'Augusta's First Skyscraper' to be preserved

The vacant Marion Building, once hailed as "Augusta's First Skyscraper," has new owners who hope to preserve the Broad Street landmark for redevelopment.

 

"The plan is to have it properly mothballed until such time it can be used again," said Clay Boardman, one of the new owners. "But it will be protected."

The 10-story, limestone and stucco-faced building opened in 1914 as The Chronicle Building, the headquarters of The Augusta Chronicle.

It was gutted during the 1916 fire and became the Marion Building in 1921 after its acquisition by Jacob Phinizy.

Its purchase by Marion Partners LLC represents an equal ownership between Boardman and Barry Storey, a managing partner with Hull Storey Gibson Cos. LLC.

The previous owners, Bettis Rainsford and Bryan Haltermann, acquired the building 19 years ago and were interested in selling.

"They wanted to get out, and I wasn't really looking to get in, but it was available, and I think it was a pretty good deal," Boardman said.

The purchase price, according to Richmond County property records, was $200,000.

Current stabilization efforts include replacing the roof, restoring windows and gutting portions of the interior, he said. "We want to create a nice, dry shell."

Contractors received permission from the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission in March for limited demolition that included removal of a former restaurant behind the building, said Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta Inc.

Boardman said there are no definite plans for the building.

"We don't want to create any expectations that something will happen anytime soon," he said. "We're probably looking about five years out, and we will have to see what is in demand at that point.

"Right now, we don't know."

Possibilities include retail fronting on Broad Street, with offices on the lower floors and apartments or condominiums in the upper stories, he said, noting that the previous owners had drawn up plans long ago to convert the building to housing.

Challenges to redevelopment include a lack of parking and the need for major upgrades in the building's elevators and other primary systems.

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Rebuilding the past
The history of the Marion Building

THE BUILDING

The Marion Building was designed early in the career of G. Lloyd Preacher, who went on to become one of the South's most influential architects.

Upon its opening, the 10-story building was hailed as "Augusta's First Skyscraper." It was faced with limestone up to the first three stories, and then buff press brick to the eighth. The top two stories were faced with ornamental terra cotta.

Preacher described the building in a statement Dec. 13, 1914, highlighting in particular its modern conveniences.

"The heating system is the best that can be had with a vacuum vapor circulating system. There's enough radiation to overheat the building in zero weather, if desired. All floors are provided with vacuum cleaning outlets so that the offices may be perfectly cleaned without dust. Sufficient electric lighting is provided throughout, and every office has a lavatory and an abundance of hot and cold water," Preacher said.

Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta Inc., explains that the original plan for the block didn't quite pan out.

"When it was originally built, it was just half of what they eventually planned to build," he said. "The plan was to build a second half identical to the first part. If you look at the east side, it is very plain -- it wasn't intended to stay that way."

THE ARCHITECT

Preacher's notable buildings include Atlanta's ornate, art-deco city hall.

Other Augusta buildings he was involved in include:

- Imperial Theatre

- The firehouse on Broad Street, now known as the Marbury Center

Statement of G. Lloyd Preacher, Architect, upon opening of "Augusta's First Skyscraper," Dec. 13, 1914:

"The Chronicle Building, now ready for occupancy, stands facing the south on Broad Street in a class by itself, distinctive and Individual. The building stands ten stories high and possesses all modern conveniences and equipment. It is faced on front with limestone to third floor level, then buff press brick to the eighth story. The two top stories are faced with ornamental polychrome terra cotta in harmonious colors and the entire exterior of the building is trimmed in terra cotta---such as window sills, lintels, etc. All interior floors and partitions are fireproof and the elevator doors, windows on down-town side, etc., are also absolutely fireproof. The first floor lobby Is decorated with a high marble wainscoting and plaster cornices. The offices and corridors on the upper floors have smooth inish plaster walls. The corridors all .have tile floors and wainscotings of Georgia marble. Ample toilets are provided and they are finished in tile. The trim throughout is genuine oak with veneer doors. The heating system is the best that can be had with a vacuum vapor circulating system. There enough radiation to overheat-the building in zero weather if desired. All floors are provided with vacuum cleaning outlets so that the offices may be perfectly cleaned without dust. Sufficient electric lighting is provided throughout, and every office has a lavatory and an abundance of hot and cold water. There are also two fast elevators, perfectly equipped with Indicators, insuring fast service."

More on G. Lloyd Preacher, famed Southern architect:

http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-1072