Holding out for magic: hoping Glenridge Hall will be preserved

By Guest Columnist DIANNA EDWARDS, a citizen advocate for historic preservation

The gavel rang on the afternoon of March 15 – closing the auction on the art and furnishings of Thomas K. Glenn’s 1929 Tudor Revival estate, Glenridge Hall.

Mercifully for those who cherish the mansion, the auction was held out of state. So we didn’t have to watch.

It is hard to witness the calcuated assessment of value, not worth, that goes along with these things. It is harder still to see land you love suffer probings with stony dignity as a desperate woman might; a woman held by a man she not loves, not wants, but needs.

Dianna Edwards

Dianna Edwards

I have done this for property I didn’t own, and it cut me. Standing on the porch of my cabin at Mocassion Hollow, the Buckhead property now known as The Highlands, I “received” the steady stream of developers that crawled the property from one end to the other. I did it because Eleanor Storza would have expected it of me and the land deserved it.

But who is standing vigil for Glenridge Hall now?

Joey Mayson, husband to the late Frances Glenn Mayson and Glenridge’s guardian for 30 years, can no longer do the honors. His health isn’t good. It was not improved by leaving the home he loved anything other than feet first. The public part of the family’s story is well known: The happy years rennovating the property; Frances’ tragic death in childbirth; Joey staying the course and raising their daughter alone.

 

Glenridge Hall

An exterior view of Glenridge Hall

The rest of the story wouldn’t be mine to share or judge if I knew it. The Glenn Family has given so much to Atlanta and Sandy Springs over the past century that regardless, the driveway of Glenridge Hall should be lined every day with solemn crowds saying goodby, leaving thank-you notes on its stone steps. I will do this myself soon.

I am not an intimate friend of Joey Mayson’s. By the sheer gift of living on the Storza property, I had neighbors whose names just happened to be Bunnen, Woodruff, Inman and Candler. The young married couple behind the Moccasin Hollow purchase (Rodney Mims Cook and Emily Robinson Cook) introduced me to the delights of Glenridge Hall.

But truly, people who resonate to historic properties and mystical land are bonded by the lessons they teach and spells they weave. To an old house, time is less calendar or clock than river, with currents always shifting beneath the surface. The most eloquent old places can bind us in an instant to people and experiences we will never lose.

Glenridge Hall

An interior view of Glenridge Hall

One evening upstairs in the ‘Boys Room’ at Glenridge, I watched Joey holding court by the fireplace, laughing with the Cooks and the Spencer Tunnell’s as his daughter curled asleep on the sofa. For me, that is the special gift of Glenridge Hall: it balances intimacy with grandeur.

In that way, Glenridge reflects the man who built it. Thomas K. Glenn should not be damned with the faint praise of “prominent businessman of the 1920s.” All three volumes of my Atlanta and Environs are fanned with Glenn sticky-notes. A few titles: Hospital System (Grady+); Transformed Atlantic Steel; Creation of First National Bank.

(My favorite is “Save the City”/1914 cotton crisis.” The First World War closed overseas markets, cotton exchanges shut down, and bales of the stuff stacked up in the streets of Georgia. Atlanta’s banks took action—especially Asa Candler. Wild story.)

Tom Glenn was more than a businessman. He and his friends had a city to build for the ages and that was their business. But does this matter when the scent of development money hangs in the air? Who will stand for Tom Glenn now, as he did for Georgia’s cotton or Atlanta’s universities?

Let us hope that person wll be Ken Balogh, president and CEO of the property owner, Ashton Woods Homes. The Atlanta company paid more than $70 million in February for the entire 76-acre property and then sold 12-acres from the southern tract to Mercedes-Benz, USA, for its new headquarters.

Glenridge Hall

Another interior view of Glendridge Hall

Mr. Balogh and his executive team seem so young and fresh-faced online it is hard to imagine them fully grasping the sweep of history and heritage they hold in the palm of their hands. I so hope for a preservationist approach (I see portent in Architecture Veep Jay Kallos wearing round glasses similar to Mark McDonald’s, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust for Preservation).

