With a heavy heart, Roger Smith will move into the Randolph-Lucas House in a few weeks.
Six years ago, house movers split the 1924 Georgian-Revival home featured on the cover the Anne Rivers Siddons novel about Buckhead, “Peachtree Road,” in half, moving it from 2495 Peachtree to Peachtree Circle in Ansley Park.
Smith’s partner, Christopher Jones, was the driving force behind that Herculean effort. He died Jan. 26 following a valiant fight against cancer. Jones was just 52.
He grew up restoring old houses in Jacksonville, Florida, and studied historic preservation and architecture at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He oversaw historic preservation in Roswell for a time, working on properties like Bulloch Hall and Barrington Hall.
When Jones walked through Randolph-Lucas House for the first time, he decided then and there he and Smith were going to do everything in their power to save it.
That fortuitous moment came courtesy of former Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who is currently chairing the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods. At an event at the Atlanta History Center in 2012, she explained the plight of the house to Smith and Jones. The condominium association of 2500 Peachtree Road had obtained a demolition permit. It would be lost forever unless someone stepped up.
It had already been moved several feet in 1998 after the property was purchased. The developer intended to build a condominium, but the Randolph-Lucas House across from the Lindbergh Drive was in the way. The neighborhood and developer reached a compromise to preserve it by moving it out of the way, but on the same property.
By 2013, the condo association had neglected the red-brick house for far too long. With no money to repair it, they sought to have it torn down despite its historic, cultural and architectural significance.
Norwood had celebrated her 40th birthday in the house and took up the mantle of saving it. She became a volunteer docent at the Randolph-Lucas House.
The house was built in 1924 for Hollins Randolph, the great-great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson. P. Thornton Marye, the architect responsible for Atlanta Terminal Station and the Fox Theatre, designed the home. It was one of the last grand mansions on Peachtree. Large windows flooded the perfectly proportioned rooms with natural light. It is an extraordinary house, Norwood said.
She showed Smith and Jones the house, and they decided to preserve and restore it. The Buckhead Heritage Society arranged for the house to be given away on the condition the new owner could move it. There were other suitors, but none had the same vision, experience and determination as Jones and Smith, Norwood said.
It took a village, to be sure. They negotiated with John Wieland, who was planning One Museum Place across from the High Museum of Art for a piece of property in Ansley Park. Significantly, Wieland let them move the house across his Peachtree-fronting property as to not disturb the neighborhood.
That was in 2013.
That turned out to be the easy part. Dealing with just about every challenge imaginable, Jones and Smith persevered. Every time I saw them, I asked about the house. The explanation usually started with a sigh — a measure of “How much time do you have?” — followed by an update and then excitement about the future of the house and the work to be done.
That defined Christopher Jones. He was an eternal optimist and problem solver. When he got sick a year and a half ago, he was determined to beat it.
In the Randolph-Lucas House, he and Smith saw something bigger than themselves. They wanted to prove the value of historic preservation, that it could be done even if it seemed impossible. Jones saw further even. He saw students walking through the house after it was complete, learning about how it was done, what the challenges were and the value of saving something that is irreplaceable.
In the next few weeks, the work will be substantially done — the impossible made possible. Generations of Atlantans will experience the Randolph-Lucas(-Jones) House, as the story is told over and over again.
That is the legacy of Christopher Jones.