The Ponce in 1932

Atlanta's First Penthouse

In 1932, Peggy Oliver, née Margaret Hardwick, the wife of J. M. Oliver, operating manager of Georgia Power, created Atlanta's very first penthouse apartment atop The Ponce. She was extending a trend only then recently popular in New York City of re-purposing smaller, rooftop apartments--making what was the least of spaces into the most desirable.1

Mr. and Mrs Oliver arrived in Atlanta in 1929, and Mrs. Oliver began the conversion in the summer of 1931, deliberately choosing the apartment in the hottest part of the year on the assumption that if it was livable then, it would be livable all year round. She found the apartment full of beds and bureaus, as the many windows supplied ample ventilation for even summer sleeping.1

The penthouse space remains a quirky one, though somewhat mellowed under more modern renovations, but what Mrs. Oliver found that summer of 1931 is still apparent, a place of angles and beams and things in unexpected places. The space was in some ways more modern-seeming than now, with exposed beams and pipes, long since covered over. Mrs. Oliver had a partition removed, creating a more open plan, but created the kitchen directly off of what became the living room as a tiny triangle.1

Mrs. Oliver brought a Moderne sensibility to the furnishings and decor, having stayed in Paris for a time, and used her collection of illustrations for reference in the conversion. She had the walls painted in vibrant shades, including cobalt, "Maxfield parrish" blue. Much of the furniture was custom made to fit the unusual dimensions, and was finished in gleaming aluminum and black enamel paint. The upholstry was of satin, leather and permatex in black, vibrant red & bright white. By contrast to the Moderne style, Mrs. Oliver had the kitchen designed in country fashion, with checked curtains and scrubbed boards.1

In a final quirky touch, Mrs. Oliver, who was "one of the first hostesses in Atlanta to receive guests informally in pajamas," used the wall behind the front door as her guest book. She had guests sign the wall itself in pencil.1

Mr. & Mrs. Oliver's time in the penthouse was brief, according to the city directories at the Atlanta History Center. They are no longer listed as residentsof the Ponce as early as 1934. Sometime after, the building superintendant, Mr. R. L. Swett and his family occupied the penthouse until his death in the late 1940's. In the summer of 1976, Charley Henderson, "a PR impresario" became the 11th resident of the penthouse. He continued the tradition of lively tenants, flying kites off the roof & hosting parties for as many as 400 costumed guests upon the roof. The current resident of the penthouse is your author; I'm doing my best to keep up the traditions.2

More history to come!