what the ‘Green Book’ says about macon

If you’ve seen the movie “Green Book,” you perked up when the film showed pianist Donald Shirley stopping in Macon during a concert tour of the Deep South in 1962.

Wow. Aren’t those beautiful shots of the Grand Opera House, you sat there thinking. Wish I had known when the film crew was in town. Maybe I could have caught a glimpse of Mahershala Ali or his co-star, Viggo Mortensen, who played Tony Vallelonga, Shirley’s driver and bodyguard during the tour.

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The thing is, that brief performance scene was filmed at The Orpheum Theater in New Orleans, where the film made its local premiere during the 2018 New Orleans Film Festival. (Which created an odd moment for festival-goers, who watched the movie on a screen set up on the same stage where Ali’s character was performing in the movie.)

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But we digress. The faux Grand Opera House scene did make us wonder, though, if there were any real connections to Macon associated with the “Green Book,” which was actually known as “The Negro Motorist Green Book” when it was first published in 1936. And the answer is yes.

The guidebook, written by postal worker Victor Hugo Green, helped black travelers find motels, restaurants, filling stations and more that were safe or even welcoming for them on the road during the Jim Crow South. As Green explained, the guide was meant “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties (or) embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable.” And maybe avoid injury — or worse — in so-called “sundown towns,” which banned the presence of black people after dark.

Early on, there were four main categories in the guide: hotels, motels, “tourist homes” (private residences) and restaurants. The listings were arranged by state and subdivided by city. They gave the name and address of each home or business. (For an extra payment, businesses could have their listing in bold type or have a star next to it. That meant they were “recommended.”

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In the 1938 guide, two hotels and four homes were listed under the Macon heading, according to a copy of the guide in the New York Public Library’s digital collection:

— Douglass Hotel, 361 Broadway. (Yes, Charles Douglass founded this hotel in 1908, four years before the Douglass Theatre was built.)

— Richmond Hotel, 319 Broadway.

— Mrs. M. Clemons, 104 Spring St.

— Mrs. E.C. Moore, 122 Spring St.

— Mrs. F.W. Henndon, 139 First Ave.

— Mrs. C.A. Monroe, 108 Spring St.

As the guide grew, with more and more information provided to Green, the number — and types — of locales increased. In time you could find beauty salons, nightclubs and country clubs.

By 1949, the Douglass and Richmond hotels still were listed, as well as the homes of Moore and Henndon. But there were also four restaurants:  Mable’s on Main Street; Red Front, 417 Wall St.; Jean’s, 429 Cotton Ave.; and West Side, 961 Dempsey Ave. You also found a service station (Anderson’s at Pursley and Pond streets) and two tailors (Huschel’s, 264 Broadway; and Community, 550 Third Ave.) And there were four beauty parlors: Marquiata, 554 New St.; La Bonita, 455 Cotton Ave.; Carrie’s, 133 Forest Ave.; and Lula Life, 425 E. Second St.

“If you’re traveling you don’t have to worry about accommodations — whether this place will take you in or that place will sell you food. That is if you’re white and gentile. If you’re not, you have to travel a careful route like seeking oases in a desert,” an ad in that edition said.

The 1966-67 edition — Green’s last — contained just four listings for Macon: the Douglass and Richmond hotels; Mabell’s Place, 247 Fifth St. (“Home Cooked Meals — Best in Town)”; and Jean’s Restaurant, which apparently had moved to 545 Cotton Ave. By then, the landmark Civil Rights Act — which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin — had been the law of the land for almost three years. That made the travel guide less and less necessary.

Sadly, many of the homes and buildings in the guide are gone now, victims of change, expansion or “progress.” And that’s not counting such losses as Tremont Temple Baptist Church and the historic Douglass House, two notable structures in the black community that were torn down in 2014 to make room for new development.

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In recent years, Macon residents have banded together to preserve, revitalize and celebrate the Cotton Avenue District, long known as downtown’s black business district. The Cotton Avenue Coalition is trying to gain historic district status for the avenue, which would halt such demolition.

