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Preserving Oakland’s Historic Greenhouse and Coal House

The dedication of the Beaumont Allen Greenhouse in November highlighted the relationships between Historic Oakland Foundation (HOF), Atlanta History Center (AHC), Buckhead Men’s Garden Club (BMGC) and the City of Atlanta, to name a few. With the impending arrival of Atlanta Cyclorama at AHC, the BMGC greenhouse was slated to meet the wrecking ball, but thanks to their gift to HOF, the building has a second chance (a third, really, as it moved once before) at the cemetery.

With the help of our partners, HOF restored function to the site of Atlanta’s very first greenhouse. We also focused much-needed preservation efforts on the historic ruin walls of the 1900 structure.

Now, a few things to note: Atlanta’s first greenhouse was indeed at Oakland, but it was built decades before the 1900 building. Around 1870, under pressure from the women who tended their family gravesites, the sexton petitioned for and was successful in building a pit-style greenhouse, which as best as we know was a walk-in structure dug in the ground to take advantage of more consistent ground temperatures, and heated by a stove. The greenhouse was so popular that shortly thereafter another structure was built, three times as large and heated by a furnace. During site excavations prior to the new construction, the PRO Team found substantial evidence indicating that it was the site of this and other early greenhouses at Oakland Cemetery.

Since the new greenhouse fits almost perfectly inside the ruin walls and they were not to be utilized as structural elements in the construction, we chose to preserve the walls in their current condition. That is, we left them uneven and in the overall appearance in which they were found. Along with the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, we felt the juxtaposition of old and new would provoke discussion and provide us a great platform from which to tell the story of the greenhouse and the entire “operations area” of the cemetery.

Of course, we didn’t want to leave the walls crumbling. We have been working – and continue to work – on reattaching loose bricks and removing failing mortar and replacing it with a historically compatible match. On the freestanding east gable, we will soon add cantilevered metal support piers and restore failing areas. Where the west gable tied into the coal house, we will highlight the “ghost,” or the mark left by the gable on the coal house wall.

The coal house itself is receiving much-needed attention, too. So far, two doors have been reconstructed and we are in the process of restoring the wooden sash windows. One more door and a few more windows remain to be preserved, but for now, the PRO team is very much enjoying the space which has been re-purposed as our workshop.

We hope that the preservation of these two buildings will spark an interest in the entire operations area and greenhouse valley and that the legacy of Beau Allen, its namesake, will be honored through the work conducted therein.

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