Thursday, November 5, 2009

2010 Places in Peril Coverage

Atlanta Journal Constitution Coverage

Morris Brown, Herndon Plaza on Places in Peril List

Preservationists fear for Morris Brown College and Herndon Plaza, headquarters of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company for six decades.

Both Atlanta sites were included on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation's 2010 Places in Peril list, released Wednesday. The fifth annual list is designed to raise awareness about 10 significant historic, archaeological and cultural resources across the state that the trust believes are imperiled by demolition, neglect, lack of maintenance, inappropriate development or "insensitive" public policy.

After an embezzlement scandal, Morris Brown, whose first building opened in 1882 to educate freed slaves, lost its accreditation in 2002 and had trouble paying its water bill and other operating expenses.

Trust president and CEO Mark C. McDonald said the preservation organization is specifically concerned with at least four historic buildings that are boarded up, not more contemporary structures still in use for the 100 to 150 students on campus.

School spokeswoman Bunnie Jackson Ransom said, "That’s Morris Brown's concern also. The Georgia Trust shares that concern with the Morris Brown board, faculty and the president. ... The alumni, the AME church and the faculty have done a superb job of keeping the doors open. You have to pick your priorities."

Trust leader McDonald said he hoped Morris Brown's inclusion "will create substantial dialogue about finding a new purpose for those historic buildings. There are a multitude of possible uses. They could be used for the expansion of other [Atlanta University Center] schools. The civil rights museum, instead of going into a new building, could go there. We should consider everything. Those buildings played an important role in the rise of the African-American middle class, not just in Atlanta but America. It seems appropriate to me to have a civil rights-related role there."

Herndon Plaza, built as an Auburn Avenue residence in the 1890s, became Atlanta Life Insurance's headquarters around 1920. In 1936, an annex was added, also in the Neoclassical style of the original building. Atlanta Life, which moved into a new headquarters in 1980, sold Herndon Plaza, vacant for many years, to the Historic District Development Corporation in 1997. Pending funding, HDDC has plans to renovate it.

A third metro property listed is the Canton Grammar School, built in 1914 and one of the few remaining Neoclassical Revival-style schools in Georgia. The Cherokee CountyBoard of Education closed the building last year, and the trust says there has been talk of razing it. "That's really why it's on the list," McDonald said. "It represents cases where demolition is so senseless when there are viable reuses for the building."

Also listed are the Capricorn Recording Studio in Macon and Paradise Gardens, the late Howard Finster's folk art environment in Summerville. Finster built his creation over a former swamp from "often-fragile materials" that have suffered damage from the elements. Much of Paradise Garden's art was sold off around the time of Finster's 2001 death, but some considered the overallenvironment his greatest work.

"It's a unique challenge," McDonald said. "We’re going to have to help leadership there come up with conservation approaches and help them find the money. A possible solution is for it to be promoted as a tourism site. Finster is gone, but it’s still there and an absolutely unique place to visit."

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