For its 2019 Preservation Gala, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation has come full circle.
The nonprofit chose the Biltmore Ballrooms in Midtown, where the gala took place from 2000 through 2005, as the site of its 35th annual fundraiser. The event, themed “Bilt to Last,” is set for March 2 at 7 p.m. and pays homage to the original Biltmore Hotel, whose ballrooms are today the only public space on the property.
“I’m very excited about the Biltmore Ballrooms (being the gala site) because that hotel has meant so much to the city for almost 100 years now, and it exhibits how versatile and venerable historic sites can be to the present,” Mark McDonald’s, the trust’s president and CEO, said. The organization holds its gala at a different historic site each year.
The Biltmore Hotel opened in 1924 and was designed by Schultze and Weaver, the New York firm that also designed such luxurious hotels as The Breakers in Palm Beach and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, and also included apartments. It staged galas, balls and recitals from visiting opera stars and hosted celebrities including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bette Davis and Charles Lindbergh and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Also home to WSB radio’s office from 1925 to 1956, the building is known for the two large radio towers on the roof that each spell out “Biltmore.” But after a steady decline and change in ownership, the Biltmore closed in 1982. Its apartment building later reopened as the Biltmore Suites Hotel but the main hotel building remained vacant for several years.
In 1998 the Novare Group bought the Biltmore. Novare redeveloped the main hotel building into office space and the old apartment building into condominiums called the Biltmore House, with both reopening the following year. The two remaining public rooms, both ballrooms, were converted into event spaces known as the Biltmore Ballrooms, and the gala was held for the first time there shortly after the renovation was completed.
The Georgia Tech Foundation purchased the Biltmore in 2016, but the ballrooms are still rented out through Novare as event venues. Buckhead resident Sherry Lundeen, who is co-chairing the gala with her husband John and Jane Royal of Madison, said the ballrooms have sentimental value.
“Since this is where the gala originally started having the event, I think it’s really cool to go back there for the 35th anniversary,” she said. “The ballrooms are so elegant and impressive. On a different note, when I was a senior was in high school (at St. Pius X), my senior prom was at the Biltmore.”
At the gala, the trust’s largest annual fundraiser, it will also honor four preservationists from around Georgia for their efforts:
o Atlanta resident James “Jim” R. Borders is Novare’s CEO. He, his wife, Sarah, and their family lived at the Biltmore House from 1999 until 2005. Novare has developed over 14,000 residential units in 43 properties since 1992, including Peachtree Lofts in Atlanta and the historic Newnan Lofts in Newnan.
o Macon resident Bonnie Dowling, an interior designer, has been lauded for her volunteer work with the Hay House in Macon. She won the trust’s Camille W. Yow Volunteer of the Year Award in 2007 and 2011.
o Dublin resident Charles “Charlie” E. Garbutt is the founder and owner of Garbutt Construction, a company known for redeveloping and restoring historic properties throughout Georgia. During its 40-year existence, Garbutt Construction has received about 20 Georgia Trust Preservation Awards for its projects.
o Alston Watt of Thomasville has been a longtime keeper of historic preservation in that city through the work of the Williams Family Foundation of Georgia. She is the granddaughter of Marguerite Williams, one of the trust’s founding trustees.
“It’s absolutely necessary that the Georgia Trust recognize our leadership in the state for their contributions to historic preservation,” McDonald said. “The hard work of preservation does not get accomplished without the work and commitment of individuals, and each year we feel that it is important to stop and pay homage to these community and statewide leaders.”
Lundeen got involved with the trust four years ago through her husband, who through his job in the commercial real estate industry has worked to preserve the Palmer House/Phelan Court and the Wilburn House, both condo developments in Midtown.
“I think (the gala) stands out because the event honors preservationists from around the state and that the proceeds go to benefit the trust’s mission work of preservation and revitalization of historic buildings and houses in Georgia," she said. "It’s a fun event to attend.”
The gala will include cocktails, dinner and dancing and is open to all. Guests are encouraged to wear cocktail attire inspired by the 1920s era, but it is not required. Tickets are $150 for members, $250 for nonmembers (includes membership to the trust) and $100 for guests under 40.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.georgiatrust.org or call 404-885-7812.