Mercedes-Benz won Atlanta’s heart when Daimler-Benz AG of Stuttgart restored the Margaret Mitchell House on Peachtree Street prior to the 1996 Olympic Games. Ms. Mary Rose Taylor, a Grande Dame in the tradition of the “Dirty Dozen” who founded the Forward Arts Foundation in 1965, birddogged the Mitchell House project for years.

Even if there were a Mary Rose Taylor for Glenridge, it could be too late. Voices have been raised on social media with concern and design solutions. But elsewhere – unsettling quiet.

Ah, well. At the end of the day, the fate of Glenridge Hall and its grounds rests with Ashton Woods. I am wistful but not resigned. As Roald Dahl wrote, “Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Note to readers: Dianna Edwards lives in Cave Spring, Ga., in the 1869 Historic Register home built by Deaf Educator and Civil War Veteran Wesley O. Connor.

23 replies
  1. Britton Edwards says:

    “To an old house, time is less calendar or clock than river, with currents always shifting beneath the surface. The most eloquent old places can bind us in an instant to people and experiences we will never lose.”Report

    Reply
  2. Rusty Paul says:

    So everyone knows, the family spent 3 years trying to figure out how to save it. Just too old with too little maintenance through the years… And too costly to fix.Report

    Reply
  3. Martha W says:

    Great job, Dianna! Mercedes Benz has saved Atlanta once from destroying its history with the resurrection of the Margaret Mitchell House. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the company would do it again?

    Glenridge Hall would make such an impressive guest house for the company’s visitors. What better place for corporate lunches and dinners than the Glenridge Hall dining room? And what a lovely place to hold company events and receptions! The company could even share it with the community by hosting Atlanta’s most important visitors. How many companies can say they have such an incredible facility with such a history?

    So Mercedes Benz, here’s your opportunity to have a gem of a facility and build incredible goodwill in the community. Save the home of the man who once saved Atlanta in the cotton crisis of 1914.

    You know, Atlanta doesn’t have seem to have as many community-minded benefactors like Mr. Glenn and Robert Woodruff, Mr. Rich and Mr. Candler as we once had. And that’s s shame. they used their companies and great wealth to make Atlanta the wonderful city it is today. Here’s hoping Mercedes Benz and Ken Balogh, president and CEO of the property owner, Ashton Woods Homes, will do the right thing.Report

    Reply
  4. Guy Tucker says:

    Thanks Dianna.  The Glenn’s continued their giving up to the current generation.  My children’s school Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, Upper campus was a part donation from the Glenn’s 7 -8 years ago.  Great writing, as usual!Report

    Reply
  5. Dianna Edwards says:

    Mayor Paul: There are people RIGHT NOW who know how to save Glenridge Hall. I would be happy to introduce you and the folks at Ashton Woods to Mark Mcdonald at the Georgia Trust and law firms with this expertise. If the Sandy Springs business community wanted it saved–saved it would be. 

    You and I both know that it will cost more to take it down and get Glenridge into a landfill than it would to restore it. The citizens of Dekalb county rallied to save its sister house, Callanwolde, which also needed considerable repair at the time. That re-investment in heritage paid off considerably. What a source of pride Callanwolde is today!

    I know that green space and eco-impact are important to you. Otherwise you wouldn’t be leading Sandy Springs to “find a site for” and create an apiary to encourage survival of honeybees and monarch butterflies. There’s great irony in supporting the destruction of the last great greenspace in Sandy Springs with one hand while advocating beekeeping classes to offset the loss of greenspace on the other. 

