Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Invitations should be arriving in your mailbox in mid-July. Check our website for more details about what promises to be two days of fabulous sites, excellent food, and lots of fun.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Very little has changed about the Clermont Hotel — or its time-capsule strip club — since Atlanta real-estate mogul Jeff Notrica took over the Ponce de Leon landmark six years ago.
Much as he promised when he bought the 85-year-old building, Notrica resisted the developer’s temptation to chop it up into condos or turn it into modern apartments. Downstairs, the storied Clermont Lounge was left untouched and remains its gloriously seedy self.
But it may be this same hands-off approach that Notrica has taken with the Clermont and many of his other properties — a land baron’s acquisitiveness tempered by a collector’s appreciation for each new bauble — that has helped bring his intown real-estate empire crashing down.
Unless a deal is struck between Notrica’s Inman Park Properties and New York-based lender Fairway Capital — or unless a deep-pocketed buyer steps forward — the Clermont Hotel and its lounge will be auctioned off on the courthouse steps July 2.
If that happens, it will be only the latest, if largest, in a long series of foreclosures suffered by Inman Park Properties over the past three months. The company’s apparent meltdown has involved some of the most recognizable and beloved buildings in East Atlanta, Little Five Points, Poncey-Highlands and Midtown Atlanta.
A five-minute drive south on Moreland Avenue will take you past the Wrecking Bar mansion, the old Gordon Elementary School and a former bank building whose modernistic design gives you an idea of what might result if the High Museum mated with a giant spider. All three have sat vacant and decaying for years and all three were, until recently, owned by Notrica.
And there are other, even more historic landmarks still in the Inman Park Properties portfolio that local preservationists are eyeing with renewed concern: the former Ansley Inn, the 1907 Tudor mansion built by menswear magnate George Muse; the Antebellum-style Craigie House across from Piedmont Park that was home to the nation’s second-oldest D.A.R. chapter; and, most significantly, the “Castle,” the sprawling post-Victorian house that sits atop a stone wall overlooking the Woodruff Arts Center.
While many community activists are thrilled to see Notrica lose control of properties that had been allowed to rot, Boyd Coons, longtime director of the Atlanta Preservation Center, is ambivalent.
“His buildings may have been in terrible condition, but at least they were still there,” Coons said. “We now have real fears about what’s going to happen with all these properties.”
Coons first became aware of Inman Park Properties several years back the same way most Atlantans did: by seeing its “For lease” signs pop up in front of architecturally interesting buildings around town — and then remain there, sometimes for years.
The company quickly gained a reputation for seeking out old, unusual or landmark properties, but Notrica himself remained largely a mystery. Described as shy and withdrawn by business associates, he rarely speaks to the press and usually avoids talking about himself. He did not return repeated calls for this article.
But acquaintances and former employees provide glimpses of an unconventional businessman who defied the stereotype of the rapacious developer. A native Atlantan, Notrica didn’t come from wealth; his father owned a small Old Fourth Ward grocery store. Instead, Notrica made his first real money dealing in rare coins. According to his company’s website, he got started in development in the mid-’80s by rehabbing and selling houses in Inman Park and Candler Park.
Within a decade, he’d begun stockpiling unusual and historic properties in Atlanta’s trendiest neighborhoods and in downtown Savannah. Some he redeveloped and leased; others collected weeds, despite his repeated pledges to restore them. Notrica seldom seemed interested in selling an empty building or vacant lot simply because it wasn’t generating income.
It was Notrica who tried to bring the Cotton Club music venue to his 1940s-era Hilan Theatre in Virginia-Highland in the late ’90s, an effort that was defeated by neighborhood nay-sayers. He later renovated the space, located behind the Ben & Jerry’s, for use as an event facility, but it remains unoccupied. Last month, the building narrowly avoided foreclosure.
And Inman Park Properties was targeted by the Atlanta Preservation Center when it compiled its annual “Most Endangered Historic Places” list. In 2003, the APC listed the saucer-shaped Trust Company Bank building at Monroe Drive next to the I-85 overpass and the 100-year-old Fire Station No. 11 next to the North Avenue MARTA station. Both were then owned by Notrica and had been vacant for several years. They now house Eros Tapas Bar and Engine 11 Firehouse Tavern, respectively. Notrica lost the Trust Company building in foreclosure in March.
Still, Coons took a risk a few years ago and invited Notrica to join the APC board.
“That was controversial among our members, but we were trying to reach out to someone controlled a large number of historic properties,” explains Coons, who says he quickly realized Notrica wasn’t the typical developer.
