Historic artifacts destroyed and displaced at Georgia Governor's Mansion

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The FOX 5 I-Team has found historic artifacts and statues that have stood on the grounds of the Governor's mansion for more than one hundred years have been destroyed or damaged during work done by the state agency tasked with keeping up the Governor's Mansion.

Governor Brian Kemp's spokesperson says the damage took place during attempts to move and preserve columns and statues. Historic preservationists, we have spoken to expressed everything from sadness to outrage.

 Dale Russell has gone back in time to understand what the people of Georgia have lost and how it happened.

The Georgia governor's mansion sits atop a ridge overlooking 18 acres of meticulously manicured and professionally landscaped hills.

Nine first families have lived here. 

Inside the Greek revival mansion, built in 1967, historians tell me the collection of Federal-era furniture is one of the finest in America. 

Outside, a pristine collection of beautiful historic gardens. A history that our investigation found has been either destroyed, displaced, or damaged.  

To understand what was lost, we found our way to the Atlanta History Center to examine how it all began.

Staci Catron, author of a Georgia garden history book works at the center.  She agreed to show us the original mansion landscape designs.

It begins with this terraced garden, leading to a small fountain or pool.  At the time, Atlanta Mayor Robert Maddox owned the property.  Historians believe his wife, Lollie, designed the garden. This is how it looked around 1911.  

The Maddox's added four 17th century Italian statues known as the Four Seasons, according to the book Seeking Eden.

Farther west was a dirt tennis court, surrounded by concrete columns wrapped in stucco.

There in the early 1900s. Sturdy enough to support a half pergola, draped in climbing roses, according to Staci Catron's book Seeking Eden.

“He created something that was pastoral grounds in the same tradition as say Piedmont Park at that time,” says Birnbaum.

Renowned Washington DC landscape architect Charles Birnbaum is an author and expert on the history of landscape architecture.  He knows the Governor's mansion property well. 

The state of Georgia bought the Maddox property in the early '60s as the site of the new Governor's Mansion. Birnbaum says Atlanta born landscape architect Ed Daugherty was hired to design the landscaping.

Daugherty, who revered the history of the land, kept the terraced garden intact and designed new gardens. He also kept the tennis court and columns.  

“He is a master. What he does is work with the place that's there and elevate it to the stature of the Governor's mansion,” says Birnbaum.

That Garden and tennis court columns remained for 50 years, through nine Governors. Sandra Deal, who wrote a book about the history of the Mansion, told me why she did not change it: "I loved it the way it was. It was so historic. So special."

But, the 17th-century Italian statues that surrounded the original pool and the columns that surround the original tennis court have been removed.

According to documents obtained through an Open Records request, the state moved the statues to a climate controlled storage facility in southwest Atlanta. Tipped over. The pedestals were broken apart during the move.

“What we are doing is altering not just history, but we're sending a message to others. That it is ok to tear down,” says Birnbaum.  

A spokesperson for the Governor says the state was only moving the statues so the Building Authority could use heavy equipment to prune bushes that had grown up around the statutes.

And then there are the columns. The Building Authority, fearing the columns were deteriorating and could be dangerous while people played tennis, asked the State Historic Preservation officer for an assessment. 

This is the answer: the columns were "historic" and though "cosmetically challenged" they were "structurally stable." The recommendation: "retention and repair of the columns as existing historic features from the Maddox-era ownership of the property."

The inspection was done at the very end of March.  On April 1st, the GBA had begun removing the columns the same morning they got the historic designation answer. They felt it was too late. They called it a "communications issue."

Governor Kemp's spokesperson says they had hoped to store the columns but they fell apart during removal by the Building Authority.  Broken up into pieces, and hauled off to this East Point garbage transfer station. 

Gone forever. Gone from Lollie Maddox's vision. Gone from Ed Daugherty's careful preservation of that vision.

“I think what is sad is when you start to look at changes that are happening it suggest a limited understanding or worse case disregard for the narrative structure that has been in place at the Governor's mansion for the last half-century," says Birnbaum.

But, there is more. Records provided to us by the GBA, show an option to tear out the fountain where the graceful figures once stood. One option shows the state replacing the fountain with a modern, outdoor amphitheater.

“People should stop. People should stop and take stock and understand the quality, character, history, nature, and culture of what they have been entrusted to,” says Birnbaum.

The Georgia Building authority spokesperson tells me, plans to tear out the fountain and replace it with an amphitheater are now on hold. That decision, they say, was made when they were told the tennis court columns were historic.