Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Margaret Mitchell House & Museum
Margaret Mitchell House
The Margaret Mitchell House is a historic house museum located in Atlanta. The structure was the home of author Margaret Mitchell. Located in Midtown, at 990 Peachtree Street, the house was known as the Crescent Apartments when Mitchell and her husband lived in Apt. 1 on the ground floor from 1925 to 1932. While living there, Mitchell wrote the bulk of her Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Gone with the Wind. The house also contains a Visitor Center, and a portion of the museum is wholly devoted to the filming of the 1939 film based on the book.
The house was built as a single-family residence in 1899. Commercial development quickly overtook the neighborhood, however, and in 1907 the original family moved to Druid Hills. The house changed hands several times until the winter of 1913-1914 when the house was moved onto a new basement story constructed on the rear of the lot. Given a Crescent Avenue address, the building was remodeled in 1919 and converted into a ten-unit apartment building, known as the Crescent Apartments, and "three brick stores" were built where the house had originally sat. Located in what was then Atlanta's largest business district outside of downtown, close to trolley lines, and walking distance from her parents' house, the Crescent Apartments was home to Margaret Mitchell and John Marsh when they married in July 1925. Unfortunately, the building's owner became over-extended, and it was sold at auction in 1926. The next owner, too, was driven to bankruptcy when the stock market crashed in 1929. Maintenance declined, contributing to Mitchell's characterization of their apartment as "the Dump." By the fall of 1931, there were only two occupied apartments in the building, one of which belonged to the Marshes, but they, too, moved to a larger apartment a few blocks away in the spring of 1932.
"The Dump," now a museum
With a new owner, the Crescent Apartments were revived and continued to attract tenants until shortly after World War II. By then, the building was in poor condition, and in 1946 the porches were removed from the Crescent Avenue side of the building. (The original front porches were lost when the building was moved in 1913). By the 1950's, the building was mostly vacant and overdue for rehabilitation. There were a few commercial tenants, and the old apartments were popular with Georgia Tech students. In 1964, the opening nearby of Ansley Mall signaled the death knell for the old commercial district on Peachtree Street between 8th and 14th, but at the same time the Crescent Apartments got a much-needed rehab and were reborn as the Windsor House Apartments. In 1977, the last tenants were evicted and the building boarded up by a new owner who intended a major redevelopment of the area. By the time he and his company went bankrupt in the late 1980s, their only accomplishment was construction of a new office building at Tenth and W. Peachtree and the razing of dozens of historic buildings in the area. The old Crescent Apartments continued to deteriorate, especially after a fire was set in the southwest corner of the building did minor damage in the late 1980's. However, another fire, presumed to be arson, destroyed much of the building in September 1994. At the time, the roof of the house was covered with thousands of rubber gloves as part of an off-site art installation related to the Piedmont Arts Festival, but this was not considered a factor in the extent of the damage.
Through the efforts of Mary Rose Taylor, total demolition of the building was averted, and with the corporate support of Daimler-Benz, restoration began in 1995 under the direction of the Atlanta architectural firm of Surber, Barber, Choate, and Hertlein. Because the commercial buildings on Peachtree were gone, the original Tudor Revival facade of the house was again visible and it was decided to restore that facade to its appearance before the house was moved in 1914. At the same time, the original Crescent Avenue facade of the Crescent Apartments would be restored so that visitors could experience the apartment building that Mitchell knew. In May 1996, days before it was slated to open as the Margaret Mitchell House Museum, arsonists struck again, and the building was again gutted by fire. Ironically, through the series of fires, Apartment #1 escaped with only minor damage. After the fire, restoration began anew, and the restored house finally opened to the public in 1997.
The house is included on the National Register of Historic Places.
Docents guide visitors through the house and the apartment to learn of Mitchell's life in Atlanta, of facts surrounding her writing the novel, and of how the book advanced toward publication in North America and in non-Anglophone countries.
In 1999, the Margaret Mitchell House acquired what had been a branch of a local bank, BankSouth, located across Crescent Avenue from the house. That building is now the movie museum. Several collectors of "GWTW" movie memorabilia have donated parts of their collections for display in the new museum. Among these artifacts are photos taken during the movie's 1939 premiere in Atlanta; the original entryway to the Hollywood movie set of the O'Hara home, Tara; and, recognizable to the movie's aficionados, the portrait of Scarlett O'Hara from the Butler Mansion.
The Museum is now owned and operated by the Atlanta History Center.
About The Margaret Mitchell House