Thursday, August 22, 2013

Folk Victorian Cottage (Hancock County, Georgia)

Folk Victorian Residence, Hancock County, Georgia

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reviving the Clermont

Poncey-Highland's historic Clermont Hotel has been in the news recently, as the Atlanta City Council approved a rezoning proposal that would convert the Clermont and two neighboring parcels along Bonaventure Avenue to mixed residential commercial, making it possible to move forward with plans to redevelop the old hotel.

Recent Photo of the Clermont Hotel (courtesy of Bita Honarvar, Atlanta Journal Constitution)
The Clermont was built in the 1920s as an apartment building and converted into a hotel in the 1940s. The building is best known for the Clermont Lounge, a bar and strip club that operated in the basement since the late 1960s. Having never been there myself, I hesitate to attempt any description, except to say, based on the many accounts I have heard and read, it sounds a bit like a working class Studio 54, except 1984 began a long, long time ago, and neither changed, nor ended. My favorite sound-byte on this colorful Atlanta institution is that it is "less a dive than a complete submersion." The building and lounge were closed by health officials in 2009.

1960s Advertisement (courtesy of Atlanta Time Machine)
AM 1690's Sidewalk Radio did a wonderful story on the Clermont Hotel that includes glimpses of its history and discussions with Boyd Coons of the Atlanta Preservation Center, and Mike Gamble, of G + G Architects of Atlanta, in addition to DJ, a long-time bouncer, and Blondie, who's name is synonymous with the Lounge.

Aerial View of the Clermont Hotel in 1968, the year the Clermont Lounge Opened,
viewed from south (courtesy of

Birds Eye View of Clermont Hotel, from north (

The building was acquired in January 2013 by Clermont Hotel Partners LLC, a company led by Philip Welker and Ethan Orley, principals of BNA Associates LLC. Welker and Orley are real estate professionals that specialize in mixed-use redevelopment projects. The design concept provided to the zoning commission was drafted by G + G, who won the 2009 Clermont Design Competition sponsored by then-owner Gene Kansas. Their winning design included a rooftop bar, complete with reflecting pool and eerie bunny sculpture, and an ultra-modern lobby with a "flirt bar" that would extend the entrance from the facade to Ponce, all enclosed in luminous poly-carbonate walls (in what would undoubtedly be both the coolest and hottest lobby in Atlanta).

Lobby Concept from the 2009 Competition Winning Design (courtesy of G + G Architects)

G + G's design was an attempt to acknowledge the history of the building without over-celebrating or reproducing it. Theirs is a common perspective, by which one might argue that the continuity of history ~ that is, the ongoing use of and building onto the historic properties ~ is more appropriate than the elevation of the past that is fundamental to early (and ongoing) preservation efforts, which are usually more interested in returning buildings to an appearance from some specific point in their past. Neither approach is fundamentally right nor wrong, they merely represent different philosophies in preservation. That said, balance is the important factor, regardless of which philosophy you follow; and G + G has some experience of the modernist consumption of historic buildings (for example). 

This excerpt from the design concept highlights the proposed parking structure (in blue), repaving of
the hotel plaza along Ponce (in red),  and the entry extended to the sidewalk along Ponce (in green). 

The zoning proposal included a concept produced by G + G, which includes the construction of a parking structure to the south of the hotel; repaving of the front plaza along Ponce; and plans for landscaping and the renovation of the residence at 673 Bonaventure Avenue, which will become a separate guest lodge. The City Council set forth a series of conditions that the owners will have to satisfy in their redevelopment. The design for the parking structure must be compatible with the original architectural character of the Clermont Hotel building and landscaping plans must be created and then approved by the Office of Planning and the City Arborist prior to implementation. The asphalt pavement along Ponce, in front of the building, will be removed and replaced with decorative pavers or scored concrete. There are additional restrictions set on lighting, which is to be directed away from residential areas, and sound, and most of these (there are eight conditions, in total) require approval by various authorities. The most interesting condition is number eight, which stipulates that following the redevelopment of this property, the owner will be responsible for nominating the Clermont Hotel building as a local Landmark. 