We also think of gems across the city that have been close to the wrecking ball, including the Douglass Theatre, which closed in 1972 before reopening to renewed splendor in 1997, and yes, even the Grand Opera House, which was saved from demolition nearly 50 years ago for more downtown parking.

And then there’s the little yellow cottage that used to sit on Fifth Street. To some folks, it was just an old ramshakle house. But it was the childhood home of one “Little Richard” Penniman. It was saved, and it has been renovated and relocated to Craft Street, where it will be a resource center for the Pleasant Hill neighborhood.

All of this is why the Historic Macon Foundation has taken the lead and bolstered its oversight of such historic structures. Its Fading Five program began in 2015, spurred by the Tremont Temple and Douglass losses. Among its aims is to advocate for an inclusive approach to preservation.

We couldn’t help but call to mind Otis Redding’s cover of an old William Bell song that says in part: “You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.”

Restoration, One Brick at a Time

A grande dame in downtown Macon is getting her second wind.

The next time you’re downtown, take a minute to go by 458 Second St. If you look closely, you’ll see the words “Independent Laundry Co.” in a blue-and-white tile mosaic across the building’s facade. The building -- more than 100 years old -- has been vacant for decades, but it is coming back to life thanks to Yash Patel and his father, Ashok. If restoration work continues on schedule, the site will open as Macon’s newest brewpub by spring, providing Yash a retail setting for the beer he crafts at his Macon Beer Co.

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But there is plenty to do before then. It took almost a month to remove bricks -- many of them one by one -- that were covering historic beauty beneath, including the tile mosaic and a steel beam that runs horizontally across the front (look for the rivets). But that kind of care is important to the Patels.

“We’re trying to maintain the integrity of the building as it was designed,” Yash said. “Historic preservation is something I really enjoy.”

Added his father, “It’s going to look like the original building” when work is finished.

Key to their efforts since they closed on the building in August 2017 has been guidance from the Historic Macon Foundation.

“They’ve helped with the rules and regulations,” Yash said, as well as plenty of other particulars, including possible tax credits for the project.

“They have been very, very helpful,” added Ashok, whose company, Kunj Construction, is handling the rehab work. “It’s one of the best buildings in downtown.”

Most of the building’s brick was in good shape. In fact, Yash said he was most surprised at “how intact the entire facade was even in its current state.”

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Once the facade work is done -- with windows restored or replaced and marble or granite touches in place -- that will be it. No paint for this facade, as has been the case at other renovated downtown buildings. At one time there was -- you guessed it -- a commercial laundry and dry cleaner in the left side of the building. (Old-timers will remember an orange Volkswagen van that drove around town to pick up laundry.) A Sherwin-Williams paint store once occupied the right side of the building.

When the Patels are finished, the new taproom (“Our lab,” Yash said, laughing) and restaurant will occupy the building’s right side, beside Bearfoot Tavern, and about 20 new lofts will eventually open on the left side. But that work will take another 18 months or so to finish. (You can follow the renovation progress on social media by following Macon Beer Co.)

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The tile mosaic is among the most fetching features uncovered so far. An Italian immigrant skilled in the craft completed it in 1918, Ashok said. He’s trying to learn more about the building’s history and details as he can. And there’s an added touch of serendipity: The tile colors match those of Macon Beer Co.’s logo.

Second Street Corridor improvements have drawn plenty of attention -- and funding -- in recent years, and now a lot of energy is pouring into Poplar Street, with several new shops opening in recent months.

That’s an added incentive for the Patels: to take part in the downtown renaissance.

“We’ve always wanted to be part of the downtown scene, … the night scene,” Yash said. “It’s going to be good.”

We concur. How could a marriage of history and beer not be?

2018 Preservation Picks

When someone mentions the Historic Macon Foundation, many folks think of old homes or long-abandoned buildings that have been restored to their former glory, thanks in large measure to the foundation’s help and leadership. But we all know that preservation and revitalization come in many different forms, in all walks of life.

Each year the members of our staff, partners with their own areas of expertise and skill, share efforts in their particular field (or an area of interest) that have caught their eye -- or ear -- that they’d like others to know about.

