One of Atlanta’s most cherished historical sites is scheduled to break ground next week on a project designed to better connect its sacred grounds with the ever-changing city around it.  

As part of Historic Oakland Foundation’s $14-million “Living History” Capital Campaign initiative, Oakland Cemetery will see a new 10,000-square-foot Visitors Center built outside its main western gate, the entrance nearest to downtown Atlanta.

The Foundation has scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday morning, led by Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, that will mark a construction project years in the making and the most visible recent change outside the iconic burial ground’s gates.

As designed by Atlanta-based Smith Dalia Architects, the red-brick, 10,000-square-foot building is meant to pay homage to the cemetery’s signature walkways and walls, while large glass entryways and windows lend a more modern touch.

Planned look of the 10,000-square-foot center's red-brick facade. Smith Dalia Architects

Inside, the building will feature a much larger museum store, rentable meeting space, the Historic Oakland Foundation’s offices, and flexible, weatherproof event and classroom areas.

A double-height atrium, meanwhile, will see interpretive exhibits geared toward educating visitors on Oakland Cemetery and its history.

Outside the facility, visitors can expect an entry plaza, welcome garden, and a “great lawn” meant to provide additional greenspace for guests, according to cemetery officials.

A map illustrating the Visitors Center's future placement just west of the burial grounds. Courtesy of Oakland Cemetery

In the grand scheme, the project is also meant to enhance Memorial Drive Greenway, the linear park that extends from Oakland’s gates to the Gold Dome along Memorial Drive.   

Construction of the Visitors Center is now expected to take 18 to 24 months.

The Foundation has worked with Southface Institute to ensure the building is EarthCraft-certified and “net zero” upon completion, meaning it produces more energy than it consumes.

Another interesting tidbit: The Foundation has partnered with Lifecycle Building Center, a unique salvaging business housed in a huge Southwest Atlanta warehouse, to incorporate salvaged materials in the project. Those will include tiles from the recently shuttered, historic Nabisco Factory in Sylvan Hills.

“The new Visitor Center’s park land, event lawn, and plaza, alongside its indoor programmatic space, will allow us to truly serve the community in new and creative ways, as we continue to work toward making Oakland Cemetery a community resource for all Atlantans,” Dr. Richard Harker, Historic Oakland Foundation’s executive director, said in a prepared statement.

Positioned outside the cemetery's main western gate, the building will house an expanded museum store and double-height atrium, officials say. Smith Dalia Architects

Elsewhere on the property, Oakland Cemetery’s 1899 Bell Tower “jewel” was recently renovated in a way intended to make the Romanesque Revival-style structure more stable, spacious, and engaging for the public, per project leaders. That project was also paid for through the donor-funded Living History capital campaign.

Other cemetery projects funded through the campaign include restoration of the 1908 Women’s Comfort Station (2019), construction of a new East Gate (2020), and restoration of 6 acres at the cemetery’s East Hill (2019 to 2023).


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