The design includes an extension from the front door to Ponce; it is unclear whether or not this is a carryover from G + G's 2009 design or if this is merely a more traditional awning to provide a place for easy check-in, before driving around to the parking deck in back.  

Welker and Orley bring a vision of a boutique hotel to this project. There has been no public discussion of the degree of work required and the level of impact anticipated to the historic fabric of this building. BNA's website features two examples of redevelopment projects involving historic properties; these are the Clarkesville High School in Clarkesville, TN (known now as the Penn Warren Apartment Building), and the Oliver Hotel of Nashville. Their role in these projects is not well-defined in either instance, so it is difficult to gauge the quality of their work; however, photos of the interiors of both buildings suggest the work was somewhat typical of redevelopment projects involving historic properties, in that the exteriors were essentially preserved, while the interiors resemble new constructions.  It's easy to glance at a few photos and shout Facadism!, but that would be foolish as we simply do not have a full picture of either project. While the exterior of the Clermont is essentially intact and appears to be in good condition, the state of the interior is infamous. At the time of its closing there were accounts of roach infested rooms, black water running from the faucets, and worse. It is likely that much of the interior walls will be gutted to upgrade piping, wiring, and install central heating and air; but what of the flooring, the doors and windows, lighting fixtures, etc.? 

This is an exciting time for this area with the ongoing rehabilitation of the old Sears Building and now the Clermont. As I'm sure many are, I am very much looking forward to learning more about the plans for this building. Stay tuned to RNB for more on this project ~ I'll keep my ear to the web and be sure to share any updates as this unfolds.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Louvale Church Row & the Rosenwald Coincidence

To revive a popular expression that has only just fallen back out of use (my apologies): a drive through the highways of rural south Georgia for the heritage hunter is like a box of chocolates ~ you never know what you may get, but you know it's going to be good

Bird's eye view of Louvale Church Row along US 27 (Courtesy of Bing Maps)

A drive along US 27 through Stewart County quickly proved that point for me one afternoon when the steeples of three historic churches broke the tree line and caught my eye. A u-turn later, I was at Louvale Church Row, a National Register-listed historic district (NRIS 86000747, listed 1986) located on Old Louvale Road. The district consists of three church buildings dating from the late 19th century, built by congregations that dated from the 1830s and 1860s, and a school building dating from sometime around the 1880s.

Louvale Church Row Historic District in 1985, view to southwest along Old Louvale Road. Excerpt from National Register Nomination (courtesy of Georgia DNR & James Lockhart).

1953 Topographic Map of Louvale (courtesy of
Church Row is visible just left of center.
Louvale was a small community, like many others in this region, that simply never prospered. For some, the death knell came on the wings of the boll-weevil, poor farming conditions, and more frequently, as in this case, the roar of the train (or lack thereof). There are numerous examples of small towns and cross-roads communities in south Georgia that were stars-in-waiting in the eyes of some wealthy entrepeneur, just waiting to be ignited. For Louvale, that man was Dr. William H. Tatum.

When Tatum came to Louvale (either through birth or otherwise), it would have been little more than a post office (established in 1843) called Hannahatchee, after a nearby creek.  Tatum was, in many ways, the first citizen of this community (in esteem, not order); he was recognized as a successful merchant and planter, and held prominent positions, including Mayor. When Tatum was postmaster at Hannahatchee (known as Antioch, by then), he relocated the office closer to his home and renamed it Louvale after his wife Lucy (Lou for short). Tatum seized an opportunity to expand the development of his community by raising funds for the construction of a station and turntable near his home in order to bring the Americus, Preston, and Lumpkin Railroad through Louvale; which was built and connected in the mid-1880s, opening for use in 1887. This has been described as a temporary fixture that was ultimately abandoned in 1892, when the APL railroad was renamed the Savannah, Americus, and Montgomery Railroad, and plans for the line were altered in another direction; however, the line does not appear to have been abandoned at that time, though there were discussions of its potential sale in newspapers in 1895, before the company went bankrupt that year.