“Notrica told me he had an affinity for old buildings, which really surprised me because that’s not what I’m used to hearing from developers,” he says.
“Jeff’s gotten a lot of criticism — and it may be deserved — because he buys historic buildings and lets them deteriorate,” Coons adds. “But the status quo among many developers is to buy an old building and then level it. He’s a real dichotomy.”
(Photo by Tara-Lynn Pixley)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, June 28, 2009
On a recent steamy evening in Little Five Points, crowds packed the patio at Front Page News, a popular watering hole that once housed a dilapidated machine shop.
A few miles south in East Atlanta, an old elementary school sat vacant, as it has for well over a decade. Boards cover the windows, and the property is secured by a chain-link fence.
The two sites, one hopping and the other slowly crumbling, seem to have little in common. But both have been controlled by the same real estate developer: Inman Park Properties.
Over the past two decades, the small Atlanta company has quietly gobbled up dozens of buildings in some of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods, from Midtown to East Atlanta. The company has drawn praise for renovating several historic buildings. But many of the company’s properties have sat vacant, sometimes for years.
Now the economic slump has hit the company hard. In the past few months, a sizable chunk of Inman Park Properties’ holdings has either entered the foreclosure process or been put up for sale.
The lengthy list includes the gritty Clermont Hotel, home of the Clermont Lounge strip club; the Hilan Theatre, a stunning Art Deco space hidden behind a row of shops in Virginia Highland; and the Castle, a sprawling 19th-century house squeezed between Midtown skyscrapers and the Woodruff Arts Center. Even Inman Park Properties’ headquarters on Ponce de Leon has fallen into foreclosure.
The company’s woes are rippling through the local economy.
Inman Park’s lenders, mostly small, community-based banks, stand to lose money, holding property that may be difficult to sell in a deeply distressed market. Real estate experts warn the volume of Inman Park properties up for sale could push values down even further. And, records show, the developer owes tens of thousands of dollars in back property taxes.
Entire neighborhoods have been affected, such as East Atlanta, where Inman Park Properties owns much of the commercial district. Business leaders there worry banks will hold on to properties until the market turns, saddling the neighborhood with vacant storefronts.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Mark Takacs, president of the East Atlanta Business Association. “East Atlanta is not going to look very pretty for a little while.”
A polarizing figure
At the center of the crisis stands Jeff Notrica, Inman Park Properties’ founder. Notrica, 44, an Atlanta native, has become a controversial, polarizing figure in local real estate circles.
Some applaud him for having the guts — and the vision — to buy deteriorating properties like the Little Five Points machine shop and convert them into thriving businesses.
But Notrica has drawn sharp criticism for his practice of buying vacant, run-down properties and sitting on them for extended periods of time. Some blame him for not properly maintaining buildings, saddling neighborhoods and commercial districts with crumbling eyesores.
Shawn Ergle, owner of an East Atlanta furniture store, said by keeping empty for so long, Notrica buildings “basically robbed the community out of having businesses. I have no sympathy for him. He’s getting what he deserved.”
Notrica did not return three phone calls seeking comment for this article. A staffer answering his business phone declined to comment, and Notrica declined to respond to inquiries made through a friend.
Many developers, of course, have fallen victim to the extended economic slump. The recession and credit crunch has made it difficult for companies like Notrica’s to refinance loans, sell property or find income-producing tenants.
Interviews with real estate experts and others with knowledge of Notrica’s activities and a review of property records suggest that other factors may have played a role in the company’s troubles.
Inman Park Properties’ vast holdings included many old, deteriorating properties that Notrica left vacant for extended periods. It’s an unusual practice, real estate experts say, because empty buildings don’t bring in any revenue needed to pay off debt.
A building collector?
Notrica was able to take advantage of the booming real estate market earlier this decade, refinancing some of his property at much higher values. For instance, Notrica paid $1 million for Midtown’s Castle building in 2001, then refinanced it five years later for more than twice the original purchase price.
“He would keep refinancing [properties] to maintain the debt on other loans,” said Laura King, who was Notrica’s leasing and sales manager from 2004-2007.
That left some properties highly leveraged and vulnerable when the real estate market suddenly collapsed, King said.
Some industry observers say Notrica has a seeming compulsion to buy and collect buildings. In addition to his Atlanta properties, he owns clusters of office buildings in downtown Savannah and Birmingham. Most remain vacant and are now up for sale.
