Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Genesta Hotel on the White Way

Eighth (aka Jackson) Street was once one of the most bustling thoroughfares in Augusta, Georgia. Union Station, a large railroad depot built in 1903, was located at 525 8th Street and all along 8th, from the station to the Savannah River, there were hotels and restaurants to serve the constant stream of passengers. In fact, 8th became known as the “White Way” because of its many street lamps burning all night long, guiding weary travelers. In the picture below, the Genesta would be up two blocks and on the left.

In 1905, two years after Union Station was constructed, the Genesta Hotel opened. At that time, it would’ve been one of many hotels on 8th Street, but it stood out for its elegance. In fact, on August 6, 1908, a supper party was held at the Genesta to celebrate that afternoon’s marriage of baseball great Ty Cobb to Ms. Charlie Lombard. Miss Lombard’s family was well-known in Augusta and quite successful. They paid for the party, although Ty would be soon raking in the big bucks himself. You see, there’s always been money in sports.

The Genesta Hotel burned in 1923, but was restored and, in 1932, renamed the Clarendon. Since then, its history has disappeared into the mists of time. For years the building has stood empty next to the Art Deco Woolworth’s, which was built in 1945 and has been vacant since 1992. As far as I know, the Genesta is the last hotel standing along the now-lamp-less White Way, with only the view from Ellis Street, which clearly shows the fading paint of the old sign, giving any indication as to what was once inside.

Union Station closed in 1968 and was torn down in 1972. Ellis Street, which I profiled with some photos back in 2005, sees little activity and even Eighth Street is mostly quiet these days. If you hope to hear the constant bustle of travelers and the conversations of the rich and famous as they dine at the Genesta Hotel, you’ll only be listening for ghosts. As for me, I just wish I’d found a way inside to hear them better.

I got some info on the Genesta from an Augusta Chronicle article mentioning a silver tablecloth crumber from the hotel being added to the Augusta Museum’s collection. Some facts about Union Station came from Rail Georgia. The historical pictures of the Genesta and the White Way are from Augusta in Vintage Postcards by Joseph M. Lee III. Finally, I learned the nugget about Ty Cobb’s wedding supper from Ty Cobb: Safe at Home, by author and Central Savannah River Area historian Don Rhodes.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What Happened to Hulse's?

Three posts ago I said that I had four more locations to document from last fall’s trip to the greater Augusta, GA area and then it would be back to the Wild West. Well, I can’t always be believed and I’m nothing if not a completist. So, to ensure that all bases are covered and no mediocre photo goes unused, we’ll do a few more transmissions from the Classic South than I’d originally envisioned. Here’s one from the historic Harrisburg District in west Augusta.

If you want to know where Harrisburg is, travel west on Broad Street from downtown. You’ll soon encounter the Sibley Mill. Now look all around you. Harrisburg! The neighborhood is quite old and its beginnings can be traced back to namesake Ezekiel Harris, whose home--now a museum--at 1822 Broad was built in 1794. According to the Smithsonian, it is the "finest eighteenth century house surviving in Georgia." In 1800, the area officially became known as the Village of Harrisburg and for several decades was not very populated. That all changed in 1875 with the construction of the nearby Augusta Canal and its attendant textile mills. Soon, industrial and economic growth had Harrisburg booming.

After over 50 years of prosperity, mill work had begun to slow by the 1930’s and what had formerly been company houses for millworkers were sold to private individuals. This was the start of a long decline which hasn’t quite been arrested yet. In 1972, a number of homes were simply demolished in the name of “urban renewal.” A big blow came in the 1980’s, when the John C. Calhoun Expressway was constructed, essentially cleaving Harrisburg in two. You know your neighborhood isn’t high in the social hierarchy when they put a major road through it.

But now something interesting is happening. The Augusta National Golf Club has reportedly been buying property in the Harrisburg District with an eye toward creating accommodations for golfers, particularly during the Masters. What had previously been weedy lots or dilapidated residences selling for a pittance are suddenly getting more valuable.

On this particular trip, the goal was to pay a return visit to the Hulse Laundry building at 1976 Ellis St., in view of the Sibley Mill. Hulse Laundry was established by Frank Hulse and his son in 1910. They moved into a building originally built in the 1880’s for the Rufus and Carter Tobacco Company and, in the 1960’s, changed their name to Hulse-Taylor Dry Cleaners. They often used the somewhat unusual slogan, “Just a Good One,” in their advertising. But by the 1970’s, after over 60 years in business, Hulse Laundry finally went under, leaving the building vacant. In 1984, the property was gutted by fire. And so it remained, still majestic despite the 20 years of slow decay that had passed, when I last saw it in 2004.

