Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Touring Atlanta: Part One of Three: The Georgian Terrace Hotel and its connection to Old Hollywood

The new, main lobby of the hotel with its wrap around, green velvet couches.

A couple of weeks ago, I was visiting Atlanta and I was fortunate enough to get to tour a few places related to old Hollywood that I'll be writing about over the next few days. You might be wondering why I'm featuring a hotel but being a fan of old architecture and anything to do with Old Hollywood I couldn't wait to share my experiences while staying there and a lot of photos to boot.

Its History: How It Came To Be

The Georgian Terrace Hotel, which takes up the corner of Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue in downtown Atlanta, was originally the site of Mayor Livingston Mim's residence. Built in 1879, the large residence would be the social hub of Atlanta activity until Mim's death in 1906.

A bust of what is supposed to be Mayor, Mims that sits proudly inside a side entrance foyer of the hotel.

After Mim's death, entrepreneur, Joseph E. Gatins Sr acquired the property and hired New York architect, William Stoddart to design a grand hotel which would be built on the now bustling corner in downtown Atlanta. At a cost of $500,000, the glamorous, 10 story, yellow, brick hotel would open its doors on October, 2, 1911.

As it appeared in 1912.

Looking at the same entrance from the corner of Peachtree and Ponce de Leon. The awnings have long been removed and the new additions to the hotel peak from the back but we'll get to the renovations and changes a bit later. 

Another early postcard of the hotel facing the main entrance, surrounded by red awnings.

Standing across the street in front of the Fox Theater, you can see the original front entrance to the hotel on Peachtree Street. (With red awnings in the above postcard.)

Looking up from the main entrance with a view of the original balconies. (clearly visible in the early postcards.) Luckily, you can no longer walk out on them. I would imagine it's for safety and I'm not even sure you could in the early days of the hotel. I forgot to ask and trust me I asked a million questions while there and there is very little ground I didn't cover while snooping around the halls, rooms and outer entrances. (Okay, to clarify, I didn't snoop in other guests hotel rooms because that would just be creepy and also illegal!)

A closer view of the original entrance and upper balconies.

In the book, The Georgian Terrace Hotel, (which we were given as a complimentary gift) author, Julie Hairston goes on to describe it this way: Arching one-story Palladian windows, wrap around terraces with columns, elliptical staircases and crystal chandeliers attracted scores of well-heeled and socially prominent patrons in the months that followed, prompting the press to label it Atlanta's "Paris Hotel". According to the Atlanta Journal, as many as 5,000 people visited the hotel on its opening day and were serenaded by a quaint orchestra from Spain as uniformed staff hovered quietly about. 

The original elliptical staircases that she described remain today with their marble steps. Identical on the landings of all 10 floors.

Looking up from where the original courtyard would have been, you can see the location of these staircases. Now enclosed and an extension of the new lobby.

Looking from what is now the hotel bar you can see the original staircases which would have been to your right as you entered the main hotel lobby in the early 1910s and beyond. 

In 1913, hotel owner and music aficionado, Gatins, attracted the renowned, New York tenor, Enrico Caruso to Atlanta for a two week run with other cast members of the Metropolitan Opera. While there he made the hotel his home. He grew so fond of the hotel that he would return on a regular basis throughout his life. He was particularly fond of the vast, ornate balconies where he would sit and draw caricatures of his friends. 

Famous tenor, Enrico Caruso.

One of the wrap balconies facing Ponce de Leon that Caruso would have enjoyed during his stay. (Another famous Hollywood star and a writer would take a photo on this balcony but more on that a bit later.) 

Jumping ahead to 1918, a then unknown dancer named Arthur Murray took a job giving dance lessons at The Georgian Terrace Hotel to help pay his tuition at the Georgia School of Technology where he studied commerce.

Arthur Murray, who would go on to build a multi million dollar empire from his dance studios and mail-order dance diagrams. 

