James.qxp Jan Feb 2019 web - Page 30



slowly torn down and replaced with some variety of skyscrapers and parking. The Fox Theatre was finally the
straw that broke the back for Atlanta and began its
preservation movement.
Cook Jr. and a rag-tag group of youngsters from
Atlanta— mainly Buckhead— were the visible face of the
Fox preservation movement, collecting donations in traffic on Peachtree Street. They even took to camping out in
the theatre itself, which may have saved it from the fate
of the Loew’s, which was hit by a fire and destroyed,
long-rumored to have been the door to demolition and
skyscraper construction. It is now hard to imagine
Atlanta without the iconic playhouse.
New Urbanism and His Royal Highness
Cook would go on to become a charter member of the
New Urbanist movement and the force behind the
National Monument Foundation and the Millennium Gate
Museum in Atlanta. He had been influenced by famed
classicist architect Philip Shutze, who had designed
homes for Cook’s family and was a mentor. His work,
notably the Newington-Cropsey Foundation Gallery of Art
in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, even caught the
attention of Great Britain’s Prince Charles.
Cook established the National Monuments
Foundation in 1996. Its credo notes the beginnings of
Western civilization and the need to recognize this history in our public spaces. It begins with one of its projects,
the Millennium Gate. “The Millennium Gate is dedicated
to peaceful accomplishments that have shaped the
Western world, the United States of America and the city
of Atlanta over the two millennia since the birth of Christ.
A symbolic portal into the city, the ensemble refers to the
Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations, the foundations
of Western culture.” High origins.
Those themes can be found throughout the
Millennium Gate Museum and if readers haven’t been, it
is worth the trip. Cook occasionally uses the glass window
room at the top as an office and it offers unique views of
Atlanta, taller than most of the buildings on Atlanta’s west
side. The museum is an homage to Atlanta and Georgia
history, going back to the beginnings with James
Oglethorpe. It is also a popular event space.
A 1999 piece in the New Yorker chronicled Cook’s
architectural endeavors in Atlanta— and the sometimes
less than enthusiastic response to his design style. The
writer Paul Goldberger called the piece Athens on the
Interstate, as in Greece, not Clarke County. Subtitled A
Neoclassical Designer Attempts to Civilize Atlanta,
Goldberger described Cook’s challenge as such: “Cook
talks of beauty and proportion and history in a city that
defines its architecture in terms of depreciation and marketing and easy access to the interstate.”
Goldberger also called Prince Charles the “patron saint
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JAMES
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019
Rodney Cook Jr. with Prince Charles.
of contemporary classicists.” Cook was the first American
trustee on the Prince of Wale’s Institute of Architecture
and Charles wanted to gift a monument to Atlanta in
honor of the 1996 Olympics, called the World Athletes
Monument. Cook helped oversee the contest for the design
of the monument that would be located at Pershing Point.
When Princess Diana died a year after the Olympics, the
site became a gathering spot for mourners and the City
Council ultimately dedicated it as Princess Diana Plaza.
A New Atlanta Park
New Urbanism is a design movement that aims to create environmentally friendly cities, which means— particularly in America and Atlanta— reorienting away from cars
and creating more walkable spaces. Parks are a big part of
the movement, creating gathering spots in the city that can
give residents a sense of place, rather than just indiscriminate buildings seen out the window of a passing car.
The latest Atlanta park is a passion project for Cook, not
only because of his design philosophy, but because his family was the creator of a previous park on the site 100 years
ago. Mims Park, named for the aforementioned Atlanta
mayor Livingston Mims, was opened shortly after his mayoral term ended but done in by an elementary school in the
1950s. At the end of his life, Cook Sr. urged Cook Jr. to
rebuild the park, now a site in crime-plagued Vine City.
After some kerfuffle over the name (Mims was a
Confederate veteran and naming a park after a
Confederate did not go over well with the City Council), it
was settled to be called Rodney Cook Sr. Park. Arthur
Blank and Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy have committed
resources towards redevelopment, while ensuring assistance for existing residents. The park will be an homage
to human and civil rights, celebrating Dr. King and other
leaders. One of the centerpieces of the park will be an
obelisk, topped with a statue of Tomochichi, chief of the
Creek tribe in what would become Savannah. Tomochichi
befriended Oglethorpe, rather than fighting with the
English colonists, and would become the first of many
leaders from Georgia striving for peace.
The park is slated to open early next year— just another
chapter in the Mims Cook family’s contributions to Atlanta.
Baker Owens is a staff writer for James and InsiderAdvantage.
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2019
31

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