By Amy Erwin, Candler Park Resident.
Have you ever walked or biked down the PATH near the edge of Candler Park and wondered about the abandoned church and massive Tudor mansion on South Ponce de Leon? Both, especially the home, have an interesting history, and unfortunately there is a near-term risk that a developer will destroy both.
This property, known as “Pinebloom”, is significant for several reasons: the building is a rare and beautiful example of Tudor Revival architecture in Atlanta from the early 20th century, designed by Walter T. Downing, a distinguished architect of the time; the original owner, Preston S. Arkwright, was an influential and accomplished businessman and civic leader who helped shape the future of the city; the property is part of the Druid Hills Landmark District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places; and it is in Atlanta’s second planned “suburb” which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. between 1892 and 1894. It is considered the finest example of Olmsted’s principles and practices in the South.
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board (formerly known as the Georgia Baptist Convention), (GBMB), an autonomous association of Baptist churches in the state, owns Pinebloom. It is still used today by the members of the Jackson Hill Baptist Church. Reportedly, the GBMB thought that maintenance of both structures was too costly and wanted to sell the property and/or demolish the church. To my knowledge, they never put it on the market, but were approached by a developer who has stated to the community that he would build condominiums within Pinebloom and build homes behind the house where the historic gardens used to be. Since the church members have a legal agreement that allows them to continue worshipping in Pinebloom, that issue will need to be resolved. At present, the GBMB is suing the Jackson Hill Church in order to evict them from the property so that the property may be sold without the stipulation that the church members can continue to worship there. As I understand it, the developer has not yet closed on the property.
This same developer has already purchased the historic Patillo-Woolford Georgian mansion next door to Pinebloom from a family. (See “New Development May Impact Clifton Terrace and Surrounding Candler Park Streets” Candler Park Messenger, May 2017, pages 18 – 19). In response to this and the pending development at Pinebloom, a group of concerned Candler Park and Druid Hills neighbors have been actively working with the developer and the city in opposing any proposals that vary from the zoning ordinance. Since both properties are within the Druid Hills Landmark District, that committee is leading formal responses to the City Planning and Historic Preservation Department and the Urban Design Commission. Both properties were zoned Multi-Family years ago, so this aspect cannot be changed. However, any new development must abide by the Landmark District guidelines, which are very specific and are intended to support historic preservation.
The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation selects 10 properties in the state of Georgia each year that are of historical and architectural importance and are at risk of destruction. I led an effort, with the help of Jennie Richardson (local historian and long-time resident of the neighborhood) and Gary Seibert (who lives behind the properties), to submit a case for both Pinebloom and the Patillo-Woolford house to be on the 2018 list. On November 15th the Georgia Trust announced that both properties were selected. The Georgia Trust will help give a larger voice to our preservation efforts and may also get involved in discussions with the owner and future owner to help mitigate destruction of the property. The neighborhoods deserve a developer who can honor some amount of preservation for this extraordinary property.
The Pinebloom property is one of the last remaining great mansions in Atlanta from the early 20th century, and its loss would be felt throughout the community. However, it could make a great future home for the right owner who was willing to preserve its historic integrity.