Fifth Ward Councilman: 1903, 1904
Philippe Breitenbücher was born in 1842 in Hohwiller, a tiny Alsatian hamlet. He was the son of Philippe and Julienna Salome (Zittel) Breitenbücher. He came to the States around 1856 and lived for a while in Buffalo, New York where he was a silver plater’s apprentice in 1860. He soon Anglicized his name to “Philip Breitenbucher” or “Breitenbecker.”
He was in Saint Louis, Missouri by Feburary 1861 when he enlisted in the U.S. Regular Army. He served with several regiments until his service expired in February 1864 at Brandy Station, Virginia.
Philip was in Atlanta’s First Ward by 1870 when the federal census enumerated him as a saloon clerk with $300 in real estate and living with C. E. Allen, a fellow clerk. According to his son-in-law, Philip “met the girl of his dreams” in Atlanta, Elizabeth Charlotte Müller, and they were married in May 1871 by Hermann Bokum, pastor of Die Deutsche Luterische Germeinde (now St. John’s Lutheran Church). Elizabeth was a native of Zweibrücken, Bavaria, and daughter of Mathias Friederich Wilhelm Müller who “established a Wheat and Corn Mill at Walhalla, S.C., from which he supplied the Army of the Confederacy to the extent of his toll.”
In February 1884, Philip opened his own saloon in the Fitten Building at the corner of Broad and Marietta streets. (This 1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the Fitten Building; now here.) He called his business The Atlanta. The Constitution described the saloon as “the finest piece of work ever brought to Atlanta” and “supass[ing] anything every [sic] seen in the southern country.” They continued:
Upon entering the room from Marietta street . . . the visitor is impressed with the grandeur of the architectural design . . . . Upon either end of this elegant piece of work is located an ice chest of large capacity, the roof of each in imitation of slate and designed in cherry wood, and ellings. The central figure is most beautiful in design, consisting of an elegant French plate glass 10×5 1/2 feet and surmounted by one of the most elegant pieces of cornice architecture ever displayed in this city, and fully illustrating the origin of the name selected by the popular proprietor. This cornicing is handsomely carved. At the base of either end is a figure of “Atlas,” sustaining upon his brawny shoulders the weight of a world. In the center is an elegantly executed painting of the Atlantic, with a globe resting upon the surface, with the sun in the distance just rising above the horizon and shedding its refulgent rays upon the central figure of North America, “Atlanta.”
A later advertisement marketing The Atlanta specifically to the “members of the legislature” indicated that Philip sold liquors, wines, beer, cigars, and kept an “elegant” lunch counter. “Fulton County voted dry by a small majority in 1885, and the saloons were closed on July 1, 1886,” but Philip determined to keep his saloon—now called The Globe—in business and “conducted within the lines of the prohibition law.”
He offered for sale domestic wines, lemonades and cigars. . . . Mr. Breitenbucher was informed that a beer called “New Era beer” was being manufactured in Kenosha, Wis., that was non-alcoholic. He secured a sample of the beer and the formula by which it was made, and calling upon members of the police commission, exhibited it. He was given permission to sell it. Subsequently he added a tonic called agaric. Agaric has the appeara[n]ce of liquor, and tastes somewhat like a cocktail, but the formula which accompanies it says it is no[t] alcoholic. These two temperanc[e] drinks with grape milk, soon made the Globe a popular place, and large crowds congregated there.
He evidently started selling hard liquor to the public again in violation of the prohibition law and was arraigned in police court to answer charges in February 1887. He was arrested several times for violations and was once suspected of fleeing to Birmingham to avoid paying a $500 fine, although he did return within the week to pay it. He was finally sentenced to 25 days in the city chain-gang in the fall of 1887, but Mayor John T. Cooper pardoned him.
Prohibition was repealed by 1888, and Philip continued running his saloon, returning it to its original name, The Atlanta. He bought property on Sunset Avenue in the First Ward in the 1890s and eventually built a home there, which Franklin Garrett called “long a landmark on Atlanta’s west side.” (This 1921 map of Atlanta shows the Breitenbucher property in G4 across from the Wachendorff land in Vine City). Philip changed industries by 1900 when he was in real estate, kept an office in the Fitten Building and lived with his wife, children, and father-in-law at a temporary residence at 179 Jackson Street. He was the Commander of the O. M. Mitchell post of the Grand Army of the Republic when he presented a $100 contribution from the G.A.R. to Atlanta’s Confederate Soldiers’ Home in July 1901 to help build and furnish a room there.
In September 1902, Philip was endorsed for city council when “[f]ully 100 westside citizens met at the residence of Philip Breitenbucher, on Sunset avenue, last evening and perfected a permanent organization which is to exist after the present campaign is at an end. The object of the organization is to secure improvement for the westside.” Successfully elected, he served as Fifth Ward Councilman in 1903 and 1904.
He became one of the city’s largest landholders and a 1909 tax return indicates that his property was valued at $109,700. He still lived at the house on Sunset Avenue when the 1910 federal census was taken and found him with his wife, children, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.
Philip died at the Sunset Avenue home in January 1916, and his wife died there in December 1935. The property was sold in 1938 to “Neighborhood Union” and the Breitenbucher House was “dedicated ‘to the very good health’ of Negro members of the community” in 1944. The home was demolished by 1954 and the Neighborhood Union Health Center was erected on the property.
Philip and Elizabeth are buried at Oakland Cemetery. They were members of the First Presbyterian Church and had nine children: Philip William Breitenbucher (1872–1944), a newspaperman and real estate investor who also served as a city councilman; Louise Salome Breitenbucher (1873–1932), a community volunteer who never married; Charlotte Breitenbucher (b. ca. 1874), a daughter who died as an infant; George Lewis Breitenbucher (1876–1937), a banker and real estate investor; Charlotte Elizabeth Breitenbucher (1878–1970), wife of John Shropshire Oliver; Emile J. Breitenbucher (1879–1932), a lawyer; Albert Rudolph Breitenbucher (1882–1908), a student who died young; Anton Ernest Breitenbucher (1885–1923), a chiropractor; and Dorothea Eleanor Madeline Breitenbucher (1888–1983), wife of Perry Lynnfield Blackshear, Sr.
Atlanta City Directory for 1888. Atlanta, GA: Constitution Pub. Co., 1888.
Atlanta City Directory : 1900. Atlanta, GA: Maloney Directory Co., 1900.
Atlanta Constitution. “Finest in the South.” February 10, 1884.
———. “The Atlanta.” November 10, 1884.
———. “Charged with Selling.” October 26, 1886.
———. “Begun, But Not Finished.” February 16, 1887.
———. “Over in Birmingham.” August 5, 1887.
———. “He Paid the Fine.” August 9, 1887.
———. “They Were Pardoned.” October 1, 1887.
———. “Contribution from G.A.R.” July 25, 1901.
———. “Westside People Organize.” September 26, 1902.
———. “New Health Center.” July 17, 1944.
Blackshear, Perry Lynnfield. Blacksheariana. Atlanta, GA: self-pub., 1954.
Cooper, Walter G. Official History of Fulton County. Atlanta, GA: Walter W. Brown Pub. Co., 1934.
Garrett, Franklin M. Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, 1880s–1930s. Vol. 2 of Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events. Athens, GA: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1969.
Mitchell, Stephens. “A Comparison of Tax Returns for the Years 1868–1909–1936.” Atlanta Historical Bulletin 10, no. 2 (1937): 14–27.
Zahn, Louis Jennings. History of Saint John’s Lutheran Church of Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta, GA: self-pub., 1969.