Friday, June 1, 2012

Unstaged, academic, and emotional: the Aronstam House by Pringle and Smith 1928

As I entered, I lost my focus and objectivity. I needed a plan, days of preparation, and a camera bigger than my head to take it in. So I just let go and wandered around. This is the most fun an architecture tourist can have on a weekday.

Last Tuesday I spotted balloons on Ponce de Leon and turned down Lullwater. There it was, a hilltop Druid Hills mansion, almost 6000 square feet on a couple of acres, $2.1M, open for a few hours. You just don't get to do this unless you are in the business.

It's by Pringle and Smith. I wondered if it was in Robert Craig's new book, "The Architecture of Francis Palmer Smith, Atlanta's Scholar Architect" Yes it is, on pages 82-83, but that doesn't settle everything. The tax records say 1924, the book says 1928.

It's way up there and a bit overgrown.

Robert Craig:
"For suburban dwellers in Druid Hills and Peachtree Heigths Park, a Georgian Revival residence brought adequate sophistication and elegance without the domineering scale or show of a palatial country house."

Robert Craig:
"...main focus is the elaborate entry-door frame. Here a broken swan's-neck pediment with an urn finial recalls... (the) south door of Westover..."

This is a big house but it doesn't seem THAT big. It's just 5 bays.

It was a slog up the driveway to the front door, not girl scout cookie friendly. I doubt many folks used the front door.

As I approached, the house began revealing it age.

Walk inside with me: The wall-papered foyer, the grand arch to the stair hall, to the dining room. On the right the library, to the left the living room and doorways to the to the enclosed porch and dining room.

Robert Craig:
"...the formality of the facade has given way to the lifestyle of the modern suburbanite, and Pringle and Smith planning reflects the freer movement from room to room of occupants not governed by the authority of absolute classicism."

I had just a few minutes.

Mrs. Robinson said only two families lived there, one raised 5 children there but no one had lived there in more than a decade.

It was the real thing. I was looking from the stair hall through the great arch across the foyer into the living room.

It had been cleaned out a bit but it hadn't been staged. It was in "lived-in" condition rather than move-in condition. The basement looked and smelled all of its nearly 90 years, a realistic smell, not a bad small.

I'd never seen Greek key in crown molding before.

Bulges, fluting, spider webs, and acanthus leaves are refined and quiet

The lower arch leads to the side door. Surely this area was a busy place for a family of 7. In Shutze's Knollwood, an elaborate stair is front and center, not here.

Robert Craig:
"The 'front and center' entry of the Aronstam residence leads to a center hall, but ells to the right, halfway back, to reveal the main stair hall set off to one side."

I loved the stairs, sturdy and wide, lit from the north. I imagined kids banging their way up and down day and night.

The bedrooms are upstairs. They open to this big hall. What do "modern" folks do with a room like this?

This is a Jack and Jill bath. The bathrooms aren't my style but I fell in love. They are all like this. I weep to think of them redecorated, gutted.

I was lost in thought when I realized I was alone, they were closing up.

I'd not seen anything and I'd wouldn't get another chance.


Louis Aronstam was president on Southern GF Steel which remains a going concern after 100 years.


  1. I can't believe it's been empty for a decade! I love the commodious proportions of those rooms - especially the upper hallway.

  2. I think it's just the way it has worked out with the family, nothing wrong, untoward or tragic about it. I think it's fresh with family memories rather than spic and span staged. It seemed as solid as Stone Mountain.

  3. Have been to 2 of this type thru the years. They get larger as you approach. Huge homes looking normal from the street.

    Their upstairs hall is exactly what the antebellum Ferguson Estate has in Milledgeville.

    XO T


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