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Local Architect Laments Loss of Historic Buckhead House

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The Maddox House is now but a memory, felled by bulldozers last week. While much was said during the (short-lived) battle to preserve the Philip Trammel Shutze-designed home, one Atlanta architect has summed up the entire saga and its larger implications in a letter to Curbed eulogizing the home. In a piece titled "John Keats has been disproved, A thing beauty isn't a joy forever," architect and Shutze scholar Jonathan LaCrosse analyzes the hypocrisy of the Maddox House demolition.

Writes LaCrosse:

I am an architect in Atlanta, and I am truly saddened by the loss of the home originally built for Robert F. Maddox, Jr. I believe this to be the first Shutze (rhymes with Gutsy) home to be demolished, ever! Others that have been in the path of destruction were saved, repurposed and even moved. Certainly some have suffered the bad insensitive addition or two, but they do still survive for the most part.

Indeed, some decorative elements were salvaged from the [Maddox] home, and I am happy to hear that, but more was left behind. The [below] photograph was taken from the front yard towards the front door, the partially mangled 80-year-old boxwood crescent is to the photographers back. The other photograph is from the garden looking towards the back of the house.

The Maddox family's legacy of community involvement and philanthropy helped establish the Atlanta that we have today. This home was the last, to my knowledge, of a legacy of homebuilding that began in 1869 with their home on the NE corner of Ellis and Peachtree streets, then later to West Paces [Ferry Road], where the Governor's mansion is now, and finally this one on Tuxedo [Road]. All of their purpose-built homes are now demolished. Aside from the Maddoxes, many families called this modest elegant building a home.

Public garden tours, as far back as 1947, were given at that home. At such tours and events great philanthropy occurred. Incidentally in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, garden and home tours were conducted by society matrons in order to raise money for Egelston Hospital. The Camellia Show in particular helped raise money to fund the 15-acre "garden" (more like a small farm) at Egleston Hospital. This garden provided all the food for the patients and workers at that hospital — an actual community garden on a scale that makes a difference.

I understand property rights, and that it is the owner's prerogative to do what they have done. I can respect that. What I take issue with is comments such as "Oh it's just a minor Shutze" or "We have folks just as talented today" or that "Don't worry, the home will be fully documented."

There is nothing minor about Shutze's work. Even Bill Finch, the modernist architect of FABRAP [now Rosser International], bemoaned the loss of even the smallest Shutze project. Bill Finch and Cecil Alexander were draftsmen for a summer together in 1936 at Hentz, Adler, & Shutze (they could have very well worked on the Maddox house). Alexander, a good friend of mine, said that working there was "worth the price of admission." Finch and Alexander were great modernists, Alexander studied under [Walter] Gropius. Even they, architects with such diametrically opposed viewpoints as to that of Shutze's, found great value in his design work and respected it.

If modernists respect such work, how could architects claiming to be Classicists or Traditionalists be involved with such a project and still be respected in their communities?

Regarding Shutze's talent, it simply cannot be matched today. Born in Columbus, GA, Shutze was, from the age of 10, raised by a single mother — Shutze's father was brutally murdered by a deranged bank manager — even with these odds, Shutze — who loved to draw, and wanted to become a painter — graduated top of his class in high school, top of his class at Georgia Tech's School of Architecture, went to Columbia University, then out of the whole country won the Prix de Rome in Architecture at the American Academy. There he spent three years measuring the great works of Antiquity, the Renaissance and the Baroque. He was surrounded by the preeminent American artists and sculptors of his day, and those of tomorrow. While there, he collaborated with Allyn Cox (his paintings abound through the US Capitol) and Thomas Jones (sculptor of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), as well as many others. Shutze had an innate talent with color, scale and proportion, and the luck of coming along at just the right time for that talent to be truly fostered and expanded upon; and to practice in a period where architect, craftsmen and client worked in collaborative harmony to achieve a true synthesized design in the classical idiom. That will never happen again.

With regards to "documenting," architecture is art that we can inhabit; it is three-dimensional in nature. A photograph, or a drawing (mere lines on paper) are two-dimensional and can never fully convey the actual feeling of being surrounded by architecture. If the building is to be no more, proper documentation by measured drawings and photography is desired. I saw no invitation for those of the classical or preservation minded communities to come and document, through measured practice, this building. In fact, even if there was one, there wasn't any time to document this home before it was so quickly reduced to rubble. Additionally, the original drawings, which I have seen at the [Atlanta] History Center, do not fully document (as they really never do) what was actually built. Also, we will never know what the decorative color schemes of this house might have been. How can one do a paint analysis on the exterior siding, trim and etc. now? This may not seem important to some, but for other historic homes that do face preservation and restoration, having knowledge of the period is extremely important.

There certainly has been a tremendous amount of commentary both online and in person. One comment on Curbed Atlanta, however, struck a personal chord with me; this comment was "We give out design awards in Shutze's honor, but destroy actual Shutze designs." This of course is a reference to the Southeast Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, of which I am a proud member. I'm sure the ICAA does not condone the destruction of this building, and it can't of course be responsible for all of its members. I personally have worked diligently to maintain and promote Shutze's legacy.

Shutze was of international design talent and could have worked anywhere; he instead chose to come back to Atlanta, and our architectural environment is all the better for it: that is, so long as we maintain it and not destroy it. I hope that this demolition does not set a dangerous precedent that others follow.

· Philip Trammell Shutze coverage [Curbed]