Ivy Hall in Atlanta, Georgia, has witnessed some dramatic changes in its 127-year history.
Upon its 1883 completion, it was a stately and lonely mansion sitting on a dirt road, surrounded by acres of farmland. Designed by architect Gottfried Norman, a Swede-turned-Atlantan who designed expensive homes for wealthy Southerners during the post-Civil War “New South” period, the Queen Anne-style house was built for Edward Peters, financier and president of the Atlanta Railway Company. It stayed in the family until the death of Peters’ daughter-in-law, Lucille, in 1970.
Without a caretaker, developers soon threatened to demolish the house. The Victorian Society of America intervened and, with its help, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It served briefly as a drug rehabilitation center and then, for almost 20 years, as the Mansion Restaurant. When an upper-level fire seriously damaged the structure in 2000, the restaurateurs abandoned their lease and many preservationists worried for the house’s future, placing it on Atlanta’s “most endangered structures” list.
Enter the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). In 2005, the house’s then-owners, the S.D.H. Investment Corporation, donated the mansion to SCAD. With the goal of transforming it into an academic building and community center, with accommodations for a resident artist, the school set out to meticulously restore the 4,400-square-foot house to its original condition. It was a long process that involved scores of craftspeople, historians, and students.
While SCAD has restored numerous properties on its main Savannah campus, Ivy Hall is the school’s first preservation project in Atlanta, “The community really embraced us coming in and saving it,” explains Glenn Wallace, SCAD’s senior vice president of college resources. “It's really a treasure, and it's one of the most impressive buildings I've been in."
The school researched the property for 18 months before beginning work. Every measure taken was executed with great care. For instance, the graceful brick porte cochere had held off collapse for many years with ungainly steel ties. After some study, restorers dismantled the structure, numbering each brick for reuse, and installed new foundations that allowed for a hidden steel beam to be threaded through the reconstituted entrance.
Another challenge was the smoking room’s unusual wall paneling made of “curly” pine, which has a distinctive circular grain pattern caused by a parasitic disease. Curly pine is extremely rare; fortunately, SCAD was able to salvage the original panels
The detailed restoration even extended to an analysis of the mortar between the exterior bricks, which revealed a large amount of the mineral mica. That quality was replicated by adding dirt from the site to the new mortar mixture.
After more than three years of work, Ivy Hall opened last October, and classes were held there during the spring semester. Wallace sees the house as a link to the past that gives students a sense of life in 19th-century Atlanta. It also exposes them to significant historic architecture. “We believe students should be surrounded by good design,” he says, “because your environment influences who you become.”