One of Atlanta's most treasured historic residences has been saved and restored by the Historic Preservation department of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). In one of the most complex restorations ever to be undertaken in the city, students and faculty in the school's preservation and interior design programs prevented the house from sinking further into a state of decay caused by a fire and abandonment.

SCAD took possession of the house, originally called Ivy Hall, in 2005 and began its high-level restoration work in April 2007. Work was completed in fall 2008 at a cost of $3 million, and the house officially opened on Oct. 3, 2008. Its nine rooms now serve as the college's center for literature and cultural arts and are used daily for classes, lectures, readings, and performances, in addition to housing a scholar-in-residence.

"It was a rather dynamic project for the college, because this particular structure had been the focus of a lot of media attention over the years," says Robert Dickensheets, SCAD's historic preservation specialist and a faculty member in the college's Historic Preservation program. The rehabilitation earned SCAD a 2008 Honorable Recognition Award from the Georgia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

the history of the house

Designed by Swedish architect Gottfried L. Norrman in 1883, the house is considered to be one of the earliest examples of the Queen Anne Victorian style. Ivy Hall's property occupies an entire city block and originally included formal gardens and housed livestock. It was home to Edward C. Peters, son of Atlanta businessman Richard Peters, who was regarded as one of the city's founders. Respected both as leaders of industry and generous philanthropists within the community, the Peters family owned and occupied the home from 1883 until 1970, when its last member died. Only two changes were made to the structure in that time: the addition of an elevator in the 1930s and a bathroom addition in the 1980s.

In 1972 Ivy Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the Edward C. Peters House, and in 1989 the Atlanta Urban Design Commission designated it a Landmark Building. It was purchased by an investment group in 1971 and converted into a restaurant called The Mansion. The owners remodeled the house with an addition that won the Atlanta Urban Design Commission Award.

When the restaurant failed, the house was purchased by a developer who proposed turning the property into condominiums. The Atlanta Urban Design Commission blocked the plan but the company appealed, according to the Atlanta Preservation Center. During this period the historic carriage house was demolished, and in 2000 a fire severely damaged the house's upper level. Ivy Hall sat vacant for several years and was prey to water infiltration, rot, and vandalism. It became so deteriorated that the Atlanta Preservation Center listed the house as one of the most endangered buildings in the city in 2001 and 2003, citing the quality of its interior architectural ornamentation and its importance as the most complete representation of 19th-century domestic architecture in Atlanta. With the development process stalled, the owner agreed to donate Ivy Hall and its property to SCAD for restoration in 2005.

the restoration process

Luckily, the 4,399-square-foot house was not irreparably damaged. "We took on a building that structurally was in very good condition, but the precious interior surfaces had received a lot of damage," Dickensheets says. The house's interiors were highly decorated with typical Victorian touches, including plaster moldings and ornaments, stone and wood carvings, decorative metalwork, Lincrusta wall coverings, beveled glass windows, embossed leather, Corbin hardware, and casework in five wood species, including curly pine. Every surface and embellishment—many of them very rare—had to be restored or conserved, according to Dickensheets. SCAD's preservation team had to replicate some elements that could not be salvaged or that had been stolen. The team milled trimwork on site and replicated missing hardware in SCAD's foundry. Some structural work also was necessary, including shoring up the foundations and the triple-arched entry porte cochere, which supports the original sleeping porch, now glass-enclosed.

Historic Preservation students and alumni conducted archival research, materials and paint analysis, documentation, deconstruction, and hands-on conservation and construction work. "SCAD has a wonderful history of its preservation program being a very practical applied program, strong on intellectual academics but also hands-on experience," says Dickensheets.

During the restoration, the preservation team employed a variety of sustainable practices to retain as much of the original structure and materials as possible and reduce the site development's impact, primarily by using local materials, Dickensheets says. The existing slate roof tiles were in good condition, so they were reinstalled after repairs to the roof deck and are expected to last for 50 years. Heart pine roof timbers damaged by rot were removed and milled for trim material, flooring, and window repairs. Steel and other metal from the 1980s restaurant addition were recycled, while concrete block from the demolished addition was crushed and used in the adjacent condominium development. Sand excavated from the condominium project was in turn used in the mortar mix for repointing the house's masonry, and granite found on the house site was used to shore up the existing basement foundation.

Ivy Hall now stands in near-original condition; the only major changes are a new bathroom shower area in a former closet, ADA accommodations, a zoned HVAC system, modern lighting, and other technologies necessary for conducting classes. SCAD interior design students were instrumental in the successful integration of lighting systems into the historic interiors, in analyzing original floor plans and determining how to restore or change them, and choosing historically accurate paint colors, according to Dickensheets.

Several professional firms assisted with the Ivy Hall conservation, among them Surber Barber Choate & Hertlein Architects; Tunnell and Tunnell Landscape Architecture; general contractor John Wesley Hammer Construction Co.; conservator Kate Singley, AIC; and condo project developer The Providence Group, a division of Jolly Development.

PBS produced a five-part television series on the Ivy Hall restoration called The Art of Restoration—Ivy Hall, available online for viewing here. For a photographic gallery of SCAD's Ivy Hall restoration work, visit SCAD's Historic Restoration department Web site.