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It’s all in how you deliver the message

They say that when you die, whether you’re going to heaven or hell, you have to go through Atlanta first. Though made popular by Atlanta’s very busy airport, that saying actually originated back in the day when Atlanta was a major railroad junction. At its peak, over 300 trains a day came and went through […]

Gaines Hall Fountain Hall

Atlantans fight to restore Gaines Hall after fire

Original Story on WABE by Maria Saporta

Gaines Hall, built in 1869 as a dorm for Atlanta University, caught fire on Aug. 20. The next day, the Atlanta Fire Department said the historic building should be torn down for safety reasons. But local preservationists immediately objected, saying Gaines Hall can and should be saved.

Atlanta has a pretty dismal record when it comes to preservation.

Gaines Hall 2013

A boarded up Gaines Hall awaits its fate in 2013 (Photos by Maria Saporta)

All too often, vacant older buildings suffer from a condition known as demolition by neglect ─ they fall victim to the elements or catch on fire ─ giving property owners an excuse to tear them down.

And it’s rare for local governments in metro Atlanta to stand in the way of demolition.  It’s even rarer for them to find a permanent solution to preserve historic buildings.

So it appeared as though Gaines Hall was doomed.

The dorm had been owned by the struggling Morris Brown College, until earlier this year, when it was acquired by the city of Atlanta.

Would the fire seal its fate?

That’s when Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed came to the rescue.

When I asked the mayor about Gaines Hall Monday, he told me emphatically, “We are going to find a way to preserve it.”

Hallelujah!

After all, Gaines Hall had been the stomping ground for leading African-American scholars like W.E.B. DuBois, among others.

The next day, the city sent engineers as well as the head of planning, the head of Invest Atlanta and the head of real estate to examine the building.

The official line is that they’re trying to assess the damage to see if it can be saved.

But Mayor Reed, someone who rules with an iron fist, has let his feelings be known. And city officials will be more motivated to preserve Gaines Hall rather than demolish it.

While I’m not always a fan of the mayor’s heavy-handed style, I have seen it work once before in saving a building.

The city had given Atlanta Housing Authority permission to demolish the Trio building in the King historic district.

Preservationists cried foul.

Mayor Reed agreed. And he controls most of AHA’s board members, so the historic building is being saved.

It’s time to do it again!

Just like the Trio building, preservationists are standing by, ready to help.

Mark McDonald, CEO of the Georgia Trust, said the Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta, designed by the same architect, had even worse fire damage than Gaines Hall. But Hancock County officials are preserving it.

If Sparta can do it, so can Atlanta.

For Gaines Hall to be a real success, we need to not only save the building. We need to give it new life so that it won’t fall victim again.

Mayor Reed, you can be an even greater hero if you come up with a permanent solution for Gaines Hall, one that will keep it standing for generations to come.

The dragon that reaches out and grabs you

Roger Babson is the founder of the Gravity Research Foundation, an organization with the stated purpose of studying, understanding and, ultimately, harnessing the force of gravity. It was the childhood drowning of his older sister in a river near Gloucester, Massachusetts that sparked Babson’s life-long interest in finding a way to control the effects of […]

Alvin York Slept Here

America’s entry into World War One required the country ramp up its training efforts in order to accommodate the thousands of conscripted servicemen who were joining the war effort. Sixteen temporary camps, or cantonments as they were known, were built at locations around the country. One of those camps was constructed on the outskirts of […]

It’s not often that a condemned building gets to live on after it is demolished

Among the more recognizable features of larger buildings constructed in the early twentieth century were the ornamental design elements that often gave buildings their personalities. The material of choice for these elements was terra cotta clay, primarily because it was relatively inexpensive, lightweight and could be easily molded or sculpted. These eye-catching details often elevated […]

New park helps small city’s residents discover ‘greene’ space and forgotten son of the New South

This week guest contributor BRIAN BRODRICK, city councilman in Watkinsville and Georgia Humanities board member, calls for the memory of Atticus Haygood to be pulled from the shadow of New South spokesman Henry Grady and brought out to our public space.

The name — Atticus Greene Haygood — conjures images of To Kill a Mockingbird and old Georgia, which are both appropriate.

On the right side of history — how a modest experiment in interracial community leaves a lasting impression on Habitat for Humanity

Clarence Jordan, from a distinguished Georgia family of politicians and community leaders, began a career in the 1930s as a Baptist minister. A rising star, he had a reputation for distinction that was spreading throughout the state and the South. With time, any pulpit or university appointment could be his.