One night between classes in the hotel ballroom, he ran into former Secretary of State, William Bryan who made the following suggestion "You know, I have an idea on how you can collect your money. Just teach them the left foot and don't teach them the right foot until they pay up!"  As the story goes, Murray thought about Bryan's suggestion which led to the development of his dance step diagrams that were later sent out by mail. (Thanks to Bryan, I wonder how many ladies went on to become the best dancer at their annual Christmas parties due to Murray's footstep diagrams?)

By the time Murray graduated from Georgia Tech and moved back to New York, where he would go on to open dance studios across the United States, he had taught over 1,000 students on the tile floors of The Georgian Terrace Hotel's grand ballroom. 

A photograph on display in the hotel today, shows the main ballroom where Murray taught dance during the 1920s. (It would have been a better idea to have taken these photos before some wine with dinner.)

 The beautifully restored, main ballroom as it appears today. It would also play a part in the Gone With the Wind film premier but more on that a bit later.

In the early 20s, a local writer for The Atlanta Journal, named Margaret Mitchell, then going by the moniker Peggy, would get the opportunity to interview silent actor, Rudolph Valentino. Their meeting would take place on one of the oversized balconies at the hotel. (Rudolph was in Atlanta on a press junket for one of his latest films.)

The ambitious, Mitchell gets Rudolph Valentino's ear on a side balcony off of the main dining room at the hotel during the early 20s. (I looked everywhere for this large pot but it has long since been replaced. Sadly, most of the original fixtures, decor were either sold off or destroyed in later years but more on that a bit later.)

The photo also hangs in the Margaret Mitchell Museum in Atlanta.

The same balcony as it appears today. Now off of the main lounge area, bar. Faces Ponce De Leon. 

A view of the balconies from the car.

The side entrance on Ponce De Leon which leads to the side, wrap balconies. 

Same entrance at night.

Looking towards the same entrance from the wonderfully decorated, art deco bar lounge. Sitting near the window you have a perfect view of the Fox Theater.

We were there during the week so there wasn't a play running across the street at the Fox Theater. Of course, that didn't make it any less fun to sit near the windows and peer out at the theater with its neon lights and unique architecture.

The hotel bar which gives you a great view of the original upper balconies that surrounded the original hotel entrance.

A view of the side terrace, balconies from the hotel bar. (Looking out towards Ponce De Leon. (I adore that couch and I need it! ha ha)

While we're on the south side of the hotel lets take a side tour of the exteriors and side entrances. (I found myself walking around outside and through all of the doors, little side halls every time we returned to the hotel in the evening. It really is a beautiful hotel and you're free to walk about pretty much everywhere and the staff is more than eager to answer questions about its history.) 

Of course, I found myself imagining how grand it would have been during the early 20s when the movers and shakers of Atlanta were walking through those doors for glamorous parties or maybe to grab a cocktail in one of opulent bars before returning to their rooms at night.  (Keeping in mind that Prohibition was in full effect during the 20s until 1933. *wink, wink)

Another early postcard of the hotel with awnings covering the balconies (featured above) The lower windows on the basement level, which extend to the rear of the hotel, were where the staff entered and deliveries were made during the early days of the hotel and throughout the 30s.

One of the basement, side doors, pictured in the postcard above. I wanted so badly to walk through those doors but there was staff mingling about and I couldn't bring myself to ask for a tour of this area, which is off limits. (This would have been where the staff entered during the early days of the hotel.)

Another side entrance from Ponce De Leon that has always been open for guests to enter the hotel. 

Just inside the above entrance is this stunning stained glass ceiling. (When talking to the hotel concierge, Brent, I found out that this ceiling was only re-discovered a few years ago during one of their recent renovations. The ceiling had been lowered around the 50s and this was covered up.

I can't imagine anything done to the hotel architecturally that would have been more grand or appealing than this!

A side parlor which takes you to the basement level or straight ahead to the ballroom where Murray taught dance so many years ago.

Continuing forward from the side parlor and down the marble staircase to the basement level. (If you're a fan of marble there is a lot of it throughout the hotel.)