“I’ve never really been able to understand what his business model was,” said Mark McDonald, president of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. “He buys buildings, never does any work on them, he has to pay taxes, and he never gets any return on his investment.”
Josh Sagarin, the owner of Front Page News/Tijuana Garage and a friend of Notrica’s since the early 1990s, said of Notrica: “He’s not really a developer. He’s an investor with an eye for value.”
Before Notrica got into real estate, he collected and traded rare coins, said Sagarin. Even after he got into real estate, Sagarin said, the hallways outside his office were often lined with bags of pennies that he would sort through in his spare time.
“He’s always looking for value when nobody sees it,” said Sagarin.
The other side of the coin is that Notrica also may be reluctant to sell or redevelop a property for less than he perceives it’s worth, and may sometimes buy a problematic building because of its beautiful or interesting architecture.
Prizes and problems
Inman Park Properties’ Web site carries the motto “preserving the future by saving the past.”
In some cases, Notrica lived up to that promise. He is credited with helping restore two Atlanta landmarks over the past decade — a historic, century-old firehouse on North Avenue in Midtown and a 1960s bank building in northeast Atlanta designed by noted architect Henri Jova.
The bank renovation was honored by Atlanta’s Urban Design Commission, and Notrica was asked to serve on board of the Atlanta Preservation Center. It was a controversial choice, said center executive director Boyd Coons.
“We hear people comment that he buys historic properties and then does not maintain them and they sit in a derelict condition for a long period of time,” said Coons. “I understand why he’s controversial, but I also think that some of the things he did do produced very good results, and he was honored for that.”
Other properties haven’t fared so well. The Castle in Midtown, for instance, was inspected by city officials last year who found substantial roof damage, said Coons. Two historic buildings in Ansley Park, a Daughters of the American Revolution building and the Ansley Inn, are in bad shape, neighborhood residents complain.
Still, Notrica is given credit for not tearing down any properties, something notable in a city known for demolishing older buildings, Coons said.
Sagarin said Notrica took on projects most people wouldn’t touch. He spent about $1 million to resurrect the building that houses Front Page News in 2002, and has been “great as a landlord” ever since, said Sagarin.
“He has a much more long-term vision than other developers,” said Sagarin. “It also makes him more vulnerable in economic downturns.”
Notrica is in retreat now, he said, because he’s having trouble finding lenders to refinance the short-term loans he used to acquire many of his properties. “His whole system is based on rolling those loans over,” said Sagarin. “Some of those banks don’t exist any more.”
But Sagarin said he believes Notrica is “consolidating on the good deals,” and will continue operating. When they talked recently, Notrica “seemed to be in the middle of a work out” with some lenders, said Sagarin. “I did not hear panic,” he said.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Cherry Cottage is one of the oldest existing buildings in
Later, the home was donated for use as the headquarters of the Washington-Wilkes Garden Clubs. Cherry Cottage is one of the oldest existing buildings in
The house is in good condition, but some repairs are necessary in the kitchen and utility room. Interior fireplaces and exterior paint are also in need of maintenance. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and may be eligible for several financial incentives, including an 8 1/2 year tax abatement and tax credits for substantial rehabilitation.
New Price: $155,000
Down from $175,000
Contact: Kate Ryan Programs Manager 404-885-7817
The McDuffie Mirror
Even before the Wrightsboro Foundation took over the Rock House in the mid-to-late 1960s, the facility was plagued by vandalism. But that all changed May 1 of this year.
"We just got tired of replacing windows and scrubbing graffiti off the walls," said foundation President Hazel Mobley.
Using stimulus funds through One Stop of East Central Georgia, the foundation now has a security guard on site 24 hours every day. Robert Sumner, Jr., of Dearing, is the security supervisor in charge of keeping the historical site guarded. Mr. Sumner said the One Stop program gives out-of-work people the opportunity to earn a paycheck.
"When they told me about it, I didn't have to think too long before I accepted it," Mr. Sumner said, adding that he was laid off from Pelzer a few months earlier. "It's peaceful and quiet out here, and surprising how we get to meet all kinds of people. It's nice. ... But it has to be a unique person who can work out here."
The remote area, which was ideal for vandals, also makes an eight-hour shift seem endless. The pavilion on the property, formerly used for picnics and gatherings, has been changed to an office for the guards, with air conditioning, a remodeled bathroom and a small kitchen stocked with a small refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot and sink. Mr. Sumner said he is learning about history and to appreciate the facility he is protecting. He's even grown accustomed to the ghost stories. Members of a local paranormal society are frequent visitors to the guards working the night shift.
