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Future uncertain as historic Herndon Home approaches 100

The Herndon Home was built in 1910 by Atlanta's first African-American millionaire. It's now undergoing repairs. Tours are by appointment only. AJC/Johnny Crawford

A story published today in the AJC, “Herndon Home full of history, but its future is unclear,” documented the ups and downs of the historic home of African-American insurance magnate Alonzo Herndon and his family. Its opulence and prime plot of land near the Atlanta University Center are intact, but the foundation that runs it is struggling. Twice-per-week tours have been cut back to appointment-only visits.

From the story:

Recent storms have damaged the shutters and two-story columns. Budget restraints have forced the home’s administrators to trim the staff, and tours are now available by appointment only.

“We are reducing our non-essential costs,” said Belinda Stubblefield, a member of the Alonzo F. and Norris B. Herndon Foundation, which oversees the upkeep of the home.

“This is what we have to do in these lean times,” she said. “But it is important that we keep the Herndon message out there and remain visible and relevant.”

The challenge now is how to remain relevant as the home — one of only two African-American National Historic Landmarks in Atlanta, along with the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site — prepares to celebrate its centennial.

Herndon Home dining room in 1999. AJC file photo

Historic homes are a fantastic resource to educate and entertain, but despite this, they seem to have chronic trouble staying open to the public. Even the success stories have histories of struggle.

The Margaret Mitchell House on Peachtree Street was abandoned for a time, damaged by fire in 1994, purchased and restored by Daimler-Benz, then damaged again by fire in 1996. The Wren’s Nest, the historic home of Joel Chandler Harris in the West End, has faced leadership changes and disrepair before changing its direction a bit in recent years.

Stubblefield said “wonderful things are happening at the home,” but in lean times, they’re focused on basics, like upkeep. More money, of course, is a solution to their troubles, but that’s hard to raise when the door isn’t open.

History buffs and Herndon Home visitors — what are your memories and ideas for the house? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Want to go? Herndon Home tours are by appointment only. Herndon Home, 587 University Place N.W. $5 for adults, $3 for students. 404-581-9813, www.herndonhome.org.

3 comments Add your comment

[...] stop on our tour of Atlanta area historic homes. We didn’t get to all of them, including the Herndon Home, which no longer keeps regular visiting hours, but is available for tours by [...]

Jamie Gumbrecht

September 9th, 2009
1:14 am

Just the kind of insight I was looking for to get the conversation started. Thanks, Lain. :)

Lain Shakespeare

September 8th, 2009
11:59 pm

How about finding some 12 year-olds to learn the barber’s trade? They could partner with, say, the Bronner Brothers Hair Show or a local barber shop (maybe the really old one in the bottom of the Hurt Building).

Or what about offering an Executive MBA Camp for 8 year-olds? I heard law camp at Little Shop of Stories is a lot of fun. Plus, I’m sure there are plenty of well-connected executives (African American or otherwise) who’d open their doors for a lunch with kids eager to learn about business.

Or what about hosting a town hall discussion on health insurance reform? Sure, health insurance isn’t the same as life insurance, but what matters is that they’d be doing something that’s meaningful in the community.

There are plenty of things the Herndon Home could do, but it has to do more than merely tell the story of the Herndons. Powerful and remarkable though Alonzo Herndon’s story may be, it’s gotta compete with dozens of other Atlanta stories. Worse, the home (as its mission is interpreted now) has to compete with everything from the Aquarium to the Falcons to the internet.

The article made it seem like the board members were open to tinkering with a new mission — why not tinker with it a little more to make a direct impact for folks in the neighborhood? My bet is the home rooted within a community has a much better shot at survival than the “house on Diamond Hill.”