ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Georgia historians are calling on the state to establish a committee to oversee the historic grounds and collection at the Georgia governor’s mansion. And Governor Brian Kemp’s spokesperson says that is exactly what the Governor is doing.
The call for action follows a FOX 5 I-Team report about the destruction and removal of historic artifacts at the mansion.
As historians seek guidance for the state, the FOX 5 I-Team has examined plans for a historic barn that has sat on the mansion grounds for over 100 years.
Boyd Coons, of the Atlanta Preservation Center, and other historians the FOX 5 I-Team has spoken to expressed a range of emotions, from sadness to outrage, when they saw our report on the destruction and removal of historic artifacts at the Governor's Mansion.
“We've already paid the price. We've already paid for something that got our attention, lets us it in a positive way and safeguard these things for the future,” says Coons.
The FOX 5 I-Team reported the Georgia Building Authority destroyed historic columns that adorned a tennis court on the mansion grounds for over 100 years.
Governor Kemp's spokesperson says they had hoped to store the columns but they fell apart during removal by the Building Authority proving they were dangerous.
But an email, obtained by FOX 5 Atlanta under the Georgia Open Records Act, shows that's not true. The building authority landscape manager spelled out plans for the column before they were removed: they were to be "taken to transfer station" or junkyard.
“It makes me ill,” says Coons.
The GBA also removed Italian statues that were a signature part of a formal garden created a century ago by a former Atlanta mayor. The statute pedestals were destroyed in the move.
A spokesperson for the Governor says the state moved the statues so the Building Authority could use heavy equipment to prune bushes that had grown up around the statutes.
But, we obtained this work order summary showing plans to "Remove Fountain Statues" and "Remove Lower Fountain" where the statues stood.
That fountain project is now on hold, according to the GBA.
“Seeing something of beauty willfully removed is very difficult,” says Coons.
While the preservation community holds its collective breath, the I-Team has examined plans for a historic barn.
The barn is a historic carriage house that has sat in the same spot for over 100 years. The inside has been renovated many times, but the exterior has remained basically the same.
Asked to assess the property the state's Deputy Historic Preservation Officer found it was "eligible for listing in the Georgia/National Register of Historic Places" and to tear it down would have "a significant impact"
“Again, it’s part of an ensemble. It represents ways to look back in history and contextualize what happened on that site, what happened in the city, what happened in the state,” says Coons.
Boyd Coons, and 6 other historic preservationists we spoke to have long fought to have the state of Georgia re-establish a fine arts commission to be caretakers of the historic elements of the Governor's Mansion.
One historian wrote in an email after the FOX 5 I-team’s report first aired:
"We have known that we needed legislation to protect the design" and furnishings of the "main public rooms of the mansion." Until such legislation is enacted, the collection is vulnerable to personal and political whims and that is a very bad situation."
But, there is already legislation in place - called the Executive Center Fine Arts Committee. The mission is to guide the preservation and development of the mansion. We're told the Kemp's have already begun to invite people to serve on the committee.
Kemp's spokesperson wrote to say "As steward of the People's House, the First Family works tirelessly to ensure the Mansion is accessible, beautiful, and safe. The Kemps encourage families from every corner of our state to visit and learn more about Georgia’s history and promising future."
“This is an opportunity. I don't believe this should be anything punitive, political, or partisan or anything other than an opportunity to safeguard what is a treasure for citizens of the state and to make sure that continues for generations to come,” said Coons.
A spokesperson for the Governor says they are inviting a range of historians, experts, and others to serve on the new committee.