Archive for the ‘Homes’ Category

Why I Enjoyed the Swan House More Than…

April 19, 2015
Emily Inman's Parlor in the Swan House in Atlanta's tony Biuckhead.

Emily Inman’s Parlor in the Swan House in Atlanta’s tony Biuckhead.

…the Civil War exhibit at the Atlanta Historical Society Center.  I didn’t enjoy the Swan House more because of any shortcomings of “The Turning Point: the American Civil War,”  because it is a very impressive exhibit of  some 1400 Civil War artifacts, but because it really brings home just  how horrific that war was. 670,000 people died in that war, many of them from dysentery.  And to think that if a man owned 20 or more slaves in the Georgia, South he was exempted from being drafted.  Yes, it was a “rich man’s war, but a poor man’s fight,”  as a a lot of the poor farm boys who were doing most of the fighting said.  This idea is very effectively explored in David William’s Rich Man’s War: Class, Caste, and Confederate Defeat in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley. I read it about ten years ago. It really came to mind again as I walked through that exhibit at the Atlanta History Museum.  

  The Swan House, built in 1928 ,  gives us a good idea of what it was to be really rich in Atlanta in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Located in very tony Buckhead,  it was built for Edward and Emily Inman whose fortune was made from investments in cotton brokerage, real estate, and banking.  He didn’t get to enjoy the house but three years because he died in 1931. But, Emily lived there until 1966 when she sold it to the Atlanta Historical Society for $500 thousand. It  took $5.4 million to restore it. 

I saw it with a fine group of folks who are members of the Columbus Academy of Lifelong Learning.  One of them,  my friend Julie Bray, asked me if I would like to live in the Swan House. With no hesitation, I said “No. It would be like living in a museum.” Of course it would, because it now IS a museum.   


It’s Headed for the Dock!

June 8, 2009

The graduation of my grand-nephew from Nova Southeastern University’s medical college was also special for a reason other than his impressive achievement.  I got to drive a 55-foot yacht!  That alone was worth the flight – a very pleasant one, by the way, which I’ll tell you about in a future post –  to Fort Lauderdale .

05 25_Ft.Lauderdale_0979

The Inn Sanity

Me steering the Inn Sanity, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Me steering the Inn Sanity, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

This was made possible by my niece Janet Sue Gray,  graduate  Gibson’s mom,   who is famous in our family for coming up with unique experiences.  Instead of settling for a hotel,  she went  online and found a beautiful Florida home with five bedrooms and 4 baths, which she rented for a week.  Turns out, though not cheap,  it was cheaper per person than a first-rate hotel would have been.

Music room in Ft. Lauderdale vacation house owned by Mr. and Mrs. Mitch Tunkel

Music room in Ft. Lauderdale vacation house owned by Mr. and Mrs. Mitch Tunkel


Janet Sue, Gordon, Gibson Gray, Tunkel vacation home pool

Janet Sue, Gordon, Gibson Gray, Tunkel vacation home pool

A highlight of the home was its tropical backyard with a hot tub and swimming pool that features underwater lights that segue from blue to purple to green to red, a waterfall,  and enough tables and chairs to seat 15 people for dinner.  (One night I fixed my incomparable spaghetti and meat balls. Smash hit with the family –  at least, that’s what they said –  especially since Taylor, Gibson’s brother, a gourmand cook,  prepared a super salad.)

Taylor Gray's salad

Taylor Gray's salad

And,  the theatrically tropical  backyard is backdropped with the 55-foot yacht.  Mitch   and his wife own both the yacht and the house.  Part of the deal  is that you get an afternoon and evening tour on the intracoastal waterway which winds its way through downtown Fort Lauderdale, which has a magic charm to it at night.  In our case, since we were celebrating Gibson’s graduation,  Mitch took the boat to the famous 15th Street Seafood Restaurant  where we docked and had a great dinner.

