First Presbyterian Church plans demolitions in Macon, GA

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Architect Ellamae Ellis League’s office and century-old administration building could be razed for outdoor worship and event space on Mulberry Street.

MACON, Georgia — When the First Presbyterian Church’s impending plans to demolish two downtown buildings came to light in recent weeks, the Historic Macon Foundation led the opposition with a social media post encouraging people to get involved. oppose the project.

But the demolitions were dropped from the agenda of Monday’s Design Review Board, leaving only a request for a certificate of suitability for the design of the new outdoor activity and worship space of the church at 682 Mulberry St., which planning and zoning staff approve. It is not immediately clear whether the removal from the agenda means the demolitions will be allowed without further review due to a 31-year-old ruling that had approved the plans.

Thursday’s agenda listed the two proposed demolitions – the church’s three-story administration building built in 1925 which reported structural problems affecting the third floor, and the architect’s pioneering c1945 former office of Macon Ellamae Ellis League, the first woman to become a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

According to information previously listed on the mbpz.org website, the First Presbyterian Church adopted a phased plan in 1989 to shape the outdoor space and received approval from the Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission. in 1991.

The current plan hinged on the purchase of the Library Ballroom, which was recently contracted after the congregation approved its purchase this summer.

The Macon Newsroom reached out to P&Z executive director Jeff Ruggieri to explain why the demolitions are no longer on the agenda, but he did not respond in time for this story.

At the end of the last P&Z meeting, Ruggieri explained that it was a complicated question to President Jeane Easom and Josh Rogers. Because an earlier decision by P&Z allowed the buildings to be demolished to make way for event space, Ruggieri said the decision could stand if the church had continued with the project since 1991.

“Call Pope,” Easom said, referring to the commission’s legal adviser, Pope Langstaff.

Given that demolitions will no longer be considered, but the final site plan for the outdoor space will be, it appears Langstaff has decided that the previous decision stands. An explanation is expected at Monday’s meeting.

When demolitions were on the agenda, the accompanying report said Design Review Board staff considered both projects to be “inappropriate” and noted that the century-old administration building had been designed by the eminent architects of Macon, Dunwody and Oliphant.

“Although not remarkable, there are few examples of this type of Romanesque Revival stucco building in Macon, particularly in downtown Macon,” the staff report states. “Because of its 100-year existence at this location, it has earned a place as an essential part of the streetscape and the entire church campus.”

The League’s office space, which was recently occupied by the Campus Club, is one of “the few remaining international-style buildings downtown”, the report said.

Staff concluded that both buildings were of historic significance to the town centre.

“Removing a building means taking a piece of the fabric of the neighborhood, but above all also of the area in which it is located. The setting is essential to a historic district as well as to the importance of an individual property. Drastic changes to its surroundings, including the demolition of historic buildings or incompatible new construction on the site, diminish the historical significance,” the report read.

The staff opinion attached to the current design approval application supports the site plan.

“Staff find the proposed open-air event and worship space with colonnade and front fencing appropriate provided the fencing along the Mulberry Street face is visually heavy enough to evoke a structural presence in the streetscape. This will prevent it from appearing as a vacant lot in the center of a block,” the report states.

A photo from 1870 shows that there is historical precedent for an open space next to the 1856 sanctuary.

“Do you know that our church used this exact area in the late 1800’s for outdoor prayer meetings?” Senior Presbyterian pastor Chip Miller asked in a letter about the project that was sent to the congregation last month.

Miller asked for prayer ahead of the Nov. 7 DRB meeting and Nov. 14 P&Z hearing so the church can complete the third phase of its master plan.

The demolitions “a mistake”

Friday afternoon, the executive director of the Historic Macon Foundation, Ethiel Garlington, was unaware that the demolitions were no longer on the agenda. Garlington said he reviewed demolition applications that morning while they were still online.

He still plans to attend Monday’s meeting to voice Historic Macon’s continued opposition to the project, Garlington told The Macon Newsroom.

Gene Dunwody Jr., a Presbyterian church member whose grandfather designed the administration building, said his late father told church leaders the administration building could be saved if they restored the walls porters who had been moved.

The Dunwodys also objected to the demolition of the other building, as League debuted with the family architectural firm, Dunwody Jr said.

“I just think it’s a big mistake to tear these buildings down,” Dunwody said. “I’m sad about it. I wish my dad had been there to explain why it was a mistake.

Dunwody is a fan of recent outdoor worship services that kept the congregation together during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I like sitting outside more than inside,” said Dunwody, who would rather the church build something in its parking lot across First Street than tear down what it is. calls “emblematic buildings”.

Although Dunwody intends to go to Monday’s meeting, if the demolition is a done deal, he said he didn’t want to waste his time.

“It’s pretty shady if they do,” he said. “I mean, I’d be super disappointed in whoever made that decision because, you know, just because a decision was made 30 years ago doesn’t mean it was a good decision.”

Other items on the agenda

114 Buford Place – Landlord is seeking DRB approval for landscape changes after the council ruled his existing plantings were non-compliant.

582 Mulberry St. – Sign approval sought for Washington Lofts 1857 and Christian Law.

476 Third St. – Proposed new signs for Dannenberg Lofts.

566 Poplar Street – The applicant is requesting sign approval for the new Dannenburg West lofts.

478 Poplar St. – One South Bank has new signage that needs approval.

235 Buford Place – The owner would like to replace the existing wooden windows and make exterior modifications to the house.

383 Buford Place – Applicant would like to change the picket fence and whitewash the previously unpainted brick.

Senior Civic Journalism Researcher Liz Jarvis Fabian covers government entities in Macon-Bibb County and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.

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