Hall House, other midstate preservation projects honored

pramati@macon.comApril 29, 2013 

As an architect with a background in historic preservation, Shannon Fickling appreciates the aesthetics and functionality of the house famed Macon architect Neel Reid designed for Thomas Hall in 1909.

Fickling sought to preserve as much of the original home -- which belonged to three generations of Halls -- as possible, even going as far as recycling parts of the original house and repurposing them for her home, such as converting old bookshelves into cabinets.

“It was a real green renovation,” she said of the home she bought three years ago. “I tried to reuse every single sink, book cases, everything I could.”

Fickling’s efforts won her an Excellence in Rehabilitation award from the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, one of several midstate honorees celebrated at the 36th Annual Preservation Awards ceremony late last week.

Also winning the Excellence in Rehabilitation award were Al and Kay Gerhardt for their work to convert the old Telephone Exchange building at Macon’s Second and Poplar streets into a mixed-use office/living space, and Fort Valley State University for its work at Huntington Hall on campus.

In addition, the old post office in Dublin received the Marguerite Williams Award, presented to the project that has had the greatest impact on preservation in the state. Milledgeville saw two historic properties recognized: the Sallie Davis House received the Chairman’s Award, while the Hill House at Flannery O’Connor’s farm, Andalusia, received an Excellence in Restoration award.

Fickling said she has admired the Hall House on Oak Haven Avenue for years, and she jumped at the opportunity to buy it when Thomas Hall III decided to sell.

“Part of its significance was that it was designed by Neel Reid,” she said. “The Halls didn’t change the house. It still has its original doors and windows.”

The house looks much like it did when Reid first designed it, with Doric columns and front benches that were part of the original plans. Reid designed the house to fit among three large oak trees that were on the property at the time, and the house still contains all the pine flooring, cabinets and fixtures it came with.

Fickling said renovations -- mostly electrical, plumbing and structural -- took about eight months, and she added an addition that serves as an office with a garage. She’s kept most of the house’s unique accoutrements, including a 1900s-style ice box which now serves as a liquor cabinet.

Photos of Reed’s original architectural designs for the house hang on the wall above her desk.

The award from the state’s historic preservation experts is important, Fickling said, because she hopes it inspires others to preserve Macon’s rich architectural history.

“Historic preservation can be a huge economic engine for a community like Macon,” she said. “If you restore one significant home, you can help a neighborhood turn a corner. ... One of Macon’s greatest strengths is its history.”

Kay Gerhardt said she and her husband shared a similar philosophy when converting the Telephone Exchange Building into condos and offices.

The building, which was built in 1906, housed the city’s phone system until the 1950s.

“It’s probably one of the finest buildings downtown in terms of architectural design,” she said. “(Al) just fell in love with the building and was tired of seeing it dilapidated.”

Al Gerhardt, a builder, purchased the building a few years ago with an eye toward rehabilitating it for residential use. But his wife noted that the economy collapsed soon after, making it very difficult to get the project started.

Eventually, though, the building was finished and a CPA office and yoga studio moved to the first floor with six residential units above. The residents who purchased each unit -- about 2,500 square feet apiece -- were able to design the unit to their specific needs, Kay Gerhardt said.

She said the couple didn’t make a huge amount of money on the property, but she thinks the award justifies their effort and will inspire others.

“You always like to feel like what you’ve done is appreciated,” she said. “(Georgia Trust) is a state organization, and they don’t give out a lot of awards in Macon. It shows it can be done. (If) you produce a good product, people will appreciate it.”

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