This list, our second Preservation Picks, will give you a sampling of reading and listening options -- and much more -- during a busy holiday season of road trips and family visits. Not that you’d want a little time away from Aunt Martha.

Here goes:


“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt

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For my Preservation Pick this year I've selected “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  Admittedly, I should have read this book years ago, but no one ever told me that historic preservation played such a key role in the story.  I had seen the movie when it came out, which likely turned me off the book. Needless to say, the book was entertaining -- riveting -- and is certainly worthy of my Preservation Pick for 2018, albeit 24 years too late.

Ethiel Garlington, Executive Director


“Blueberry Hill” by Louis Armstrong

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More than 13 years ago, my grandmother in Alaska mailed this CD to me for my 16th birthday. Arguably my favorite album of all time, it has been in heavy rotation ever since. It’s a live recording with multiple singers, and Armstrong leads his band and the listener through an amazing journey of jazz. From a female singer's take of  “Georgia On My Mind” to instrumental odysseys in “Jazz Me Blues” to my adolescent favorite, “Jeepers Creepers,” this album has everything a jazz lover could ever want. How wonderful that we can preserve the genius of this man and talented crew through live recordings!

P.S. It's available on Spotify

Rachelle Wilson, Director of Engagement


Instagram

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There’s plenty to love about Instagram, the social networking app made for sharing photos and videos. Here are some of my favorite Instagram accounts for photos of historic architecture and beautiful gardens.  

  • oldgeorgiahomes

  • thefrontdoorproject

  • the.preservationist

  • oakspringgardenfoundation

  • Mcalpinehouse

  • archi_ologie

  • Oldhouselove

These accounts have local connections:

  • quincy hammond

  • robinson_home

  • marypinsonflowers

  • canaanmarshall

Shannon Fickling, Preservation Project Manager


Shopping in Downtown Macon

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My Preservation Pick is all the great downtown Macon shopping options! Travis Jean Emporium, Macon Arts Gallery, WEAR, the Pink Chief, Blair Furniture, Kaybee (and its super awesome upstairs shoe room!). Talk about a hidden gem. Not to mention all the fabulous restaurants that offer cool swag, T-shirts and hats. You can find something for almost everyone when you shop in historic downtown Macon.

Trish Whitley, Director of Development



“The Devil in the White City,” by Eric Larson

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If you're like me and love all things architecture, but you also enjoy listening to a true crime podcast, this is the book for you. Taking readers back to 1890s Chicago, we meet the man behind the 1893 Chicago's World Fair architecture and design: Daniel Hudson Burnham (also credited for New York's Flat Iron Building). While Burnham is anxiously building the World's Fair under a tight deadline, a sinister serial killer, Henry Holmes, is slowly building his own murder palace just blocks away.  

I could go on and on about all the intriguing facts revealed throughout this book -- one part architectural history and another part true crime -- but what was most interesting was the impact the World's Fair had not only on architecture, but also on food, society, and popular culture for decades.

Lauren Mauldin, Director of Neighborhood Revitalization


“A Charlie Brown Christmas”

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Sometimes preservation can simply mean keeping a family tradition alive. This year, my Preservation Pick is just that! As a child, I grew up watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” every Christmas Eve with my parents and siblings. Now a mother, this is a tradition I enjoy doing with my daughter during the holidays. Each year, we cuddle up with our blankets, just like Linus, make hot chocolate, and watch this special film that celebrates the true meaning of Christmas.

Latachia Clay, Business Manager  


Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

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Sanborn Maps, found at the Washington Memorial Library, are unbelievably beneficial to my work. These fire insurance maps, dating back as early as 1884 in Bibb County, document how buildings evolve over time in ways that photographs can’t. Beyond that, they are little works of art! The detail and care that go into each one of these are amazing. It requires what would be considered today a superhuman level of patience. They are a lost art form.

Matt Chalfa, Director of Preservation Field Services


The Telegraph of old

Ever wonder what The Telegraph looked like 100 years ago? Or, for that matter, what the newspaper covered in those days and how it chose to display those stories? Well, there’s an easy way to do that, and it’s fascinating. There is a NewsBank site (easily accessible through the library) where you can search for old Telegraph pages -- or any of thousands of other newspapers across the country -- that have been preserved. You can visit the library to gain access or register and set up your own account. If you are curious or want to do serious research, this is an invaluable way to do so. (Remember: The Telegraph has been known by slightly different names over the years since it began as a weekly newspaper in 1826.) That’s right: It just turned 192 years old.