Janet Sue Gray, Dick McMichael, Gordon Gray, Catherine Gray, Gibson Gray

Janet Sue Gray, Dick McMichael, Gordon Gray, Catherine Gray, Gibson Gray, Ft Lauderdale, FL

The highlight for me, though, was on the way to the restaurant, since Mitch offered to let his passengers drive the boat.  Now that was a kick, especially going under a draw bridge.  I did it for a while and then offered someone else time at the wheel, and  Taylor  took over until we reached the restaurant’s dock.  For some reason, maybe to protect his hundreds-of- thousands-of- dollars investment – the boat, new, runs about $1.6 million – Mitch took over.  As any boats-man knows, docking, like landing an airplane,  is the hardest part.  Just imagine ramming a 55-foot yatch into a docking pier.  

 That worried me a bit after we left the restaurant for the sensational night tour.  When I went to the top bridge – there are two, one enclosed for inclement weather, and one on top, the flybridge,  in the open – after we pulled away from the dock, Mitch said, “Take over. I need to take care of some things. Just aim it for that drawbridge.”  Then he quickly showed me how the gears and throttle controls worked and climbed down the ladder to the lower bridge.
Drawbridge opens for Inn Sanity, Mitch Tunkel's 55-foot Yatch, Fort Lauderdale

Drawbridge opens for Inn Sanity, Mitch Tunkel's 55-foot Yacht, Fort Lauderdale

Yipes!  I was all alone on the flybridge, driving this big, expensive boat at night and really didn’t quite understand what he was talking about when he explained the controls.  At one time I had a small run-about which I used for taking my family and friends water-skiing, but it only had one combined gear and throttle control.  Anyway, my delight quickly morphed into  anxiety as I tried to steer toward the drawbridge.  

I turned the wheel to the left – I guess I should say to the port for boating purists – and it started heading that way, but not for long.  It started drifting to the right – okay, starboard – back toward the dock.  What?  I turned the wheel the right way but the big boat is turning the other way.

I started monkeying with the controls, getting the gears mixed up with the throttles. Finally I pushed the right gear control forward and the Inn Sanity – really, that’ what Mitch named his yatch because when he bought it he owned and operated a hotel – started turning the way I wanted it to, to the left, uh, port,  but by thst time I started yelling for Mitch to get back to the top bridge.  I could just see me destroying a side of his yacht and a portion of the docking pier.  He finally came sauntering back up the ladder, totally unconcerned, and took over again.  “It was no problem. I was watching what was going on all the time.”

“When I turned the wheel, it wouldn’t respond.” 

“That’s because you were in neutral.”


LaGrange Revisited

May 3, 2009

Hills and Dales, Fuller Callaway Mansion, LaGrange, Georgia
Hills and Dales, Fuller Callaway Mansion, LaGrange, Georgia

You really don’t have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to find interesting places to visit, which, in these economic times, is a good thing.  For instance if you live within a 50 mile radius of LaGrange, Georgia,  you will probably enjoy spending a couple of days there.  I did, last week.

LaGrange holds sort of a special interest for me because, not only do I have some friends there,  I lived there myself almost 60 years ago.  And, yes it has truly changed in that length of time. I went to work at WLAG in LaGrange in December of 1949.  I’ll get into that on a future post.

In 1950, LaGrange was most definitely a mill town,   the Callaway Mills’ town.   The power of the Callaways in LaGrange was legendary.  “You don’t open a business in LaGrange unless Fuller Callaway, Jr. says you can,” someone told me.  I don’t know how true that was,  but after I saw Hills and Dales, the Italian Villa style mansion last week,  it was easy for me to grasp that the Callaways were royalty in LaGrange.

Hills and Dales Italianate Villa, Front Entrance, LaGrange, Georgia

Hills and Dales Italianate Villa, Front Entrance, LaGrange, Georgia

The incredible opulence and beauty of this place is close to breathtaking.  It was built in 1916 for Fuller Callaway, Sr, the founder of the Callaway fortune.   Fuller’s wife Alice devoted a lot of her time to the estate’s sumptuous formal gardens.  It looks like something you would see in a European palace,  or that great American Palace, the Vanderbilt Home in  North Carolina.

When Fuller Callaway, Jr. died in 1992,  the  family followed his wishes and gave the property to the Fuller Callaway Foundation and opened it to the public, which is what the Vanderbilt family did when George  Vanderbilt II died in 1914.