"But I've got all their ghosts figured out," Mr. Sumner said, and provided his explanation of the different noises in the house, including rattling shutters.
A group of obviously drunken young adults came late one night and were surprised to find a guard on the premises. Mr. Sumner said there is no way of knowing if the group planned to vandalize the place, but "the guard ended up walking them around through the house for a tour, and then they left."
Not only do the guards deter vandals, but their presence encourages more visitors, according to Mrs. Mobley. Since the guard has been there, three different teachers have come with groups of students to tour the facility and have a picnic. They came from Warren, Wilkes and Richmond counties.
"Now that we have security, they feel safe and are able to come," Mrs. Mobley said. "Imagine, after it's been here all this time, now people are coming."
The security guards ask every visitor to the property to sign a guest book providing their name and address. Since the first of May, the book has filled with approximately 150 names with addresses from all across Georgia, South Carolina and as far away as Texas.
"What's surprising is we're having a lot of people from Thomson coming now," Mrs. Mobley said. "We're able to keep up with every person that comes, and we send them a card telling them we appreciate their visit and ask for their suggestions or donations."
Built in the 1780s, the Rock House is the oldest house in McDuffie County and the oldest stone dwelling in Georgia. The house was built by Thomas Ansley as part of the Wrightsboro Quaker settlement. According to a writing by Pearl Baker, the house was built of fieldstone after the fashion of the Quaker houses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with inside chimneys. A large basement room has a large fireplace, and there are four rooms on the middle floor, one with an unusual corner fireplace, and larger fireplaces in the larger rooms, capable of burning six-foot logs. The top floor is reached by a narrow, winding staircase and contains two loft rooms.
According to a write-up by Dorothy Jones, the Rock House and Wrightsboro are rare evidences of 18th century Georgia. Wrightsboro was the only Quaker colony in the State of any duration. Begun in 1770, it represented one of the first settlements in the back country of Georgia, and endured the conflict of the Revolution. Descendants of Wrightsboro are spread throughout the United States, and members of the Ansley family return to the Rock House each year for a reunion.
"Without all the work of Dot Jones, the Rock House still wouldn't be here," Mrs. Mobley said.
A cemetery down the road from the Rock House has more than 200 Ansley ancestors buried in it, according to Mrs. Mobley. In fact, the Wrightsboro Foundation has future plans of restoring the cemetery, also.
"We want the cemetery done right, because it is part of the Rock House heritage," she said. "We want to be able to draw visitors to view and understand the Rock House and the Quaker impact on America. That's what's missing, people don't realize the impact the Quakers had."
The plan - which has begun, now, with the stimulus-funded security guards and being placed on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation's list of Places in Peril - is to make the Rock House a destination for field trips that includes a visitor center and exhibits.
"These efforts will facilitate archeological work on the property, thus advancing the knowledge of McDuffie County," Mrs. Mobley said. "But most of all, we need to have a site that gives a sense of ownership by the community and the local governance."
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
As the Trust begins the process of selecting a new line-up of Places in Peril for the upcoming year, we honor a long-time preservation advocate and member, Nell Magruder.
A native of Canton, Georgia, Nell Magruder is descended from Georgia's upcountry pioneers. Her great-great-grandfather, William Gresham, was a collector of newspapers- a hobby he passed to his children and grandchildren. The accumulated Magruder Collection, donated by Nell and her husband, Bill, is now housed and studied at the Atlanta History Center- a treasure of rare periodicals, many more than a hundred years old, for generations to learn from.
Nell's dedication to preservation is also clear in her commitment to the stewardship of her historic home, built by William Gresham in 1841, and her community activism on behalf of projects like the Canton Grammar School, a nominee for the Trust's 2010 Places in Peril. The Canton Grammar School was built in 1914, and is in danger of being demolished by the local school system. Nell Magruder has worked hard to spread the word about the Canton Grammar School, a historically significant building in remarkably good condition. With a passionate preservationist like Nell fighting for the school, the Trust is hopeful that the school district may yet be convinced of the feasibilty of a renovation project for this important place. We will continue to work with her on behalf of the Canton School, and all of us at the Trust are pleased to salute Nell Magruder for her determination and savvy.
The Trust wants to get in touch with local activists throughout the state of Georgia to start and sustain an ongoing dialogue about the places that make this state special! Contact Jordan Pooleto get involved in our Partners in the Field program, or email Lindsay Cronk to volunteer with the Trust.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I have made the switch to digital and Powerpoint but I still miss slide and feel very nostalgic about Kodachrome right now. Did I mention to you that tomatoes don't taste as good as they used to...
