The Augusta Chronicle celebrates its 225th birthday this week, and it’s probably as good a time as any to tell you something about The News Building, which has been the site of much of Augusta’s journalism for almost a century.
Designed by famed Augusta architect Lloyd Preacher, it opened in 1917 as the Herald Building at 725 Broad Street.
Over the years, its employees have brought Augustans news of 22 U.S. presidential elections, 74 Masters Tournaments and 90 baseball World Series contests. Many of our nation’s political leaders have been interviewed at this location.
In 1973 the national Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, designated it as an important site of American journalism, marking that honor with a plaque at his front.
The structure was built by Evans Brothers Construction Co., of Birmingham, in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. It cost $115,000 to build. While it opened as home of the Augusta Herald, The Chronicle started merging operations in 1949. The building was officially purchased by The Chronicle in 1955. The staffs of both the morning and afternoon newspapers shared its facilities until the Herald ceased publication in 1993.
The building has its quirks.
The front is more narrow than the back. Not that you’d notice, but probably because they built it in a hurry after the big fire.
The old elevator off its main lobby is incredibly slow. Many employees take the stairs out of habit.
It is a very sturdy building. Anyone who has ever watched a violent summer thunderstorm from its second floor windows can tell you of the sense of solid security.
The ladies restroom on the second floor was only added in recent years. Originally there were few, if any, women employees, and a ladies room on every floor apparently seemed a useless extravagance.
The Herald might be gone, but the building is full of its reminders. Dozens of the old door knobs scattered throughout its four floors have an “H” on them.
No one remembers anyone ever dying on the site, so no ghosts.
The building, however, does have assorted tales often told within its walls.
Today its air-conditioned and comfortable year round, but the old timers like to talk about the summer days when the room was cooled by electric fans, and everyone smoked cigarettes, typed on sheets of copy paper and every desk had a large jar of (flammable) glue for pasting copy and corrections together.
It’s a wonder they didn’t set the building on fire numerous times.
Smoking withing the building was actually pretty pervasive until the early 1990s. That's when smoking was prohibited in the newsroom, but allowed in the hallway outside.
Two years later, smoking was prohibited in the hallway, but allowed in the back of the production department.
Soon after that, smoking was forbidden inside the building, but allowed outside the doors.
And a few years after that, smokers were encouraged to light up someplace where they couldn't be seen by customers and co-workers entering a main doorway.
Today they mostly hang out behind the press building.
There also used to be an open roof-top helicopter landing pad, converted in the mid-1990s to extra office space.
We don’t have a helicopter anymore, but we did in the 1970s. We used it in 1978 for a very special mission. On Valentine’s Day that year, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation confiscated several tons of marijuana from an abandoned DC-3 airplane in McDuffie County.
After obtaining enough for “evidence,” the state law enforcement agency decided to burn the rest inside some giant paper mill kilns in Wilkes County.
Someone thought the sight of tons of marijuana going up in smoke might be a great photo from the air, so the case was made, and the helicopter summoned.
Soon a reporter and photographer were on their way to the drug destruction.
They said they got the pilot to fly through the thick cloud of pot smoke numerous times, but reported no noticeable effect, disappointing several colleagues who predicted they would return more loopy than normal.