Contemporary Article on Tatum's Efforts to Bring the APL to Louvale (Americus Weekly Recorder, April 29, 1886)

SAM Railroad Line (from Rand McNally Map of Georgia, 1892, courtesy of
The Louvale station is marked near the center of Stewart County (far left).
It was in the midst of this devastating blow to Tatum's vision that Church Row came to exist. Tatum owned much of the land in the area of Louvale, including the land adjacent to Antioch Primitive Baptist Church (the community's church). In 1899, he sold an acre to Marvin Methodist Church, a congregation that originated in Green Hill in the 1830s.

Marvin Methodist Church (c.1900)

This church was built on that land, adjacent to the Antioch Church and school, in 1900. The building is a corner tower type with a prominent belfry and squared candle-snuffer roof. This was a very common church type during this time period and in this rural setting. The main entry is through the tower, which was typically the case; the entry is crowned by a transom light and and projecting hood. The handicapped accessible ramp may detract a little from certain views, but this church is a wonderful example of its type.

The interior is equally impressive. Featuring skilled woodwork with the bright white walls contrasting the dark, ash flooring. Sparsely placed, tall and narrow windows flood the building with light, casting shadows in all directions. The building is silent, except for occasional passing of large vehicles on the nearby highway ~ sounds that seem distant, despite being a stone's throw away.

Interior of Marvin Methodist Church (c.1900)

The centerpiece of this church is the chancel ~ the round platform, from which ministers have been preaching for generations. Three chairs sit within the recess at the back of chancel, their golden upholstery provide the only color in room, making them glow in contrast. These chairs are symbolic fixtures in most churches; though typically used by ministers and worship leaders during services, the three (one larger flanked by two smaller) are meant to represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the Holy Trinity). The chancel is accented by an ornate tracery apron, typical of Folk Victorian design.

Marvin Methodist Church Sign

New Hope Baptist Church (19th century building relocated ca. 1901) ~ appears to have undergone renovations from the mid-20th century and more recently as well.

Late in the fall of 1900, Tatum sold an acre lot, adjacent to the new Marvin Methodist Church, to the congregation of New Hope Baptist Church, which was founded in the 1860s within a few miles of Louvale. This building was built soon thereafter. This front gable church building is by far the most common form found throughout rural Georgia during the 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries. This building is clad in asbestos shingle siding, which is also very common for the latter part of that time period, but in this instance it was probably a later addition. This building was built before asbestos shingles were widely used; their appearance suggest they were added in the 1930s or later. All the of the buildings underwent renovation efforts in the mid 1980s. The front porch was added sometime after 1985. There is also a small, 20th-century cemetery behind New Hope, that has been used by all three congregations.

Louvale Church Row Historic District from National Register Nomination, c. 1985. New Hope stands in the foreground, prior to renovations that included the addition of a front porch (courtesy of Georgia DNR & James Lockhart).

Antioch Primitive Baptist Church (c.1885)

When these churches were built on Tatum's land at the turn of the century, they joined an older church and school. Antioch Primitive Baptist Church was first established around 1839 at another location. Later the congregation moved to this site in the 1850s, where they worshiped in simple structures that typically doubled as a school, until this church was built between the 1870s and 1880s. 

Interior of Antioch Primitive Baptist Church in 1985, prior to renovations of the mid-1980s. From the Louvale Church Row Historic District National Register Nomination (courtesy of Georgia DNR & James Lockhart).

Architecturally, Antioch is something to behold. The central tower church is long and wide with a tall gable roof. The central tower is tiered and has a prominent belfry topped with an octagonal spire. The windows are ranked and include an arched transom light over the main entry through the tower. Altogether these features evoke an air of power, order, and grace; but these words do little to convey the building they describe. There is something remarkably simple yet powerful about this building. 

Interior of Antioch Primitive Baptist Church (c.1885)

The word is linear. The extensive use of narrow planks in the interior of this building is astounding. There are so many perfectly intersecting angles that Antioch could be called the 90-degree church. These planks together create an illusion of depth that makes this building feel much longer and wider than is actually the case. Collectively they work like a thousand tiny arrows leading your eyes directly to the chancel, which itself has a magnetic affect to the visitor, drawing you in for a closer look. This is vernacular perfection ~ it has all the power of a baroque cathedral inexplicably trapped in a white crate.

