Posts Tagged ‘Callaway Foundation’

LaGrange Revisited II

May 13, 2009

The memories poured back recently when I spent a couple of days in LaGrange.  Downtown  has changed since I was there,  but a lot is just like it was in 1950 when I was a 19-year-old radio announcer at WLAG.  My first major assignment at WLAG was to play Santa Claus and read letters to him. I faked a big deep voice and did a lot of ho,ho, hoing.  In my regular voice,  I also did  newscasts, disc-jockey work,  and commercials. 

WLAG, LAGrange

WLAG, LAGrange

WLAG is still on the air.  It’s an all-sports ESPN affiliate.  When I was there, it was a Mutual network affiliate.   It’s still on Broome Street,  but it’s across the street from where it was in 1950.  Standing where the old studio was located is the relatively new Promenade Parking garage that serves the downtown area.

Promanade Parking garage, downtown LaGrange, GA

Promanade Parking garage, downtown LaGrange, GA

 That parking garage and the rest of the downtown revitalization program has been made possible, in large part, by donations from the Callaway Foundation.   That foundation was established by Fuller Callaway, Jr.  in 1942 with a $1.5 million donation.  That $1.5 million, the only contribution ever made to the foundation,  has grown,  totally though investments,  to almost $200,000,000.

Main Street, LaGrange, GA

Main Street, LaGrange, GA

When we went over to Main Street, where more Callaway Foundation money has funded extensive renovations,  making historic old building viable for use today,  it looked a lot like it did in 1950.  There is a vast difference though.  Main Street now sports some fine restaurants. We tried Tulla’s Cajun Bar and Grill.  Outstanding food and ambiance.  

Another dining experience I would recommend is the Lemmon Tree, where we had lunch.  Best vegetables I have ever tasted,  and the corn bread is like “Mama use to make.”   

LaGrange 10 movie multiplex, LaGrange, GA

LaGrange 10 movie multiplex, LaGrange, GA

When I worked at WLAG,  I spent a lot of time at the LaGrange Theater, which was about a 20-second walk from the station. Among the great movies I saw there was “Twelve O’clock High,”  with Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger.  Jagger won the 1949 best supporting actor Oscar for his role in that one.     There is still a LaGrange theater at that location,  but it’s a lot bigger, sporting 10 screens.  Carmike Cinemas,  whose national headquarters is in Columbus, operates the multiplex, but even this was made possible by Callaway Foundation downtown revitalization money.  The city used the money to build it and leases it to Carmike. 

Callaway Mills are long gone from LaGrange – the late Fuller Callaway, Jr. sold the mills in 1968 –  but the legacy of mill profits that went into the Callaway Foundation lives on.  You see it everywhere in improvements that make LaGrange a nice place to live.  The latest beneficiary of that money is LaGrange College.  I’ll tell about that on a future post.

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LaGrange Revisited

May 3, 2009
Tours

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.