Picture taking is not allowed inside the Callaway villa, “but you can take all you want on the outside,” our guide told us.  That’s the reason you don’t see any indoor shots.  It was about what I would expect it to be on the inside,  large rooms with high ceilings,  expensively ornate and pretentious.

Titanic Grand Staircase, 1911

Titanic Grand Staircase, 1911

The living room with its grand staircase made me think of the grand staircase on the Titantic. 

Hills and Dales formal gardens,  LaGrange, Georgia

Hills and Dales formal gardens, LaGrange, Georgia

And everywhere you turn in the formal garden you can take an interesting picture.  One of the most intresting topiaries is the one that spells the word God,  which was first planted and developed by Sarah Ferrell who started the gardens long before Fuller Callaway purchased the property. 

Hills and Dales formal gardens, LaGrange, Georgia

Hills and Dales formal gardens, LaGrange, Georgia

As I toured this estate I had to reflect on the wealth it represented and the way the money was earned, for the most part, with the help of many hundreds of mill workers who ran and maintained the looms and lived in mill villages.  Some of those workers tried to unionize in the mid 1930’s,  but were unsuccessful.   The Callaways took a patriarchal approach, supplying many services for the workers and their families,  including a big gymnasium and swimming pool.  They also gave a lot of money to public institutions in LaGrange, including Lagrange College.  And the Callaway Foundation continues to pour money into civic projects and public institutions in LaGrange to this day.  

Coming up on this blog,  how LaGrange has improved its downtown area, including a restaurant that serves the best cooked fresh vegetables I have ever tasted.

Is Now A Good Time to Buy A House?

July 7, 2008

   When I called Sandi Green to get a state of the state of real estate in the Columbus area, I was prepared to hear her say that business is great. Sandi is president of the Columbus Board of Realtors. She also sells for Waddell Realty Company. The reason I was prepared to hear that business is great is that over the years I have come to the conclusion that no matter how business really is a sales person will say it’s great. I figured it was simply a matter of sales psychology. You could say that I have become cynical, but I like the term skeptical better. After all, I was in the news business for more than half a century and you had better be skeptical if you want to be a decent reporter.


Sandi Green
Columbus Board of Realtors President
  Refreshingly, I have come across some car sales people who admitted that business is lousy right now. Sandi didn’t, to her credit, say business is great, but she made it clear that she was doing fine, as well as most of the old established real estate agents. They, she says, have built up a large enough loyal client base to keep them busy. It’s the newer agents who are having a tougher time right now. 


  Are prices down, I asked her. “No,” she said, but qualified that statement with, “but some people are accepting less than the appraised value to sell their home. Let’s say you got a job in New York and you can’t afford to pay rent there and a house payment in Columbus; you’ll take less.”


  “Now,” she said, “this will cause the comp price to come down in the future.” I asked her to translate the real estate jargon phrase “comp price” for ordinary folks like me. “That means comparable price. You sell your house for less and that brings down the appraised price in the future. That also can help bring down the appraised value of other houses in the same neighborhood.”


  While saying the older established agents are still selling well, she did admit that the inventory of homes for sale is large right now. “People are hearing these stories in the media about the national housing slump and become frightened and that affects their decisions to buy or sell. Like, I always say, like politics, all real estate is local. The Columbus economy is not like the national economy. It’s good, and it’s going to get even better with all of those people coming in here because of Fort Benning getting more troops and the big Kia plant being built at West Point.”


  What about all of those foreclosures?


 “Well, there has been a lot of that for those people who had those sub-prime loans.”


  How well are those homes reselling?


“Some are selling, but sometimes less than appraised value. I know of one home that was first sold for 490 thousand dollars and was resold for 265 thousand. There is some problem with selling those, because when people see a bunch of them up for sale on one street in a neighborhood, they become a little afraid to buy them.”



  In summary:


 – There are a lot of homes for sale right now and a lot of people are taking less than the asking price.


– That could bring down prices in the future.


– News about the national economy and home sales slump has affected the Columbus market irrationally because the Columbus economy is good and promises to get better. 


– Bottom line: it’s a good time to buy a home. (I get the feeling that real estate agents always say that, and, for them, that’s true.) But, if you wait a little, it could be an even better time because people taking less than the appraised value now will possibly bring down appraisals in the future.