Hidden in plain sight, beneath the upper lobby is the original safe. Now proudly on display. ( I say hidden in plain sight because we walked past it a half dozen times and we never noticed it until the concierge was pointing out all of the original features of the hotel.)

Things would get a lot busier at The Georgian Terrace in 1929 when the Fox Theater was completed and had its grand opening directly across the street. (I'll be doing a separate post on the Fabulous Fox then the Margaret Mitchell House, so stay tuned for that.)

The view of the Fabulous Fox Theater from across the street at The Georgian Terrace. 

A recent aerial view of the hotel with its large addition and gleaming, glass tower with the Fox Theater across the street. The very unique building to the lower right is the Ponce De Leon apartment building. Designed by the same architect of the hotel and erected in 1913. The first luxury, high rise apartments in Atlanta. With a Tiffany glass dome in its lobby, it is now privately owned condos. (This also gives you a great view of the hotel's rooftop pool. We found it to be a great place to have a late night cocktail and enjoy the breathtaking views of downtown Atlanta.)

Another early postcard of the hotel with the Ponce De Leon Apartments. Both Stoddart's work.

The Ponce De Leon condos from the hotel balcony.  How amazing would it have been to reside there during the 20s and 30s with a perfect view of the hotel from your wrought iron balcony?  Talk about people watching and 'star' gazing.

Moving ahead a bit to 1939, when the hotel really made a name for itself. Atlanta was all a buzz with the news that the premier of the much anticipated film and life's work of their very own, Margaret Mitchell would take place in downtown at the end of that year. But a month before the Georgian Hotel had a very notable guest. Walt Disney was in Atlanta for a few days while doing research on the Uncle Remus stories which he had just purchased the rights to for $10,000. He would go on to write and re-write until he felt the stories met his standards. 

After several delays, SONG OF THE SOUTH would finally make a grand entrance, seven years later in 1946. Walt Disney would return to Atlanta for the film's premier at the Fox Theater. He would again stay at the Georgian Terrace, this time with other studio dignitaries. 

Atlanta, a gracious host, pulled out all of the stops for Walt's visit, with a parade, a sold out theater and tons of press and adoring fans in attendance to get a glimpse of the master of animation. 

Walt Disney is surrounded by adoring fans during a parade in downtown Atlanta that coincided with the premier of SONG OF THE SOUTH, 1946.

In Judith Hairston's book she notes: Fox filled to its capacity of 5,000 for the film's debut.  Disney disliked watching his films with an audience and was nervous about how Song of the South would be received. So, after brief remarks to the sold out crowd, Disney retreated across the street to his room at The Georgian Terrace to await news of the reception. 

On a side note: While the film has created much controversy from the time it was released into the 50s when it was re-released by Disney Studios only to be shelved again then re-released during the 70s, I did get the opportunity to see the film at the Drive-In during the late 70s. My parents would take us to see every available Disney and G rated films whenever they could.  Practically disowned by the Disney family, the film has never been released to DVD and most likely never will be.

Atlanta, after laying out the red carpet for Walt, was busying itself for the much anticipated premier of Gone With the Wind in December of 1939. This time the premier would be at the Loews Theatre in downtown Atlanta with a parade preceding it and of course a reception that was held at The Georgian Terrace in their main ballroom. Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, Evelyn Keyes, David O. Selznick and Margaret Mitchell would all be in attendance for the premier and reception. Clark, his wife, Carole Lombard and the other stars of the film would stay on the 9th floor of the hotel. Lawrence Olivier was also in Atlanta as Vivien's escort to the premier but due to the fact that they were not married, he would stay with friends in Buckhead. (It has been rumored that he stayed in downtown Atlanta with friends where Viv also stayed but he did in fact stay with old friends in Buckhead, just a short drive from downtown.  Hattie McDaniel was unable to attend the premier due to a racially segregated Atlanta. A shame and something that troubled Gable so greatly that he threatened to boycott the premier. Eventually, Hattie convinced him to attend. 

