In 1959 Desi Arnaz and his wife Lucille Ball made the decision to dismantle the Tara façade from the Old Selznick backlot where Gone with the Wind was filmed (which DesiLu Productions had acquired in 1956) and it became the property of Julian Foster who brought it to Atlanta in 1960 for the purpose of creating a Gone with the Wind Museum in the land that was the center of the book and movie. But after the celebratory arrival the plans for the museum lost steam and it was stored away from prying eyes and “sticky fingers”. In 1979 the late Betty Talmadge (then wife of Senator Herman Talmadge), herself an entrepreneur set out to contact Tara’s owner and attempt a purchase.
Julian Foster agreed to meet Ms. Betty and agreed to show her the façade IF she would agree to be blindfolded so that she could not retrace her steps to its hiding place. Betty agreed to the terms of the “tour” and was thus driven,…blindfolded onto the backroads of a sparsely populated area north of Alpharetta where they stopped near a couple of small “car sheds” that held the earthly remains of the most recognizable movie set of all time….Tara. According to the few photo copied photos I have the Tara façade was in such a small space that the windows and doors and side porches were stacked very tightly together and thus it continues to amaze me that ANY of it survived as one would think that it would have seen been food for termites rather than lasting in that state for twenty (20) years.
After Ms. Betty’s visit she made the decision to contact Foster and make him an offer for all of the Tara façade and so she did, and Tara from the movie Gone with the Wind was now hers…except for one problem…she had no idea where it was. Soon after the negotiations and purchase, Mr. Foster died and Ms. Betty was left with a receipt for Tara but no idea where it was located other than the fact is was north of Atlanta. But as the wife of a U.S. Senator and the daughter in law of the former Governor of Georgia, Ms. Betty had some political muscle and she exerted that to get the help of the local Police, the Georgia State Patrol and the National Guard. But even with those resources, finding Tara stacked in a barn in North Georgia began to look hopeless. But it was then that Ms. Betty rose to the challenge and called Fosters widow and asked if she would look through his checkbook and there they found a cancelled check for $100.00 for the rent of…you guessed it….a couple of small barns north of Atlanta.
Last week I had the opportunity to drive to that far away piece of ground (about two hours from my home) and “sniff around” and see if I could find those two old barns. In Ms. Betty’s files amongst the photos and congratulatory letters I found a few old Georgia maps that had been cut and pasted together to show an area north of Atlanta. And on that map were dozens of “x” marks and notations as Ms. Betty and her staff searched the backroads for her prize. But I also had in that file the correspondence from the owner of the property and the attorneys involved so unlike Ms. Betty I was able to set my GPS and drive straight to the site. Along the way I thought of how hard the drive must have been to pull an old pine straw trailer up the two lane highway from Lovejoy to the mountain roads. I guessed my two hour ride in air conditioned comfort was more like a four hour ride each way in that old ford truck.
When I arrived on the top of that hill I could see why Foster chose the site to hide Tara. Even with today’s migration to these mountains resulting in the large houses and horse farms, there is still enough of the rural back roads to conceal an icon. When I drove onto the property and met the current owner I was happy to hear of his love for history and his connection to the area….and he was excited to hear of my quest. Well after a short discussion it was determined that the barn I was looking for was further back on the property and not available to me at that time so my host said he would meet me later this week and together we would do our best to find the remnants of Tara’s North Georgia home where the million dollar artifact was stacked and stored for twenty years. At present I’m hoping that Sharon can go with me so that I can get a little help filming the area, and she loves a good mystery…and she’s fun to be with…and she has a better sense of direction.
I am also looking for the original photos and to talk with some of the other folks involved in the transaction and rest assured that when I do I will share it here, for I believe that all the history is worth noting and sharing and these little tidbits help to fill in the pages of an interesting tale. Before Ms. Betty’s death in 2005, I had the opportunity to see her in Atlanta and I shared a laugh over her adventure in finding the Tara façade. One of the last things I said to her was that, “we need to get a film crew up here to talk with you and shoot this story before we get too old to care”. Well this is my chance to get it done so the next folks to walk this path will have a few markers to follow along the way.
I’ll be looking for you all up at the gate.