Fans of vintage American culture can find delightful glimpses into the past via thousands of soft drink artifacts: vintage signs, print ads, beautiful old bottles, soda-fountain drinking glasses and more. But larger monuments to that history endure, hidden in plain sight in large cities and smaller burgs.
These structures may have once belonged to the local bottling plant or had some other Coca-Cola-related history, but today they live on as condominium buildings or office complexes. Some have even made it on the list of the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), a designation that encourages preservation of historic properties. But locals tend to refer to the buildings simply as “the Coca-Cola Building.” It’s a reference to what the building used to be — what it represented to the community. It also speaks to the building’s place in the evolution of America's architecture.
Granted, some of these structures don't look like much. Sometimes old bottling plants look like, well, old bottling plants. But other times the draw is in the architectural details. “I think most people are always happy to see a previously vacant building brought back to its former glory and put into active use again. It’s a psychological boost!” says Lena Sweeten McDonald, a historian with Virginia's Department of Historic Resources. Plus, says McDonald, “the more that we can find new uses for historic buildings in already developed neighborhoods, the better we can alleviate development pressures on open space and farmland.”
Here are seven Coca-Cola buildings that have redefined themselves — and the towns where they exist — during the past several decades:
Charlottesville, Virginia: Coca-Cola Bottling Works
The Charlottesville Coca-Cola building, located at 722 Preston Avenue, was added to the NRHP this year. It was acquired by Indoor Biotechnologies, a company that wants to turn it into a biotechnology center. According to Martin Chapman, the firm’s president and CEO, the building was barely on the real estate market when he and a few other interested parties bid on it. “It's very hard to get that kind of space in the city of Charlottesville,” Chapman says. The planned $6-7 million renovation will restore bricked-over windows on the front of the building, which was a requirement for the NRHP certification.
Griffin, Georgia: The Coke Building
In the 1940s, the Griffin Coca-Cola Bottling Company moved to 410 E. Taylor Street and produced liquid refreshment until 1956. In the plant’s final year of production, the bottling company produced 96,504 gallons of Coca-Cola. Today, the structure is a local landmark and has been repurposed into a home for 33 businesses, including Dry Falls Outfitters, Franklin and Rosemary Clothing Boutique and About Bodies Yoga Studio.
Los Angeles, California: Coca-Cola Building
This Streamline Moderne building, located at 1334 South Central Avenue, was completed in 1937 and appears to be sailing down South Central Avenue. The bottling plant is registered as an L.A. historic-cultural monument and boasts portholes and a catwalk. Inside, the nautical theme continues with metal railings, bolted metalwork and doors with portholes.
Atlanta, Georgia: Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Company
Coca-Cola’s past and present remain firmly rooted in the city where the company was founded more than a century ago. This stately two-story Victorian building, located at 125 Edgewood Avenue, was built in 1891 and is the oldest surviving Coke-affiliated structure. It later housed the Baptist Student Union for Georgia State University and is easy to spot, with its square turret jutting out over the lower level. Down the road sits the Coca-Cola Building Annex, where Coke briefly made a run at making chewing gum.
New York, New York: Candler Building
The terra cotta Candler Building at 222 42nd Street blends in with the other skyscrapers in Times Square today. But when it was built in 1913, it was the tallest building north of the MetLife tower. Like Candler Buildings in Atlanta, Baltimore and other cities, the tower is named for Asa Candler, the first president of Coca-Cola, who also became a real estate magnate. New York also boasts another Coca-Cola building at 711 Fifth Avenue. This one has the distinctive Coke cursive stenciled in gold on the glass above the door —perfect for the shopping mecca that is Fifth Avenue.
Green Cove Springs, Florida: Clay County Senior Center
Older residents of Green Cove Springs, Florida, can remember when the senior center at 604 Walnut Street was still a Coca-Cola bottling plant. Al Rizer, executive director of the Council on Aging of Clay County, which is headquartered at the center, says seniors will tell him, “When I was much younger, you could look in the storefront window and you could see the conveyor belt with the bottles being filled.” That storefront window still exists on the building, which has been renovated and expanded over the last two years. Rizer says that in renovating the building, the council was careful to preserve the same design, and that they still have the original floor plans and some old advertisements that had been left in the building when they took it over in the early ‘80s. The staff at the Coca-Cola archives recently sent more items to the collection, including four numbered Norman Rockwell prints that were Coke ads. Rizer says the center plans to turn a hallway there into something of a Coca-Cola museum. “We wanted to preserve the history of the building in any way that we can,” he says.
Kansas City, Missouri: Western Auto Building
This 1915 building, located at 2104 Grand Avenue, may be one of the coolest-looking residential complexes in Kansas City. Originally built for Coca-Cola as a plant and distribution center, the building was acquired by Western Auto in 1951. The following year, the auto-parts company topped the building with the red-lettered lit sign that still distinguishes the structure today.
Unfortunately, not every classic Coca-Cola building is immune to the march of time (and developers): Preservationists lost the fight to stop a planned parking garage near the Mission-style former bottling plant on South Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Though the building is not likely to be demolished, according to Anne Peery of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, the plans “have diminished the building considerably. It will no longer qualify for the National Register listing.”
But other Coca-Cola buildings across the country await their great awakenings. The Charlottesville bottling plant renovation is on hold pending funding; its twin sibling plant in Winchester, Va., and other former Coke buildings, such as this one in St. Louis, may yet endure as newly transformed vestiges of the past.