Increasing Diversity

1980s-90s


With the arrival of new general manager Larry Allen, the former general manager of Six Flags over Georgia, in 1984, Stone Mountain Park entered into a new phase of development. Diversification in the 60s had already severely undermined the carving's centrality by adding other major points of interest, like the Antebellum Plantation and the Railroad and making the Park Confederacy centered, not carving centered. Allen's program further broadened the focus of the Park from things Confederate to things Southern by reorganizing the Park and by adding a new set of attractions. Allen's diversification program grew from economic motives; by providing different venues that would reach out to different groups of people, Allen hoped to increase intake at the gate (there is a per vehicle fee to enter the Park) of the Park and to thereby make it more financially stable. Although he maintained that this diversification program actually protected the Confederate memorial by making it more financially secure, Allen's program had the inevitable effect of further diluting the Park's Confederate focus and de- emphasizing the carving.

Allen divided the park into four districts, still existent today: Historic (Recreating a Time Gone By), Natural (Preserving Georgia's Natural Resources), Recreation (Creating a World-Class Facility), and Events (Where Great Events Get Better). Each of these districts has a separate agenda, none of which relate to the carving. After the Allen years, playing a good game of golf is as legitimate a reason to visit Stone Mountain as to view the memorial carving. However, golf, Southern cooking, and nature walks are all very stereotypically Southern things, giving some consistency to the Parks' themes.

In 1990, construction ended on the Evergreen Conference Center, a world class conference center and exemplary element of Allen's plan. Evergreen epitomizes the Allen philosophy of diversification; operating independently from the rest of the Park (and virtually out of sight of the carving), the center raises about 12% of the Park's total revenue. This money goes to pay for the upkeep of the rest of the Park, since Stone Mountain is a state authority and must reinvest all of its profit.

John Shelton Reed and Ed Ayers together provide an interesting paradigm for intepreting the incredible changing focus of Stone Mountain Park. In separate books, each argues that Southernness is not a fixed value; that the quality of being Southern does not depend on specific and static criteria. Interpreting the Park's history through this framework makes the Park's "focus" appear more consistent. While the specific elements of the Park have changed, the overarching theme of Southernness has remained intact. In the 1910s and 20s, membership in the Klan or in the United Daughters of the Confederacy was quintessentially Southern. Helen Plane and John Temple Graves stood for the South by standing for specific, Confederate issues within the Southern heritage. As the War between the States fades further from our national memory, being Southern comes to mean different things. NASCAR races and state fairs are now as Southern as "Stonewall" or Traveler ever were. Understood in this framework, Larry Allen brought continuity and fiscal stability to Stone Mountain, not modernism and avarice.




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