The story of the southwest corner of Peachtree and Pharr roads in Buckhead is filled with dizzying highs and humbling lows.

Car dealerships, nightclubs, restaurants and faux beaches are among its more notable uses.

It is currently the headquarters of the Buckhead City Committee. A green sign above an awning spells out a social media handle; yellow antlers emerge from the words “Buckhead City” on a green field near the door. It is the group lobbying the state leaders to allow Buckhead residents to vote on ditching Atlanta and forming a new city.

The building is a place of dreams, gimmicks, big-name performers and publicity stunts, world records and expensive cars.

Despite it all, every few years it sits empty, awaiting the promise of the next group, who may get it right after three see-saw decades.

Jim Baker was perhaps the last person to have success there. Baker Motor Co. made a mint selling Jaguars, MGs and Triumphs on the corner. In 1984, he told a newspaper reporter his dealership “was the only thing that ever paid off in the place.”

He couldn’t have known how prescient he was. He closed shop in 1978, and a Crain-Daily automobile dealership popped up, but it went down quickly.

In 1980, notable Atlanta restauranteur Bill Swearingen opened Animal Crackers in the former dealership.

It was unlike anything, anywhere. According to newspaper articles from the early 1980s, it had a 1931 Rolls Royce in the bar and plush animals on the walls.

A nightclub was toward the back of the building, and a fine dining restaurant featuring lobster and steak was at the front. It had an oyster bar and wine whizzed overhead in baskets, suspended from a conveyor belt delivering the bottles to the tables.

Oh, and there was a Ferris wheel.

The only indoor Ferris wheel in the world — Big Eli — was in the five-story plexiglass tower on the Pharr side of the building. Swearingen brought in huge names to perform in the nightclub — teen heart idol Ricky Nelson and the influential jazz drummer and bandleader Buddy Rich to name a few.

A few years later, the space became Buckhead Beach. The proprietors wanted to catch the beach-themed wave sweeping the country — Ron Jon Surf Shop teeshirts, Jams shorts and Vans sneakers. A sand volleyball court popped up on the property to compliment the palm trees and frozen cocktails.

Then, Buckhead Beach went sober, becoming a nonalcoholic teen club with the same name. Shortly after, it became Acapulco Bar, then Three Dollar Cafe, then it was a car place again, but as of late, it has been empty, save for a car shop at the back of the property.

The most famous story about Big Eli — the Ferris wheel — illustrates the streak of odd luck associated with the high-profile corner.

A radio station and Animal Crackers’ management contacted the Guinness Book of World Records about setting a world record for riding an indoor Ferris wheel for the longest time.

As it was the only one, it wasn’t a high bar.

However, the record for riding a Ferris wheel was 30 or so days. The Guinness people sent representatives and set the rules. Disc jockey Chuck Boozer spent more than 40 closely-monitored days riding the Ferris wheel. He did his radio show from the top and provided on-air updates.

It was a world record no matter how you look at it.

The club and the station submitted the paperwork to the Guinness Book of World Records. After all that, no one responded. Nothing came of it.

But the DJ raised money through the ordeal. Individuals could pay $1 to ride with Boozer, with the funds going to the Chattahoochee Nature Center.

He raised $10,000.

Thornton Kennedy is the president of PR South, a public relations firm and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at


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