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.
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.
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.
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.
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.