10 top Macon historic renovation projects

alopez@macon.comNovember 16, 2013 

Macon may be hitting its stride now when it comes to historic preservation efforts, but residents have gone to great lengths over the years to save or protect historic structures.

Longtime Macon residents could point to many such examples, but here’s a sampler of 10 sites around town that have benefited from substantial preservation work:

1. Terminal Station

Built in 1916 as a train station for 15 railroads operating in Macon at the time, the Terminal Station handled more than 100 train arrivals a day during the heyday of passenger rail service in the 1920s and ‘30s. Passenger trains stopped running there in the 1970s and the building deteriorated. NewTown Macon completed a $5 million renovation in 2010. The restored building features original marble and gilt molding.

2. The Grand Opera House

Finished in 1884, the Grand -- once called the Academy of Music -- hosted Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers and a production of “Ben-Hur” that used chariots and horses. It fell into disuse in the 1960s and was slated to be torn down for parking. In 1967 a group of residents formed the Macon Arts Council to raise money to restore and operate the Grand, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1995, Mercer University signed on to manage the Grand, and it has made substantial investments in improvements.

3. The Douglass Theatre

Opened in 1921, the Douglass once hosted first-run films and live entertainment that included appearances by Duke Elllington, Little Richard and Otis Redding. The theater, which for much of its early history gave black entertainers a place to perform, closed in 1973. It was saved from demolition in 1978 and was left idle until the mid-1990s. After a multimillion-dollar renovation, it reopened in 1997.

4. The Raines-Miller-Carmichael House on Georgia Avenue

Built in 1848, the Greek Revival style house in the shape of a modified Greek cross features a spiral staircase up to the attic. Built in 1848, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. At one time it was in danger of demolition so that a filling station could be built on the site, according to Macon historians Jim Barfield and Maryel Battin.

5. Alexander II Elementary School

Built in 1902, Alexander II was the state’s first magnet school. In 2000, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed it on its annual list of most endangered historic places. Renovations were completed in 2003. In November of that year, Telegraph readers voted the Alexander II project as the best building renovation in Macon.

6. The Old Library Building on Mulberry Street

Built in 1889, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Historic Macon purchased it in the 1990s after it faced demolition and worked with developers on renovations. Community leaders and musical celebrities (The Allman Brothers Band played one of its first shows in the building) celebrated the renovations with a big party in 2007.

7. The Capitol Theatre

Built in 1897 as a vaudeville theater and converted to a movie house in 1916, the Capitol Theatre offered 15-cent admission for film screenings at one time. It closed in 1976 and was neglected for 30 years before reopening in 2006 as the Cox Capitol Theatre following a $1.2 million renovation.

8. The Whittle School, 915 Hill Park

When Lewis Neal Whittle, president of the Macon Free School Board, died in 1886, the name of the Mulberry Street school was changed to Whittle School in his honor. In 1892, trustees of the school bought a lot on Spring Street near the foot of Coleman Hill and built a new school. It had eight rooms and a school bell. It closed as an elementary school in 1965. Close to $1.25 million in renovations in the early 1980s -- including restoring the school’s bell tower -- provided office space for a variety of businesses. It’s Bibb County’s oldest schoolhouse.

9. Pearl Stephens Elementary School, Napier Avenue

Built of Elkan’s stone tile with a stucco finish when construction began in 1929, the school fell into disrepair after it closed in the early 1990s. Vandalism and exposure to the elements took their toll on the mission-style building. But a $10 million redevelopment project in 2007 and 2008, led by the Macon Housing Authority, converted the old schoolhouse into a portion of the 61-unit Pearl Stephens Village, housing for those 62 and older. The interior of the school was gutted and redone, but the exterior walls of the building -- including the school’s grand entrance -- were preserved.

10. The Dannenberg building

Once home to one of the first department stores in the Southeast in 1903, the building at the corner of Third and Poplar streets is taking on new life as the “keystone project” in NewTown Macon’s third phase of revitalizing downtown: a $4.5 million rehab into 69 loft-style apartments, with additional retail space.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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