Twenty years is a long time for a vacant building to stand. Twenty-eight even more so. Still, I was a bit surprised to be driving around Ellis St. unable to locate Hulse’s, not quite convinced it was actually gone. Eventually, a homeowner wondered why in the world someone was wandering around his neighborhood with a camera and stopped to see what was up. His house appeared to be adjacent to the lot where Hulse’s once stood and he was fairly certain the old laundry had been torn down shortly before he bought his property for…$4000. Since then, he’d been offered $40,000 from the Augusta National folks, but had turned it down. His wife thought maybe they should sell, but he said, “This is my home now and I don’t want to leave it.”

Years ago, the National Park Service designated these Harrisburg - West End neighborhoods as an historic district. As far as I can tell, this has had no real impact on the area good or bad. But golf? Who knows what that will do?

There’s not much information out there on Hulse’s. A now-off-line article in the Augusta Chronicle was all I could find. But it’s a good article if you can find it, too! If you want to see what the National Park Service has to say about Harrisburg, some of which I paraphrased, go HERE.

The photos at the top and bottom of this post are outtakes from my original piece about the neighborhood. The new shots are from nearby streets that for decades and decades would’ve brought customers and employees to and from Hulse Laundry. These streets have been much quieter for years now, but it seems that might soon change.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Then There Were Two: Upper Broad St. Houses

In the over eight years that I’ve been doing City of Dust, rarely have I ever used the same photo in more than one post. The few times that it’s happened have mostly been mistakes. Hey, I’ve taken a lot of shots; sometimes I forget what I’ve put where. However, in this post I’m going to re-use some stuff. In the spring of 2010, I was back in Augusta for a couple days and visited what are known as the “Upper Broad Street Houses.” A short time later, I used the photographs I took, which were a bit gritty (hey, there’s a surprise), to illustrate a charming tale called “The Housecleaner.” I thought they worked well with the story and, frankly, I didn’t know much about the history of the old homes. In the interim, I’ve learned more and, since there is also one less of them, I took a few additional photographs last fall. One must always document while one can.

Located at 1425, 1427, and 1429 Broad St., the Upper Broad Street Houses were built in 1896 by the J.B. White department store company as residences for their employees. At one point, there were at least 20 such homes along Broad and tenants were eventually given the chance to purchase them. A February 2, 1919 article in the Augusta Chronicle mentioned that there were three different types of houses selling at three different prices. Houses were to be first offered to the employees who already resided in or near them, with the Chronicle noting that interest was to be expressed to the J.B. White Estate via the Alexander-Goodwin & Garrett Agency by March 10, 1919 or properties would be sold to someone else. One block north, on Jones St., J.B. White had constructed 20 tenement houses for African-American tenants. For some reason, it seems these were not to be sold until the occupants on Broad St. had made up their minds to buy or move out. On June 9, 1919, the public was notified of their “last chance” to buy an Upper Broad Street House. Prices ranged from $4000 to $4500.

Of the three, the house at 1429, built as a duplex, is the largest. Decorative designs on the front fa├žade gables are visible and the windows that remain are said to be original.The middle house, 1427, is also a two-story home, but was built as a single-family residence. On the corner, the house at 1425 was another duplex and contained six rooms. As of 2011, it was considered to be in the best condition of the three. Then, in October of that year, a fire, probably started by a homeless man, gutted 1425 and it was soon torn down. All three homes had long been threatened by the construction on St. Sebastian Way and it seemed no one could decide what to do with them. But, since flames work quicker than city government, there are now just two vacant 19th Century homes awaiting their fate.

Besides 1427 and 1429 Broad St., there are two additional J.B. White homes still standing. Both are occupied, which is a nice change of pace.

Most (if not all) of the interior shots are from 1425. Where one finds Slayer graffiti, one will often soon find destruction. Interesting, that. We've also got two different film stocks. As usual, the cheap stuff developed at Walgreen's looks better.

Almost everything I know about these houses I learned from Historic Augusta, who had just listed them as endangered properties when 1425 burned. Also, the Chronicle did a short piece on the houses after the fire.