Mark C McDonald
For the full article and more information, please click here.
The Inaugural Uptown Rhodes Race 5K was a tremendous success that raised over $10,000 for The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. We hope that you enjoyed your running tour of historic Ansley Park neighborhood and the post-race festivities! Next year's race is scheduled for Saturday, May 22nd - We look forward to seeing you there!
Many thanks to our awesome sponsors!
Friday, June 19, 2009
All of us at the Trust are anxiously following news of the fire at the historic Georgia Theatre in Athens. We will continue to update on twitter and edit this blog entry as we receive new information on the Theatre's status.
Edit #1: For local reporting on the incident, check out Online Athens.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Turning our attention to our Partners in the Field, Allen and Lene Robertson of
In 1908, Robert F. and Laulie Ray Shedden created a town in
The Robertsons embody the common sense approach to preservation that so often goes unrecognized- they have organized numerous fundraisers, planned many workdays, and given the
If you are interested in learning more about upcoming work days or the Trust’s Places in Peril program, email
Jordan Poole or call 478-742-8155. If you would like to give to the Trust’s programs, or volunteer at Rhodes Hall, please contact
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
This week, The Trust is proud to recognize a true champion of the cause of preservation and a long-time member, Ms. Karen Heubner.
A native of Fort Washington PA, Karen Huebner received her undergraduate degree at Marietta College in Ohio with a major in political science and a minor in history. Moving to Atlanta after graduation, she undertook additional studies at the National Center for Paralegal Training and subsequently worked in the litigation department at Powell Goldstein Frazer & Murphy. Karen then pursued a graduate degree in historic preservation at Columbia University, concentrating in planning. Following graduation, she worked at the New York Landmarks Conservancy as a project manager until she was appointed by Mayor Andrew Young as the Director of the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. During her time in that office, Karen was recognized by the State of Georgia, Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Preservation Center for her work.
After more than 20 years of service as Director of the Urban Design Commission, the Georgia Trust is indeed fortunate to have Karen working as one of America's most learned volunteers. Continuing her work on behalf of historic places, you can find Karen at the Trust each Wednesday, generously allowing all of us access to her formidable talents and experience.
If you are interested in donating your time and talent to the Georgia Trust, we are always in need of a helping hand. Help us strengthen our roots, as we try to reach our campaign goal of 10 new volunteers.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
As we approach our inaugural Uptown Rhodes Race this Saturday, June 6, we are honored to spotlight our Race Chair, Colonel Wayne A. Mock. He is an active and focused advocate for the Trust, and we are grateful for all he has done to make this 5k a success.
Col. Mock, a 30-year Atlanta Police Department veteran and former Atlanta Downtown Improvement District public safety manager, is responsible for the highly successful Midtown Blue Public Safety Force and Midtown Green Environmental Maintenance programs – both of which have been hailed by commercial property owners and residents as an integral part of the renaissance of Midtown.
Colonel Mock is also an avid preservationist and runner, who has traveled to Europe to run competitively, and oversaw security for two consecutive Olympic Marathons, in Atlanta and in Barcelona. He is a true professional and a renaissance man. His dedication to this race has been an inspiration to all of us at the Trust, and we thank him for his diligent commitment to protecting Atlanta's people and her history.
Join the Colonel for a race through historic Ansley Park this Saturday. Bring your kids and your dogs for an unforgettable first annual Uptown Rhodes Race.
Day of registration will start at 7 am on the Rhodes Hall porch.
Please call Mary Railey Binns at 404.885.7812 for further information or to register visit Active.com.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Reclusive indie rockers Neutral Milk Hotel may seem like unlikely preservationists. However, Jeff Mangum and Julian Koster recently came to the aid of the Paragon Carousel, a Hull, Massachusetts landmark. Activating their fan base on the carousel's behalf, the pair succeeded in garnering a Partners in Preservation grant for the historic machine.
In an eloquent plea for the carousel, the two put it succinctly:
"The Paragon Carousel is a beautiful machine that has been our dear neighbor for many moons. Now 81 years old, it is in need of a little love and attention in order for it to survive.
"It is our sincere wish for the Paragon Carousel to be a part of the magic of long seaside summer afternoons for many years to come."
This sentiment, of the importance of preserving the past for future, is at the heart of all great preservation efforts, so please join the Georgia Trust in saluting Neutral Milk Hotel for their work on behalf of the historic Paragon Carousel.