Chancel of Antioch Primitive Baptist Church (c.1885)

The chancel of Antioch appears almost as a shadow of the recess behind it. The recess is framed by a classical motif. The symbolic chairs, representative of the Holy Trinity, appear here as well, with the cross itself playing the role of the larger chair. Within the recess, the siding rises in an upward V, joining at the cross and leading up ~ a symbolic ascent contrasting the devoutly linear interior of the church. 

Organ at Antioch Primitive Baptist Church (c.1885)

For a musician/historian, there is no greater find than a weathered old instrument just asking to be played....

Louvale Community House (c.1900), south elevation

In its early days at this location, Antioch was known to have served as both church and school to the community; in fact, there appears to have been a school building on this property, which doubled as the church, prior to the construction of the present church.  But by the 1880s, a separate church and school building were present. The school was known as the Antioch Institute, which today, is known as the Louvale Community House (if they are one and the same, as presumed). The Antioch Institute was sold to the Stewart County Board of Education in 1895, after which it became a public school. It seems to have been some sort of community school before then, but the details of its student body (black or white, young or old) are not clear. The school was active until the early 1940s, when it was consolidated with another school, and the building returned to Louvale (becoming the Louvale Community House). 

The Louvale Community House is a modest, front-gabled building with no real exterior ornamentation. The south elevation (shown above) features two long rows of windows, while the north elevation (below) is windowless. A storage room at the back of the church does not appear to be original to the building, but may have been an early addition as the materials match.   

Louvale Community House (c.1900), north elevation

At first glance, I was convinced this building was a Rosenwald School. Rosenwald Schools were the product of an initiative between Booker T. Washington and philanthropist, Julius Roswenwald, to improve the conditions of African American schools in the rural south. In the segregated south, finances for black schools were just a third of their white counterparts in the some areas, and many would only operate for a few months of the year.  The Julius Rosenwald Fund was based out of Chicago (and later Nashville), where they oversaw the design and financing of nearly 5000 schools throughout the rural communities of the south between 1912 and 1937.

Interior of Louvale Community Building in 1985, facing the rear of the building.  From Louvale Church Row Historic District National Register Nomination (courtesy of Georgia DNR & James Lockhart).

Distinct designs were produced for the schools based on the number of teachers and the building's preferred orientation. Louvale's Community Building closely resembles the "One-Teacher Type" (shown below). The interior of the Louvale building consists of a large, open classroom and a smaller storage room. The Rosenwald design would also feature a single, open classroom with a smaller "industrial classroom" at the rear of the building. The Rosenwald design addressed concerns over proper lighting and ventilation; windows were grouped in long rows (called "batteries") and the building was elevated atop short masonry piers to improve ventilation. The similarities between the designs are unmistakable.

Rosenwald School Plan for North-South Facing Buildings (courtesy of

But the fact remains that this building was built at least 20 years before the first Rosenwald schools were even designed. Coincidence? It's possible. The program records from the 1930s were collected by Fisk University and a searchable database created of the schools built. The database accounts for five buildings in Stewart County: the County Training School at Richland (a five-teacher type from 1922-23) and an associated teacher's home (1923-24), the Kimbrough School (a four-teacher type from 1928-29), the Lumpkin School (a four-teacher type from 1923-24), and the Omaha School (a four-teacher type from 1926-27). The Omaha School was discussed in an article from the November 2005 issue of Reflections. There is no record of a one-teacher type school built by the Rosenwald Fund in Stewart County, and there were none associated with Louvale. That said, the Fisk University database is not comprehensive. There was also a reference to a colored school at Louvale in the Americus Weekly Recorder from June 1887. Whether this was the Antioch Institute is not known, but it warrants additional research.

