Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rhodes Hall: The Dream on Peachtree

Rhodes Hall
Rhodes Hall
One of only a handful of mansions still standing on Atlanta’s "main street"—Peachtree Street—is the former home of Amos Giles Rhodes, founder of Rhodes Furniture. Today known by locals as "Rhodes Hall" or "The Castle on Peachtree," Mr. Rhodes himself dubbed his home "Le Reve," French for "The Dream."
I hadn’t decided until the night before that I would be touring Rhodes Hall on this particular day. After finishing some work I scurried to ready myself for departure. Camera, check. Phone, check. Keys, check.
I was ready, but alas, looking at the clock I knew I wouldn’t make the 11 a.m. tour. So, I ran a couple of errands and then headed to Midtown. I arrived at Rhodes Hall at approximately 11:35 a.m., snapped a few photos of the outside of the Castle (constructed of granite from Stone Mountain—it actually looks like a castle) and then proceeded inside to secure a ticket for the 12:00 o'clock tour.
There were people scurrying about the place (Rhodes Hall is also the headquarters of The Georgia Trust, an organization that provides preservations resources to individual and communities throughout Georgia). I was welcomed by a passing Georgia Trust employee. I advised him, "I'm here for the noon tour." He acknowledged and asked me to wait and then he promptly scurried to another part of the house.
The Parlor
The Parlor
I soon was greeted by Caley Ross, Director of Sales, who told me that the designated tour guide for the day was unable to make it to work that day. She offered to let me take the first floor self-guided tour and handed me a packet of information.
I must have been pouting because she continued to explain that the tour of the third and fourth floors was only available with a tour guide and that she was trying to leave around noon. I expressed that the upper floors were the ones I was interested in seeing, that I’d toured the first floor on a previous visit (although that was in the 1990s).
Without giving it a second thought Caley immediately switched to the role of gracious host and grand tour guide and off we went.
I remembered the splendor of the house was quite impressive, but it was obvious that there had been a significant amount of restoration done to the home since my last visit.
All the surfaces were shining or sparkling or painted to depict a time or event in Southern history. From the staircase bannister to the numerous chandeliers throughout the house, Caley pointed out the areas that contained furniture and fixtures that were original to the mansion.
Of spaces on the first floor I believe my favorite room is an equal tie between the Reception Hall (grand in scale and detail), the Parlor (elegant and well-lit), and the Dining Room (all of its contents original to the house, including: a collection of stemware and dishes and a brilliant chandelier, certainly the centerpiece of any dining occasion, only outshined by the home's hostess).
The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy
"The Rise and Fall of
the Confederacy"
The mahogany stairwell and its painted windows leading from the Reception Hall to the upstairs quarters is by far one of the most impressive sights I've seen in quite some time. Three panels of three windows each serve as a memorial entitled "The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy." The sun illuminates the first panel as it rises (depicting the beginning of the Civil War) and finally the third panel as it sets (depicting Robert E. Lee bidding farewell to his troops). Included in the mosaic of the memorial are state seals and portraits of confederacy heroes. Impressive by any standard, the artistry of these windows is truly unveiled when it is pointed out that they were created not for a museum or public display, but for a private residence.
We then headed to the second floor, which is now office space for The Georgia Trust. The rooms on the second floor include the bedrooms and dressing rooms for Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes. It was on this part of the tour that I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mark McDonald, President & CEO of The Georgia Trust. At the end of my tour, he and I briefly discussed what it must have been like to live in "The Castle on Peachtree" in 1904. Mr. McDonald is indeed a gentleman—professional and charming.
The third floor contains a servant's room and a billiards room, both with sun lights. Adjacent to the billiards room was Mr. Rhodes's smoking room.
The fourth floor contained a room that is believed to have been used as a playroom for the Rhodes’s grandchildren.
Rhodes Hall coffer
Rhodes Hall coffer
Continuing the VIP treatment (I was already more than pleasantly astonished by the Southern hospitality demonstrated up to this point), after I asked about the stairs leading up from the fourth level, Caley offered to take me up to the roof. I of course accepted the offer! Caley collected the key for the roof access door and up we went. The rooftop may be modest in size but it is grand in view. Nestled between Midtown and Buckhead (an area today being called "Uptown"), I was able to see in great detail the craftsmanship that went into the construction of the Rhodes Hall rooftops and roof caps, as well as the magnificent Midtown skyline.
I can’t thank Caley enough for her generous gift of time and for taking me on a special tour of Rhodes Hall, one of Atlanta's not-so-hidden gems. It's a true treasure and I highly recommend adding "The Dream" to any list of must-see Atlanta landmarks.
Of particular interest, following Mr. Rhodes's death, he passed Rhodes Hall to his two children, Joseph and Louanna. They later deeded the house to the state with two conditions: it can never be sold and it must be used for state or historical purposes. That's music to the ears of preservationist and tourists who enjoy a flare of history in their visits to Atlanta.
Will I return to Rhodes Hall? I hope so. It would be great to attend as a guest at one of the many special events held at Rhodes Hall. In fact, I will return to Rhodes Hall, whether attending a special event or as a tourist who wants to relive the grandeur of what it was like in the early 20th Century to live on Peachtree Street.
Touring Rhodes Hall
Date toured: Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Location: 1516 Peachtree Street, NW (directions and map)
Parking: Free, behind Rhodes Hall
$7 – Behind-the-Scenes (all four floors)
$5 – Guided tour of the 1st Floor
$4 – Seniors, student and children (ages 6-12) – 1st Floor only
Free – Georgia Trust members and children under age 6
Tours begin every hour, on the hour. The last tour begins one hour before closing.
Tuesday-Friday – 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Saturday – 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Closed Sundays and Mondays

Rhodes Hall front door stained glass transum
Rhodes Hall, stained glass
front door transum

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