The Krog Street Tunnel is best known as Atlanta’s hub for street art. It is frequented by established artists, people exploring graffiti as a medium, spectators, and commuters. Structurally, it is a two-lane underpass that runs below Hulsey Yard, a rail yard operated by CSX. In substance, it is a fluid, living art gallery. It has become a point of pride for the surrounding neighborhoods and a must-see attraction for folks visiting the area. It’s also free. There’s no cover to enter this gallery and there’s no commission to show your work here. The art in the tunnel is highly visible and perpetually changing. On any given day, artists are posting murals, stencils, tags, wheat-pasted posters, political statements, mosaics, curse words, stickers, phone numbers, and advertisements. You can come back the next day and observe a completely different collection of pieces.
The Tunnel’s rich visuals and prominence pose several questions on legality and creative freedom. The tunnel has become a neutral territory where residents and tourists alike can use its walls as a community resource. In this space, it is artistic expression, outside of it, it is vandalism. Krog can be labeled as so many things: an experiment in the decriminalization of certain petty crimes, a gathering place for creatives, a selling point for real estate development, a testament to community autonomy, or just a neat phenomenon of density. Krog Street Tunnel is a mirror of unrestricted and authentic public attitudes and creativity and is an integral piece of Atlanta’s cultural fabric.
Krog Street spent most of its early history in the late 1800s as an industrial roadway in Inman Park. The street’s namesake, Frederick Krog, opened the Atlanta Stove Works factory (now Krog Street Market) on the corridor in 1889. Because of Inman Park’s reputation as a wealthy suburb and proximity to railroad lines and downtown, other factories and storefronts agglomerated in the area. Across the railroad was the close, but separated, Cabbagetown neighborhood. There, the towering Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill (now the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts) operated in the same time frame as the Stove Works factory. Demand for working-class and company-owned housing stock in the two neighborhoods increased as factory employees grew in numbers. Through this, these areas began to develop the character that is still observable in their built environment
Concurrently, the demand for access to jobs by workers in growing suburbs nearby rose. A link between the immediate areas north and south of the railroad became more necessary for the workers and the companies who wanted to increase their workforce. In response to the demand, in 1912, CSX constructed an underpass that connected Dekalb Avenue in Inman Park to Wylie Street in Cabbagetown. The tunnel has sustained itself as the only direct connection for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians traveling between the two neighborhoods since.
The Fulton Cotton Mill and the Stove Works factory were both decommissioned in 1978 and 1987, respectively. These closures induced a massive economic decline in these neighborhoods, amidst similar circumstances in other parts of Atlanta.
During the late 60s to late 80s, residents took notice of the graffiti that proliferated in the tunnel. It was discouraged and even viewed as an indicator of a criminal element moving into the neighborhood. In the early 2000s, neighborhood officials pledged to allow graffiti in the tunnel after a general acceptance of this form of creative expression. This acceptance could be attributed to the value placed on art and aesthetics by new residents, or because older residents were tired of painting over the graffiti. The “ordinance” was a general agreement to allow 24/7 access to Krog for artists, as long as they are respectful to the residents. Neither the Atlanta Police Department nor CSX, which still owns the tunnel, had approved this rule. As such, its legality is ambiguous. Nonetheless, the tunnel has been used in this fashion for over 20 years now. There have been limited and unsuccessful attempts to halt these activities. In those 20 years, it has grown to become one of the most well-known legal graffiti walls in the U.S. and an active testament to the value of civic creativity.