The Omaha School, Stewart County (courtesy of Fisk University)

So, what's going on here? Perhaps the Antioch Institute was dramatically altered after 1912 to resemble the Rosenwald design for the benefits of proper lighting and ventilation. There are many buildings throughout the rural south from the Roswenwald era that resemble the design, but have no direct association with the Rosenwald Fund. Perhaps the Antioch Institute did not actually survive and was replaced with this building, which could have been a Rosenwald school that has been overlooked. Maybe a Rosenwald school from a neighboring county was relocated.  A new building could have been on this site by the same craftsman responsible for the construction of Rosenwald schools in the area that simply replicated the designs. Perhaps the Antioch Institute was designed and built with similar concerns regarding ventilation and lighting, which ultimately led the building, by mere coincidence, to closely resemble the Rosenwald design more than 20 years before that design was developed. All are possible, but only one is accurate, and which one that is has eluded me thus far. 

Today, Louvale is a sleepy community of less than 300 people. Newspaper articles from the 1880s paint a picture of small, but active community capable of bringing out twice that number for a special occasion. Tatum's vision, like many others in this area of Georgia, was never realized; however, we inherit from him and his neighbors something remarkable in Church Row. Several churches, integral to the identity of this small community, and architecturally a treasure for us all. More impressive still is the question of this school. Is there really a Rosenwald connection? I honestly don't know, but my impression is that any connection is likely indirect; nevertheless, I think it merits further research. I managed to glean some information from newspapers from the 1880s-1900s on Louvale, including the name of a local periodical (The Louvale News, est. 1893), the name of a teacher (Miss Rosa Haynes, reference from 1887), and a single reference to a colored school at Louvale. Additional research into census records from the 1880s and 1890s could hold the answer to the number and ethnicity of teachers in Louvale. The Louvale News would undoubtedly yield valuable information on the school, as well. If you are familiar with the history of Louvale or this particular building, please share any information you have in the comments on this post. 


Friday, August 9, 2013

Learning from Friendship Baptist Church

Courtesy of  Bita Honarvar, Atlanta Journal Constitution
The latest news on the matter of Atlanta's new retractable roof stadium (evidently a must for any modern city), is that Friendship Baptist Church has agreed to sell its property for just under $20 million.  Established in 1862, the church is one of the oldest congregations in Atlanta. The earliest services are said to have been held in a boxcar. The church building was built in the early 1870s (or 1880s, as sources vary) with renovations in the 1940s and 1970s (and presumably more recently, according to interior photos). The church is reputed to be the first independent black Baptist congregation in the city. Whether or not this is the case, the church is rooted in many of Atlanta's prominent African American institutions (or more accurately, they are rooted in the church). The fledgling box-car congregation of the 1860s is said to have shared it's home with a small, African American school that became Atlanta University, which later consolidated with Clark University to become the present Clark Atlanta University. In 1879, the Augusta Theological Institute moved to Atlanta, where it was renamed the Atlanta Baptist Seminary and held classes in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church; this seminary would eventually become Morehouse College. Only two years later, Spelman College also had its start in the church basement as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary. The stories the basement of this building alone could tell of Atlanta's early African American heritage is astounding. In 1945, Maynard Jackson, Sr. moved his family from Texas to become the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church; his son (by the same name) would become Atlanta's first African American mayor in 1973 and, as such, the first African American mayor of a major southern city. 

Sophia B. Packard & Harriet E. Giles founded Atlanta Baptist
Female Seminary in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church
(Courtesy of Spelman College Archives).
So, there is no question of the significance of this property to he history of post-Civil War Atlanta ~ and yes, catch your breath ~ contrary to popular interpretations, Atlanta's history did not end when the rebel yell was silenced. But that's a discussion for another day. 

Architecturally, Friendship Baptist Church represents a type identified by the Georgia Historic Preservation Division as a "Double Tower Church", so-called for the projecting corner towers at the building's facade. The interior of the church was known for its stained glass and a prominent pipe organ, installed in the 1960s and later expanded in a major renovation in recent years; such an instrument was rare in African American baptist churches from the time and place of this one. Unfortunately, I have failed to locate any historic images to determine whether or not it retains historic integrity. The shape and form of this church could well match an 1890s church of this type, but the skin does not; the exterior surfacing and photos of the interior resemble construction materials and methods as recent as the last ten years. Without a proper assessment of the building, it is difficult to say whether or not it would merit listing in the National Register of Historic Places or preservation as a local landmark.