The original entrance to the hotel and where the GWTW cast would have entered during 1939. At the time you would've entered to see the main lobby, a seating area and the reception desk to your left with spiral, marble staircases to your right that led to upper balconies. It is now the hotel restaurant, Livingston Mim.

An original photo of the main lobby as it appeared when the hotel was built and for many years.

Looking to the right in what once was the main hotel lobby is now the Livingston Mim restaurant. The marble staircase to the upper left would have taken guests to a separate dining area with open balconies where you could watch guests mingle about the lobby or you could continue on up the staircases to the 10 floors and luxury hotel suites.

The upper balconies and the view as you would have walked into the hotel lobby. Also where tenor, Enrico Caruso spent a lot of his time while staying at the hotel. 

Another view from the main lobby with one of just a hand full of the original light fixtures that managed to survive so many renovations through the years.

How the old lobby appears when not decorated for the holidays.

The formal dining room has large photos from the GWTW premier. Blurred most likely for artistic expression. (I asked the staff of the restaurant but nobody seemed to know why the photos were so blurred. Going with artistic expression or lack of copyrights?) Still a gorgeous backdrop and a nice homage to their famous guests. This was Lawrence and Viv at the Atlanta premier.

Also on display in the dining room.

This marble drinking fountain was original to the lobby and survived. It's now, proudly on display as you enter Livingston Mims.

Back to the GWTW premier and reception at the hotel. The three day celebration would officially get underway on December 13, 1939 with Governor Eurith Rivers declaring the 15th (the day of the premier) a state holiday. The streets from Loews Theatre all the way to The Georgian Terrace Hotel, were closed and spectators were encouraged to wear period dress as they stood outside, lining the streets in the hopes of greeting the stars of the film as they passed by.

Clark Gable and wife, Carole Lombard receive a warm welcome as they arrive in Atlanta for the premier.

Vivien Leigh and Lawrence Olivier arrive in Atlanta for the premier.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh greet fans in the main ballroom at The Georgian Terrace.

Clark Gable in the main ballroom at the GWTW reception. December 15th, 1939.

Vivien and Larry share a quiet moment while attending the reception at the hotel.

A plaque on display outside of the main ballroom. Featured, Clark, Mitchell, Leigh, de Havilland. (I really am the worst person on earth at taking photos!)

Vivien, Clark, Margaret, David O. and Olivia pose for photos at the hotel.

The large shrubs now surround what would have been the original outdoor courtyard of the hotel and where guests would have mingled about once checked in to the hotel. Upper right is the entrance to the main ballroom where the GWTW cast and Mitchell, greeted fans before attending a reception the day before the premier.

Clark, Vivien and David O. Selznick wave to fans during the parade in downtown Atlanta. All involved in the film would also attend a ball sponsored by the Junior League while in Atlanta among other celebrations to welcome them to the city.

The Gone With the Wind premier at Loews in downtown Atlanta. December 15, 1939. (Tickets were forty times the going rate for the premier and it was a sold out crowd.)

Vivien, Clark and Olivia would also find time to tour the Cyclorama with the city manager while in Atlanta. It was also reported that a few, very old, Civil War soldiers also attended the Atlanta premier.

A photo looking towards The Georgian Terrace Hotel from Ponce de Leon. Trolley line tracks and its neon sign. As it would have appeared during the late 30s and early 40s. The Ponce de Leon apartments on the left.

Approaching the hotel recently on the same street. Where the white van is sitting is where a loading dock for the hotel was originally and still is today. 

I think I'll stop here since this post has already gotten so long and I'm not even to 1940 yet. There was so many transformations, wonderful things going on at The Georgian Terrace leading up to its current state that I think I'll need to do this post in two parts.

I hope you've enjoyed Part One and you'll take the time to comment. Have you stayed at the hotel? Is there anything you would like to add from 1911-1939?

See ya back here when I wrap up with Part Two before moving on to The Fox Theater.