     Heritage preservation goes hand in hand with sustainable development. That’s a concept I implore you, as the leader of Sandy Springs, to study for the sake of your future citizens. The economy and society both stand to lose if the environment is degraded. Please stop this April 1 demolition order, sir. Please give the community time to study the issue.Report

    Reply
  6. Kurt Tausche says:

    Mayor Paul, family efforts aside, this is a time when leaders lead. Your actions could help it survive. Get the right people in a room and look for a solution.Report

    Reply
  7. Wayne Daniel Anderson says:

    The magnificent and irreplaceable Glenridge Hall mansion is Sandy Spring’s Biltmore House. It’s demolition would be tantamount to the murder of the areas sole heroine. Conversely, repurposing it as the centerpiece to  and architectural inspiration for the luxury homes development would be seen as visionary and a great asset for the community. 

    Looking at Ashton Woods website, I can see that the exterior facades of the homes need some great inspiration. Well here it is, right in the middle at the top of the site. How perfect for the clubhouse, a Ritz-Carlton, or special events– while making your new residential community truly unique as the Beverly Hills of Sandy Springs. I know you can do it. 

    Save Glenridge Hall, and make money while doing it.Report

    Reply
  8. Dianna Edwards says:

    Wayne Daniel Anderson

    Wayne, i’ve seen your blog on this. You are very talented. Please get that site plan published now — get it over to Ashton Woods or call the Ritz Carlton yourself. You’ve given this great work. Honor to hear from you.Report

    Reply
  9. Anne Marie Oliver says:

    Are you the Mayor of Sandy
    Springs?If so, can you please
    help us lead the way here with some wisdom, guidance, and respect?Please do not aid in the destruction of what’s left of
    Georgia’s history–or serve as an apologist for it.
    Who
    would even dream such a thing were possible–replacing architectural magnificence
    with yet more architectural mediocrity, the kind now found all over the world.It will be impossible to tell this tale to those to
    come without sadness over such absolutely unnecessary destruction and embarrassment
    at such ignorance, ignorance that, no doubt, believes itself to be forward-looking if not futurist.Tearing down a
    gem like Glenridge Hall makes so little sense that one wonders what could
    possibly be the motivation for it, greed not adequately explaining such a meaningless act.  Perhaps, the aesthetic of Glenridge Hall simply doesn’t fit with the glitz and glass aesthetic of Mercedes Benz.  The material mass and solidity of a well-built house threaten to slow down time itself and remind people of the ancient notion of eternity.  Houses of this sort might make people stay at home rather than speed down highways to nowhere or, rather, anywhere but where they are. 

    The
    demolishing of this magnificent structure does not augur well for the fate of Mercedes
    Benz in Georgia, such an action again displaying, and indeed flaunting, a
    fundamental lack of respect that will be hard to gloss over or justify.The decision to allow the demolishment of the Glenn
    House shows also a fundamental lack of leadership–both insight and oversight.
    All
    in all, the destruction of beauty and heritage is absolutely shameful and an insult to the people of Sandy
    Springs and of Georgia.Report

    Reply
  10. TedFabella says:

    Thanks for drawing attention to this. My wife and I were married at Glenridge Hall over 15 years ago. Our friends and family still rave over the event, in large part due to this special venue. Living in Dunwoody, we relive those fond memories every time we pass by on Abernathy Road. Atlanta may be arguably the most progressive city in the South, but it wouldn’t hurt to preserve some of its (architectural) history.Report

    Reply
  11. Dianna Edwards says:

    Dear EF1984, 

    So much of this has been done under the radar. It’s very strange. The demo permit wasn’t posted online…the Loaf had to use a Freedom of Information Act request to get it. Deals this big aren’t done in secret without a compelling reason.Report

    Reply
  12. Susan Bernstein says:

    I grew up in Sandy Springs but only visited this magnificent home in my 30s. I volunteered at a charity event there. Beautiful place in a city that needs to cherish its history. Sad to see it will be demolished.Report

    Reply
  13. Eddie Farrow says:

    Rusty Paul, you have not done enough to preserve this masterpiece, but instead allowed the family to get away with murder. Why was Heritage Sandy Springs not listened to – they have suggested multiple ways the facility could have been used?? You are an influential figure in our local community & I will remember that you did not step in to protect our history and past.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?