Can One Deco Building Save A City?
C an one Deco building save a city? Atlanta-based architect J. Ryan Duffey may have learned the answer first hand working on the recent renovation of Atlanta’s only Art Deco residence. The home, now referred to as the Evans-Cucich-Hayden house (named for past owners,) was designed and built in 1934 by architect A. F. N. Everett [active in 1910s-1930s] in the Buckhead’s Haynes Manor neighborhood for Hiram Wesley Evans [1881-1966]. It had fallen into disrepair and sat vacant for several years prior to the renovation. “The building had grown over with vegetation and had seen better days. But, even with this you could see what great bones the building had. It was a building that was made of substantial stuff—concrete and masonry,” says Duffey.
The original architect, Everett, typically worked in the Beaux-Arts Classical style and designed the residence with a commercial feel employing an Egyptian-Revival motif. The commercial aesthetic may have been influenced by public buildings opening in Atlanta at that time. The interior of the home was organized around a large central stairhall, lit by a former New York hotel deco-era chandelier, which has been re-acquired and placed back into the original position in the home. Mayan-esque zigzag detailing and panels adorned the rooms on the first floor which was organized on a Classical Greek-cross plan. Duffey adds, “The trick was balancing the original symmetrical formal plan with the new informal asymmetrical addition. I feel that we were able to achieve a nice balance in the end.”
The renovation comes at an interesting moment in Atlanta, GA architectural and urban planning. Many of the city’s best historic buildings are been torn down, including: the destruction of a Tuxedo Park residence designed by the city’s reigning 20th-century architect Philip Trammell Shutze [1890-1982]; the four-columned, circa-1911 facade of the nation’s second DAR chapter in Ansley Park; and the bulldozing of the 1929 Tudor estate Glenridge Hall—the latter of which was in favor of what is billed as economic development.
“I don’t believe all old buildings should be saved, but each should be judged on their own architectural merit. Everyday I would drive past the DAR building to get to work. It was a good building and I hope what replaces it will be something equally important,” says Duffey, who has his doubts, having worked professionally for more than twelve years as an architect. He adds, “I know how difficult it is to take a building like the Evans-Cucich-Hayden house and bring it back to life. It is a substantial financial and time commitment. The renovation took about 16 months from start to finish and not many developers or owners have that desire and I was lucky I had such great clients.” But, what may have made the entire renovation worth while was the countless people who would come to the construction site, often on a daily basis, with stories and memories of the house and what it meant to them. It is these experiences during the renovation that have a left a lasting impression on Duffey. “This may have been the first time I truly understood how important architecture is in people’s lives and how much they associate with it growing up. As I approach new projects, I will be more mindful and sensitive because of this renovation,” says Duffey. And, while it may not save the entire city and its historic architecture, it may just alter enough opinions to have a ripple effect.
To explore the renovation in lush detail and before and after images, check out Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles‘ August “Architecture Issue: Historic Homes, Modern Outlooks” featuring the article Art Deco Revival.
J. Ryan Duffey Architects employs proven historic ideas and applies them to our current moment. You can explore his work at: http://jryanduffey.com