Pipe Organ following renovation (Courtesy of A.E. Schlueter Pipe Organ Company).

This church has been discussed entirely as a religious institution with a congregation of less than 500 (which, to my surprise, has been called small). The media has consistently reported on its history, but there has been no discussion of the building as an historic resource; except, it seems, for the Atlanta Preservation Center (APC). In a brief statement on their blog, the APC touted their efforts to preserve the area of this resource in the past, through a landmark district designation and a Civil Rights Trail, then deplored the project managers for not affording the "preservation community" an opportunity to participate in initial planning on this project. The APC has done a lot for this city over the years, but in this instance, their view reflects a major obstacle in historic preservation. Reactive preservation is an old concept; that is, the notion that the loss of a resource is entirely on the heads of the developers, who didn't provide the preservationists an opportunity to weigh in. In the world of social media, there is always an opportunity to weigh in. The potential locations for the highly publicized project have been discussed in the media since as early as the April 2011; the two principal sites being a short distance north and south of the Georgia Dome in Vine City. When a resource is laid to waste, we, as members of the community and advocates for preservation, always share in the responsibility for its loss.

The larger issue to be gleaned from this experience is that the preservation community in Atlanta has not been operating effectively as a community. While there is a large population of preservation-minded individuals, they are scattered  and insular like the many distinct communities that together are referred to as "Atlanta" by outsiders; they possess many common interests, but collectively lack the cohesion to effect lasting change on the matter of preservation planning (or even to be recognized as an actual demographic by policy leaders). We are less a community than an assemblage, at times. It has always been my impression that what this community needs is proactive leadership to guide efforts; but perhaps what we really need is a central means of communication. An active forum, where causes can be announced, knowledge can be shared, and initiatives can be organized. 

With the fall of Friendship Baptist Church, the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Falcons come a big step closer to obtaining their retractable-roof stadium, apparently designed to resemble a cross between Superman's Fortress of Solitude and one no-nonsense species of starfish (see proposed designs, at left, courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons).  

A neighboring church remains in the path of their development and negotiations with that church continue. Should they also sell, then Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed's vision will be realized ~ at least, that of the stadium's construction. Whether this will be the impetus for change he envisions, only time can tell. 

While the media has emphasized the history of this congregation, it is important to note that the history is not lost with the building. Those stories and lessons from our past continue (as long as we share them). But it's that sense of place and continuity with the past that only exists in the material fabric of history that is lost with an historic place. Atlanta should know this better than any place. The stories can always be told, but no African American child will ever walk through the basement of Friendship Baptist Church and experience the atmosphere of a place that was the setting of significant strides in the advancement of his predecessors in Atlanta. Stories pale in comparison to experiences. Historic signage (not that any has been proposed in this case), the popular grave marker of heritage, does little to convey the importance of places and nothing to foster a sense of continuity with the past. 

As discussed, this church is rich in history, but little is known about whether the building itself is worthy of preservation. Typically, only buildings that are determined to be historically significant and to have historic integrity (which is determined by the degree of retention of these seven aspects) are considered worthy of preservation efforts (though it's always a shame to see a perfectly good building go to waste). Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned from this experience. The most important lesson is for the preservation community. To effect change in the treatment of heritage resources in our area, we need to come together now and often in order to share ideas, activities, and efforts; so that such developments will not go unmitigated without consideration for the places we value, and so that we will not be overlooked as a valuable demographic by our policy makers (one that spans all ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds). Our interests may not always be solicited on these matters, but they should always be heard.

If you would like periodic updates on preservation issues or activities in the Atlanta area, please join us by adding your email to "Follow RNB" on our home page. We would also like to invite readers to notify us of any such issues or activities they would like to share with the preservation community, by send us an email (form at the bottom of our home page).