From Backstreet to Jungle, the mirrored disco ball that’s seen all over the last 40 years of LGBT Atlanta nightlife now has a new home. Atlanta History Center officials picked up the treasured item from Jungle on Wednesday, just days after the club closed its doors.
Atlanta History Center Director of Exhibitions Don Rooney told Georgia Voice that the iconic status Backstreet had as a gathering place for Atlanta’s LGBT community and the club’s role in making Atlanta known as the “gay mecca of the South” were prime factors in wanting to acquire the ball and make it part of their permanent collection, calling it “a most signature artifact.”
Rooney said discussions began with former Backstreet owner Vicki Vara about it a number of years ago. The two-story Midtown club with a 24/7 liquor license closed in 2004, soon after a city ordinance mandated 3 a.m. closings.
The ball eventually made its way to Jungle, which opened that same year and ran strong as an LGBT dance club for over a decade before closing on Saturday. Jungle owner Richard Cherskov said the club was a casualty of new Midtown development, writing in a Facebook post in September, “I’ve tried everything to convince our new building owners to renew our lease, but the fact remains that they feel our business is not compatible with the new apartments they are building next door. Curiously, they have decided not to give us an extension during construction. I understand developers have a right to develop, but it still stings.”
Rooney said the process of moving the ball was a delicate one, and made for an interesting scene on the route from Midtown to Buckhead on Wednesday afternoon.
“We carefully lifted the ball with a scissor lift, and hoisted guide ropes over the ceiling joists at the Jungle. Then we lowered the ball onto a wheeled dolly and rolled it out of the Jungle and onto our truck,” he said. “As we drove down Cheshire Bridge, Lindbergh and Peachtree, we elicited many turned heads and a shout from somewhere: ‘Disco ball!’”
History Center officials haven’t nailed down the details on how or when the ball will be displayed, so it remains in storage there for now. It joins a number of LGBT Atlanta history items there, including a number of Vara’s Backstreet-related business files, advertisements and memorabilia as well as items from political rallies, Pride marches and other nightclubs and individuals.
“The history of Atlanta is simply not complete as a narrative of the most powerful and dominant voices,” Atlanta History Center staff historian and Gatheround curator Calinda Lee told Georgia Voice last fall after the exhibit’s unveiling. “LGBTQ people have helped to define this city — and well before there was even a ‘movement’ to speak of. We feature members of the LGBTQ community throughout the exhibition because it’s our intention to affirm that we are all a part of this community together and we need not relegate LGBTQ community members to discussions of LGBTQ-focused issues.”