-ins have begun this month at the former George W. Adair School, an adaptive-reuse venture in the works for several years that’s introducing the concept of “art-force housing” to Atlanta. 

What’s more, the Academy Lofts Adair Park—as the 1912 example of Academic Gothic architecture is now called—has inked a lease with Hodgepodge Coffeehouse owner Krystle Rodriguez to open a communal café this year called Darling Josephine, replete with a huge event space (the school’s former auditorium) and verdant courtyard.

The school's condition in 2018, after decades of abandonment. Courtesy of Jonathan Phillips

The converted school at 711 Catherine Street has 35 “micro units” ranging from studios of just 312 square feet to one-bedrooms with 482 square feet—some of the smallest apartments Atlanta has ever seen.

The tighter floorplans mean rents are lower, relatively speaking, ranging from $868 to $940 monthly with all utilities included. (The limited onsite parking requires an extra $50 per month.)

At 312 square feet (an anomaly for Atlanta), this is the school project's smallest offering. Justin Schaeffer

Backed by state and federal historic tax credits and a $1.5 million Invest Atlanta grant, as part of the Housing Opportunity Bond Program, the school redo has been a partnership between residential and commercial developers Stryant Investments and Building Insights, and nonprofit The Creatives Project.

Stryant managing partner Stan Sugarman says leasing is "exceeding expectations” now that move-ins have begun, and he expects the former school’s lone 955-square-foot commercial office space to see its tenant move in next month.

The largest available unit spans 482 square feet, with one bedroom and bathroom. Justin Schaeffer

With the apartments, the intent is to draw in creatives—actors, musicians, writers, showroom personnel, makers, and others seeking lower-cost alternatives to places like Midtown and Old Fourth Ward—to foster an artistic, communal spirit.

The walkable location is another perk, per project leaders. It's two blocks from an entrance to the BeltLine’s Westside Trail, and the West End MARTA Station is roughly a 10-minute walk away. 

The second floor's wide hallway. Justin Schaeffer

For generations, the former elementary school was a community anchor for Adair Park, but as residents fled for the suburbs in the 1970s, enrollment withered.

The school closed in 1973 and has been empty since, apart from its use in the 1990s as Atlanta Public Schools central offices and meeting space, which ended when the roof sprung leaks.

Variances for the Hodgepodge offshoot have been approved, and Sugarman says its buildout will soon begin. Rodriguez expects about a four-month construction process.

“Maybe we should say [opening in] fall 2021, to be on the safe side,” Rodriguez wrote in an email to Urbanize Atlanta.

Where a staircase meets the top-floor hallway, sans elementary students. Justin Schaeffer

Hodgepodge Coffeehouse opened its first location in East Atlanta about eight years ago. A second Hodgepodge operates on Moreland Avenue in Reynoldstown, with other locations in the pipeline for College Avenue in Decatur, near the Avondale MARTA Station, and in Summerhill’s redeveloping Georgia Avenue corridor.

“Darling Josephine was a concept I created after having ongoing conversations with my friends and other people in the city about the lack of spaces created for marginalized communities to simply be themselves, especially on the lines of gender/race/sexual orientation,” Rodriguez wrote in her email.

Rodriguez plans an Art Deco aesthetic, nodding to an early 20th century period between the school’s original 1912 opening and its expansion in 1937. “More importantly, however,” she noted, “I wanted to bring back the idea of a community space ... a space that truly reflects the people who inhabit this city.” 

Rodriguez says the Darling Josephine name is an homage to her two children—Lillian Josephine Rodriguez and Lola Darling Rodriguez—and is intended to create a sense of “comfort, safety, and enjoyment for all of those who have never had something made just for them.” 

See the above gallery for a closer look at Academy Lofts apartments, the future Darling Josephine event space, and more details. 

The main entrance today. The building was designed in 1911 by leading Atlanta architect Edward Dougherty, whose other notable works include Druid Hills Baptist Church, Druid Hills Golf Club, the Highland School, and downtown's Imperial Hotel. Justin Schaeffer

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Academy Lofts Adair Park