I’ll admit that sometimes I am reactionary and a statement or question gets my motor running and I can do no less than chime in. Well, the other day a few posts on facebook regarding Tara’s front doorway now on display at the Margaret Mitchell House pushed a button in my head and so,…here I am to share the story (the true one) of how the front doorway of Tara came to be displayed at the Margaret Mitchell House Museum in Atlanta.
After Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball (the owners of the old Selznick back lot in 1959) made the decision to have the Tara façade dismantled, it was shipped by its new owner, Julian Foster to Atlanta Georgia to be the center piece of the planned museum for Tara. When Tara arrived at the State Capital in Atlanta there were lots of dignitaries, a band (in Confederate uniform) historians to weigh in on the connections to the area, …. and media everywhere to cover the event. But the plans failed (the reason is still not apparent in the files) and thus the Tara façade (the doors, windows and side porches) were taken to Holly Springs just north of Marietta, Georgia (yes, I’ve been to the spot) and stored in two “car sheds” (the old term for a small garage that was the size of a 1930 Model A Ford). In the photos I have in Betty’s file, the doorway and all the pieces of Tara were stacked horizontally in the little buildings until they touched the ceiling, and there was nothing to denote the importance of the stack of lumber protruding from the doorways.
When Mrs. Betty Talmadge arrived to see the Tara façade with the hope of purchasing it, I’m sure her heart sank to see it in such a state. The doorway was simply dismantled and stuffed inside with all the other artifacts, covered in dirt and unrecognizable as the O’Hara’s home in Gone with the Wind. But when Mrs. Betty got the chance to purchase the pile of wood she did not hesitate and Tara was loaded into an old cattle trailer and a few pickup trucks with campers for the ride to here 3,000 acre plantation 25 miles south of south of Atlanta. Mrs. Betty made the purchase in 1980 and so the Tara façade had been stuffed in those building for 20 years, but it was her plan not to see it stuffed away ever again.
In 1989, Mrs. Betty agreed to loan the front doorway to the Atlanta History Center in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Premier of Gone with the Wind in 1939 at the Lowes Grande in Atlanta. The loan of the doorway was to be temporary (the agreements are in the files) and Mrs. Betty would pay the cost of the restoration to make the door and its large frame a shining star in the festivities. At the time of its restoration many of the pieces of the door had to be replaced and so custom woodworking was done to recreate the damaged pieces (many of which, along with the extra newly milled pieces are stored in the barn at Lovejoy today).In the photo with this post you can see Atlanta Historian Franklin Garret standing next to the door in mid restoration. A book detailing the process was created at that time and is still in the hands of the Atlanta History Center although the contract states that it is the property (along with the doorway) of the Talmadge family and cannot be published without their permission.
After the successful display at the History Center the doorway was dismantled and was shipped to Lovejoy for a party in which Ted Turner and Jane Fonda were guests. It was Mrs. Bettys hope at that time that Turner (GWTW played daily at his CNN Center) would help to create the museum that Tara always deserved. However, nothing came of the meeting and the front doorway was placed on temporary display at its current site at the Margaret Mitchell House Museum in Atlanta.
Today the front doorway is STILL the sole property of the Talmadge family. And today the only money ever spent to restore it came from the Talmadges. Many of the current GWTW Museums display items from private collections and for that the owners receive a check; however, the Talmadge family has continued to allow the doorway to be displayed without ever receiving any payment for its use. And I believe that is worth noting for those of you who stand in front of it to get your photo taken and then dismiss the rest of Tara waiting for its opportunity to shine in the old dairy barn in Lovejoy. How much of a museum could have been built if a small amount of the tours generated by the front door was used to build a building?
The doorway continues on display due to the kindness of the Talmadge family and the fact that at present there is not place in the dairy barn for the restored doorway. I have had a number of inquiries around the world and I truly believe that is should make a trip across the waters so that is fans so far away can have a chance to see a piece of the iconic home of Scarlett O’Hara. So for now be sure to stop in at the Margaret Mitchell House and view the front doorway, and tell them I sent you!
Today the work continues, the story goes on and there are two tours scheduled for the Tara façade on Friday and Saturday, October 28-29 at 10:00 AM both days. For those interested the cost for the 90 minute tour is $20.00 and you must contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your spot. For those who would like to learn more of the Tara façade, my book, signed copies of The Official Guide to the Saving Tara Project is available at savingtara.com.
I look forward to seeing you up at the gate.