Home Furnishing Industry Loses Legendary John Portman, Jr.

Atlanta lost one of her greatest champions with the passing of John C. Portman, Jr. on Friday, December 29, 2017 at the age of 93. The leadership and vision of Mr. Portman were instrumental in moving Atlanta from a gracious Southern city into a vibrant world capital. As an architect, entrepreneur, artist and altruist, John Portman had a dramatic impact on Atlanta’s success and growth as a major international city, and he was instrumental in having similar impact on other cities throughout the world. John Portman was born in his mother’s home town of Walhalla, South Carolina on December 4th, 1924 to John and Edna Portman. He was their only son among six children. He began selling magazines on the street corner and then created his own “franchise plan” for selling gum in front of Atlanta’s movie theaters. As a youngster and before movie theaters had concession stands, he discovered he could invest in a case of gum and then sell the individual pieces at a profit. He recruited his school mates to stand in front of the theaters with the gum while he rode his bike back and forth between them, collecting money, making change and replenishing their supplies. The hill he rode his bike up and down on Peachtree Street between theaters is now crossed by John Portman Boulevard. While working as a movie usher at one of those theaters, he first met Jan, the beautiful young lady who would become his wife. In another job held during high school, he parked cars in a downtown parking deck, the Belle Isle Parking Garage. The owner, Mr. Henderson, started him out at 25¢ an hour. During World War II, the government converted the Belle Isle Parking Garage into an office building that housed government agencies. In the mid-1950’s, Portman was a young architect looking for design commissions when he heard that the government was vacating the office building. Using the creativity for which he became renowned, he developed a plan to convert the building into a wholesale furniture mart and he went to meet with Mr. Henderson, his old boss, who still owned the building, to convince him a furniture mart would a great use for the building. Of course, Portman also proposed that he should be hired as the architect to design the conversion of the building. Mr. Henderson balked, explaining that he did not know anything about running that sort of business. But, he suggested that if Portman really believed in the concept that he had just pitched, then he should create a company to run the furniture mart business, and Mr. Henderson would rent him...

Read More