Sunday, December 09, 2012

From the Ashes: The Marion Building

If buildings were ships and fire was ice, then the Marion Building, at 739 Broad St. in Augusta, Georgia, would once have been the Titanic. Designed by G. Lloyd Preacher, who also had a hand in Augusta’s Partridge Inn and Imperial Theater, as well as Atlanta’s famed art-deco, neo-gothic city hall, the Chronicle Building, as it was originally known, was considered to be fireproof. Construction was begun in 1912 and completed in 1914, in what was referred to as “the very teeth of general financial depression.” As Augusta’s first skyscraper, the ten-story Chronicle Building was a big deal.

When it was done, Mr. Preacher himself had this to say in the December 13, 1914 edition of the building's namesake, the Augusta Chronicle: "The Chronicle Building, now ready for occupancy, stands facing the south on Broad Street in a class by itself, distinctive and individual. The building stands ten stories high and possesses all modern conveniences and equipment. It is faced on front with limestone to third floor level, then buff press brick to the eighth story. The two top stories are faced with ornamental polychrome terra cotta in harmonious colors and the entire exterior of the building is trimmed in terra cotta---such as window sills, lintels, etc. All interior floors and partitions are fireproof and the elevator doors, windows on down-town side, etc., are also absolutely fireproof. The first floor lobby is decorated with a high marble wainscoting and plaster cornices. The offices and corridors on the upper floors have smooth finish plaster walls. The corridors all have tile floors and wainscotings of Georgia marble. Ample toilets are provided and they are finished in tile. The trim throughout is genuine oak with veneer doors. The heating system is the best that can be had with a vacuum vapor circulating system. There is enough radiation to overheat the building in zero weather if desired. All floors are provided with vacuum cleaning outlets so that the offices may be perfectly cleaned without dust. Sufficient electric lighting is provided throughout, and every office has a lavatory and an abundance of hot and cold water. There are also two fast elevators, perfectly equipped with indicators, insuring fast service."

It then must have come as quite a surprise when, just 15 months later, the fireproof Chronicle Building was gutted in Augusta’s worst conflagration, the Great Fire of March 22, 1916, which may have consumed 600 structures and over 20,000 bales of cotton but at least didn’t kill anyone. The fire’s origin was traced to a tailor’s unattended iron. To be fair, no one ever claimed the Chronicle Building was “inferno-proof.” If you want to see an incredible picture of the building in flames on that night, have a look HERE. By 1921, the remains had been purchased by Jacob Phinizy and the Marion Building now stood within the shell of the old, burnt-out structure.

It’s interesting to note that the Marion Building is only half of what it what supposed to be. That is, an identical structure was originally planned to be built to the east of the building. It has yet to materialize.

The Marion Building has now been essentially vacant for over 40 years, with only a tobacconist occupying a small space on the ground floor. Now even he’s gone, as you can see in the picture of the old shop above. It’s a very long while for a building to be empty, I’d say. In 2010, the Marion Building was purchased for $200,000. The inside was then gutted so the building could be “mothballed” in a protected state until such time that the economics of redevelopment become more reasonable. And that is how things stand with Augusta’s first skyscraper as it maintains its long vigil beside the Confederate Monument in the hope its now-modest (but still sunny!) ten stories will one day be of use again.

One, two…this is post number three on buildings visited during this year’s Augusta Photography Festival. The usual thanks to them are in order. Pretty much all the information for this post was taken from the Chronicle’s 2010 article on the Marion, with a little help from the Chronicle’s great photo series on the 1916 fire. Next post I’ll do an update on the Miller Theater, with much better photos than eight years ago. If you’re awaiting a return to the Wild West, a post on the semi-ghost town of Organ, NM, in the shadow of the Organ Mountains, will be forthcoming. Eventually.


Trevor David Betts said...

Keep up the good work. May I take this opportunity to wish you a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2013.


Trevor David Betts.

jmhouse said...

Thanks for the kind words, Trevor! Very best to you and yours this holiday season, as well. Here's wishing you a prosperous 2013! JM