The huge landmark home on a quiet street in the heart of Buckhead has many rooms and many names — Butterfly Manna and Mayfair to name two.
I’ve only known it as 10 Habersham Way.
The 40-plus-room, 1.5-acre estate behind an ivy-covered brick wall is on the market. It is a classicist masterpiece designed by Cooper and Cooper with ornate cornices and moldings throughout. A series of beautiful French doors behind eight, two-story Corinthian columns lead to a verdant lawn, gardens and a rectangular pool.
I occasionally have the privilege to tour Atlanta’s signature homes, of which this is one. But I’ve never seen one quite like this. I am, however, a bit biased.
You see, my father Alfred Kennedy lived in the home from the time he was a teenager through his marriage to my mother, Mary Bird. My oldest brother lived there for a spell when he was just wee baby, as our parents looked for a place to raise their family.
My father and I attended a recent open house. We explained upfront who he was and why we were there. No, there was no chance we were going to buy. But for my dad, it was a chance to relive some of his fondest memories.
There was the “bull room,” a teenage hangout with bullfight posters covering the walls, an “Etruscan room” used for informal dining, a “morning room” made famous by Vivien Leigh and my grandfather’s study, where children were not welcome. In addition, there coal rooms, trunk storage rooms, sitting, eating and dining rooms for servants and rooms with no discernible purpose.
With every room, all I could muster was, “This is impossible.” It was impossible that a home — any home — had that many rooms over that length. It would take 10 minutes to walk from one end of the house to the other.
I couldn’t imagine a family living there.
It turns out the original owner couldn’t either.
Henry Atkinson was a banker who acquired the controlling shares of the Georgia Electric Light Co. in 1892. In 1926, the business changed its name to Georgia Power Co.
In 1916, Atkinson’s daughter married Jackson Dick, a young cotton buyer. Atkinson built the home for his daughter and son-in-law, but with a catch: the Atkinson’s would live there, too. The house is a duplex of sorts.
There are three kitchens, two libraries, two dining rooms and so on.
Completed in 1929, it was christened as “Mayfair” because both mother and daughter were named May. At that time, it sat on 31 acres with its facade looking down a wooded hillside to Austell Way. The view from Habersham Way is technically the rear of the house into which automobiles drove into a circular drive. Originally a long drive connected the house to Andrews Drive.
My grandparents bought the home in 1953 for $125,000. The claim to fame during their stewardship was the second release of “Gone With the Wind” in 1962 or ’63. Many of the stars returned to Atlanta for the second run, and Ma Ma and Pa Pa hosted a party in their honor.
During the party, Leigh sat on a camelback sofa in the morning room, smoking cigarettes and telling bawdy jokes to a room full of men, most of whom were seated on the floor.
My father was one of them. That camelback sofa is in our daughter Virginia’s room. It matches absolutely nothing in our house, but because of that story, I will drag it with me to the end of the Earth.
The most famous owner was Bert Lance, whose wife, LaBelle, came up with the name “Butterfly Manna.” Lance was one of Jimmy Carter’s closest confidants and followed him to Washington when Carter was elected president. Lance served briefly as the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
President Carter and his wife Rosalynn stayed at 10 Habersham Way several times. The Secret Service devised an escape plan out of the back of the property when they visited. Southern Bell installed a telephone system specifically for the president that was so complicated it vexed future owners. Eventually, the whole system had to be torn out.
Lance is credited with one of the great expressions in the English language: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That applies to 10 Habersham Way.
It is a splendid house that is not in need of “fixing,” but it does require a very specific buyer, one who understands the home and its place in Atlanta.