Happy reading.

Oby Brown, HMF Editor at Large


Art is Preservation

Preservation work comes in all shapes and sizes, Nashville artist Brandie Lee will tell you.

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Supporters of Historic Macon Foundation who attended the recent Wine & Dine Lawn Party got to see one example of Lee’s artistry, and it involved a nearly 50-year-old “proofing press” that she used to make ink prints of classic cocktails. (Take a look at the accompanying photographs to get a better idea of her letterpress creations.)

Lee graduated from Macon’s Central High School and studied public service at what was then Macon State College before a series of moves that included a stint in Thailand teaching English. Now she lives in Music City, where her art work is drawing attention.

Nashville “seemed like a place that I could root down and do the art I wanted to do,” the 34-year-old said.

Lee grew up “sketching and painting some.” In time, her interests turned more and more to “the tactile experience of art.” In Nashville, she found Hatch Show Print, an iconic letterpress print and design shop whose motto is preservation through production.

“I’d heard about Hatch and I was fascinated by it,” she said.

In time she applied for a coveted six-week internship — and got one.

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“Everything there is hand-touched,” she said. “It feels like true art to me. That’s where my interest in letterpress came from. That’s exactly where my interests were.”

For the cocktail glass creations, she drew a design on paper, then used that design to carve the actual raised image — backward — out of linoleum. She rolls oil-based ink onto the image with a brayer, or hand roller, locks down a piece of paper, then rolls the weighted press over the raised image to create the print.

There are three different drink prints — for a mint julep, an Old-Fashioned, and a French 75 -- that list all the drink’s ingredients within the outline of each particular drinking glass.

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“It’s a very hands-on process,” she said. “I like getting to show people the letterpress (process). It takes you back to the roots. I really enjoy getting to work on things — the physicality of it. It’s the opposite of mass production.”

How did the idea come to her?

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“Cocktails are a very social part of Nashville,” she said. “Cocktails are hand-crafted too,” just like her letterpress work. “You go to a bar and say, “I like this drink. I’d really like to remember how to make it. It’s a way to convey the essence of a drink and how to make it. It’s the idea of form and function,” she said. “When things go together well, I like it.”

She’s also turned her attention to watercolor work, including what she calls the Laugh-A-bit animal alphabet gallery. She gets back to Macon a couple times a year, where her parents, Curtis and Laura Lee, still live. For now, she’ll continue to explore ways to create works that are “visual and artistic, but also informative,” she said.

“I just like to bring truth and beauty and joy into the world — and levity too,” she said. “Authenticity and truth are so important to me.”

HMF is proud to support preservation in the many forms it can take. Lee’s cocktail creations and her unique approach to preservation through art were a feature of our Wine & Dine Lawn Party last month. Each guest was provided with a cocktail print, which are currently available to purchase at Travis Jean Emporium in Downtown Macon. This is just one more way we go beyond saving buildings to promote preservation in our everyday lives.


If you’d like to see other examples of Lee’s work or purchase any of her creations, go to:

Website: http://www.birdsflyover.com/

Instagram: @BirdsFlyOver https://www.instagram.com/birdsflyover/

Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/birdsflyover





For the Love of Whiskey!

From 1920 to 1933 the U.S. was under prohibition, a federal law preventing the manufacture and sale of alcohol. But of course, there are those for whom laws do little in the way of separating them from their passions, even if those passions entail fermenting grain mash. This was the case with Macon's Russell Dortch. HMF's senior intern from Stratford Academy, Carson Greene, shares some of his research on this man and his turbulent love for whiskey. 

On the evening of December 5th, 1923, Russell Dortch was arrested and placed under bond for violating the National Prohibition Act.  Even though there are not many details given on this arrest, it is the first in a nearly 16-year string of Dortch being charged for selling illegal whiskey. 

“Three Arrested in Speakeasy,” The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga), 1930.

