The Achilles’ heel of preserving a historic commercial property is finding a use.
Saving a building for the sake of saving a building is all well and good, but if it isn’t being used, if it isn’t being maintained, if there isn’t a future use, its days are numbered regardless of the intention.
Such is case of the old Bobby Jones Golf Course clubhouse on Woodward Way in Buckhead.
In 2016, the city gave the 144-acre golf course to the state in a land swap. The Bobby Jones Golf Course Foundation is renovating it, shifting the 1932 course named for Georgia’s greatest golfer from a traditional 18-hole layout to a nine-hole, reversible course. The foundation is also building a new state-of-the-art clubhouse and Georgia Golf Hall of Fame on Northside Parkway.
The city leased back the original clubhouse as part of the land swap. Since the course closed in November for renovation, the clubhouse has been used as a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and as office space for the Path Foundation, which is doing extensive work building trails around Atlanta Memorial Park, where the course and clubhouse sit.
But it is need of some help.
Enter a convergence of neighbors, musicians and arts patrons, who have banded together to find a higher purpose for the historic but neglected building. An agreement has been reached with the city of Atlanta to turn it into a concert hall and a music education center.
The new, yet-to-be-named group will sublease the building from Atlanta for $10 per year through 2037.
Opened in 1941, the clubhouse was built on land given to the city by Haynes Manor developer Eugene Haynes. Using money generated by the golf course and $20,000 raised by the city, it was built by the Works Progress Administration.
Along with several others, longtime Haynes Manor resident Alex Simmons has helped usher the concert hall plan to fruition, with guidance from Jun-Ching Lin, the assistant concertmaster with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Architecture firm Perkins + Will drafted the preliminary designs.
Lin said the facility fills a need for Atlanta chamber musicians and music teachers. There is a dearth of appropriate space for chamber concerts, and the size and the shape of the clubhouse – rectangular and long with narrower sides and a high, barreled ceiling – is consistent with the concert halls built in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, he said.
Lin also said the 200-seat venue will be more intimate, allowing patrons to see the musicians play up close. He said the acoustics in the building are very good — even great — which is remarkable considering nothing has yet been done to improve them.
The lower level of the building will be transformed into classrooms for music education.
The group is forming a nonprofit and funded the initial plans. They will now shift into a more intensive fundraising strategy for the renovations and an endowment for the maintenance of the building. Experts have said the group will need to raise $4 million to $5 million.
If successful, the center will generate enough money for operations and maintenance. In other words, it will be self-sustaining. The agreement is pending city council approval. It was expected to be voted on on Monday.
The idea came from the neighborhood, but it has taken on a life of its own, given the desires of the preservationist and those of us concerned about the building’s future, the professional musicians who are looking for an appropriate space and the people who are passionate about the park.
Even the architect overseeing project for Perkins + Will, Allen Post, is a neighbor.
That is sheer coincidence.
The group had been working with another architect, who relocated to Dubai. He recommended his partner, who had managed the renovation of the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points and is working on the new Atlanta Dairies music venue on Memorial Drive.
For that first meeting, Post grabbed a cup of coffee and walked out his front door. No one involved knew it until that moment, but the clubhouse is across the street from his front yard.