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Atlanta, GA 30328
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Distilling Past from Present in Atlanta’s Fourth Ward

Hannah Hanlon

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Only a handful of years ago, if you traveled down Atlanta’s Edgewood Avenue toward the city, you’d have passed a string of neglected, disused storefronts; historic two and three-story, turn of the century brick retail spaces that hadn’t seen much action since the city’s oldest electric trolley line ceased shuttling Inman Park residents to and from offices downtown. Around 2010 however, the Edgewood corridor began to reawaken, a steady turnaround that began with a clutch of restaurants and bars and eventually bloomed with linkage a few blocks away to the city’s first modern streetcar line. Around 2013, Corcoran Ota had a hand in redeveloping a small part of it — turning an abandoned retail space into the South’s first legal distillery in more than 100 years.

Dubbed 4th Ward Distillery, proprietors Greg and Jeff Moore planned to carve out a place in Atlanta history in the derelict building, but ended up first having to carve out the floor of the property. “The brothers ordered a proprietary distilling system from Germany but found that the equipment was about two feet too tall for the building,” says Michael Rooks, architect on the project. “They tried again with more traditional equipment, but it was still too tall. So, we had to lower the slab about two feet. We weren’t sure the building would stand up to it…but happily it did.”

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The project would be ripe with interesting challenges and nontraditional opportunities, it turns out. The team stripped layers of 90-year old beadboard off of nearly every surface and ended up re-using much of it to finish the interior. Space planning was made complicated by exacting plumbing and wiring requirements for the distilling equipment. A loading dock and wheelchair lift had to be puzzled into an adjacent alleyway. Vintage marble was repurposed for counter and bar tops, old doors for interior walls and surfaces. And the exterior was even brought back to some semblance of its turn of the century glory. “The owners had a few old photographs of the façade, and it had been abused; it was nowhere near original. It was covered up with junk. So, we and the contractor spent some time finessing the front and finishing the exterior in a really nice way, trying to bring it back to ‘real,’” says COG Principal Michael Corcoran, who also worked on the project.

Five years later, Old 4th has expanded, building out a larger, second facility a few blocks away on Decatur street, but the echo of the original project still reverberates in our studio. While much of our work is packed with meaning for residents and guests of all ages, this one holds a special place in our hearts — a true passion project and rare opportunity to be both active in reclaiming history and building a new era. 

 “This was a type of project we don’t typically pursue,” says Corcoran. “But it’s one we’re still excited about and glad we did.” “It’s the first of its kind in Georgia in a century, and that’s really cool,” adds Rooks.

Check out our case study on the project here, and visit their site to learn more about spirits, tours, classes and events.