“Three Arrested in Speakeasy,” The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga), 1930.

Dortch was most famous for operating the Broadway hotel, which is now underneath the Wells Fargo bank at 484 Mulberry St, and using his position as operator to sell whiskey out of backrooms during 1929 and 1930.  Some of these encounters were rather dramatic, like when the police had to break down the door of the Broadway Hotel on May 17, 1929, to find the 7 gallons of whiskey being hastily poured out. Dortch was sentenced to spend 1 year in jail.  But, shortly after his release, Dortch was back to his old habits.  On September 21, 1930, Dortch was arrested again at 464 Mulberry Street for the sale of whiskey at the Broadway Hotel. Another year in the county jail could still not break Dortch of his old habits.  On September 10, 1932, a squadron of police officers raided a dive at 454 Poplar Street only to find that it was being operated by Russell Dortch.  This address is now known as 460 Poplar Street and, unlike the Broadway Hotel, is still standing with the original building intact.  This arrest marked the end of Dortch just being content with selling whiskey.   

A Macon Taxpayer and Voter, “Macon’s Dive Ordinance,” The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga), 1934.

A Macon Taxpayer and Voter, “Macon’s Dive Ordinance,” The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga), 1934.

In 1934, police raided an illegal distillery in Monroe County.  Seven men were arrested in total including Russell Dortch. Dortch was later revealed to be the head of the operation and he was selling most of the whiskey and beer they made in downtown Macon.  During the raid, police found 750 gallons of home brewed beer and 40 gallons of whiskey.  Since the Prohibition had ended in the previous year, Dortch was charged with violating the Internal Revenues Act since he was not paying taxes on any of the alcohol he made.  Needless to say, Dortch was sent back to the county for another year and fined to the tune of $300.  Unfortunately, there were no addresses given, so it is impossible to say exactly where Dortch was selling his illicit liquor.    

Finally, towards the end of 1938, Dortch was arraigned for selling untaxed whiskey outside of his home at 800 Elbert Street.  Police only found 8 gallons of whiskey this time and Dortch was sentenced to 2 years of probation after fighting his sentencing in court.

How lucky we are to flaunt our love of whiskey openly! And though we might resist prohibition laws should they threat to resurface, it doesn't prevent us from enjoying the thrill of recreating the vibe of a speakeasy for just one night. Our annual summer Preservation Pop-up Speakeasy is only weeks away. And though we won't share the location (yet), we can promise it will be a swinging time! 

2018 Patrons' Party

Historic Macon celebrates our patrons at The Tubman Musuem.

Historic Macon celebrates our patrons at The Tubman Musuem.

As one of the newest members to the HMF staff, I am still getting acquainted with this versatile organization and our expansive work throughout the community and beyond. The deeper I wade, the more impressed I become. If someone were to ask me what HMF’s most outstanding characteristic is, I would need some time to consider the answer. Though I would be tempted to say the unique, innovative approach to revitalization through preservation or the highly skilled, professional, diligent team I work alongside day in and day out, ultimately I must concede that the members themselves stand out as the most exceptional trait.

From my very first day with HMF, members have surprised me with an astonishing level of involvement, whether it be time, money, energy, ideas, connections, or resources. How many organizations like ours can boast over 3,500 volunteer hours a year? And that number is only growing. HMF members continually amaze me with their passion for preservation and commitment to Macon.

It is for this reason I eagerly prepared and welcomed the Patrons’ Party this past January, hoping all would be just right for our faithful members. How excited I was to experience my first one, brimming with the friendly faces of those who have characterized my inaugural months with HMF. Despite months of preparation, much to my chagrin there were still slight hiccups throughout the night (like temporarily darkened restrooms, runaway name tags, or missing bourbon), laughter still resounded throughout the atrium, assuring me that our members were enjoying themselves nevertheless.

The Patrons’ Party can only communicate a fraction of our gratitude, but I hope the importance and value of your involvement was and is clear. Thank you for your membership, we wouldn’t be who we are without you.

If you are interested in learning more about our memberships and how you can give back through the power of preservation, click here or call Trish at 478-742-5084. 

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