Restaurant owner responds to concerns about changes to former H. Harper Station building

Changes to the building at 904 Memorial Dr. SE, formerly the location of H. Harper Station, has upset some residents in Reynoldstown and surrounding communities. Image credit: Facebook

When H. Harper Station announced it would be closing in April, it hit Atlanta’s cocktail community hard.

The 80-year old train depot in Reynoldstown served as a restaurant during the height of Atlanta’s cocktail culture when everyone had high hopes for the soon-to-come Eastside trail of the BeltLine.

More than a year after H. Harper Station took leave of the space, the BeltLine expansion is a reality and 904 Memorial Drive S.E. has a new occupant. Michael Lennox, of  Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall, announced early this year that he would be opening not one, but two new restaurants in the building.

The Golden Eagle, “a workingman’s tavern,” and Muchacho, a West Coast influenced counter service hangout, will both operate in the space, divided by an interior brick wall. But now that development is underway, it is the brick on the outside of the building that has everyone talking.

This week, locals handed out some harsh criticism to Lennox, who decided to paint the exterior brick of the abandoned train depot turned restaurant. Images of the building with a fresh coat of white paint were shared on various social media platforms.

Some residents expressed concern that the building was under historic protection (it is not, more on this below), others argued that it was at least an architecturally pleasing building and should have been left alone.

The building at 904 Memorial Drive S.E. when it was H. Harper Station.

The painted brick at 904 Memorial Dr. S.E. is upsetting to neighbors who felt restaurant owner, Michael Lennox, should have left the masonry as it was. Image credit: Facebook.

Conversations ensued about what could be done, who to call for an intervention and if the paint job was really permanent or if the building was being sandblasted. A minority of residents spoke up in support of Lennox, suggesting that the community give his plan a chance.

Things took a really harsh turn when neighbors began logging negative reviews on the Facebook page of the yet-to-open Golden Eagle. It got so bad, the page was shut down. Residents also took aim at Elizabeth Ingram — the award-winning designer who is working with Lennox on the project — by giving her business a one star rating on her Facebook page.

“I get that people are upset, but trying to besmirch my integrity? That is really out of proportion,” Ingram said. She followed the wishes of her client in painting the building, she said.

“Would it have been my first choice to paint the building? No. Was it my choice at all? No,” she said. Ingram said she proposed a historical white that would work with the roof and the stone (which remains unpainted.)

The big picture, she said, is that Lennox is taking over a previously empty space and trying to make it work. Had the building’s owner decided to cash it in and sell, she said, the community would be dealing with a much different scenario.

Residents hoping to return the building to its former appearance tossed around the idea of reaching out to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission with their concerns, but in this case, it would not have helped.

“This building it not a Landmark Building, therefore review of the exterior changes (in this case, the painting of the exterior masonry) does not fall under the UDC’s purview,” said city officials. The property is also not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the National Register program. And even if it were, that would not grant any regulatory protection.

Lennox, an Atlanta native, said he has “a deep appreciation of the city and its history.”

“I’m looking forward to opening two new restaurants in Reynoldstown — The Golden Eagle and Muchacho —  inside the historic Atlanta & West Point Railroad depot building that I chose because of its unique architecture, story and location on the Atlanta Beltline,” said Lennox noting  that the abandoned train depot has hosted two restaurants since 2007.

“Two restaurants have not made it there, and any time a building has trouble finding a sustained user it becomes vulnerable to disappearing. The restaurant industry is particularly difficult, and given the more recent history of the space as a restaurant and not as a train depot, my goal is to repurpose it in a way that delivers the best experience I can offer,” he said.

Some things needed to change, he said, and the exterior of the building is just one aspect of many changes being made.

“Our decision to paint the exterior of the building was motivated by the intent to tell a clearer story with the overall space, while aiming to become a lasting gathering place in the community that can stand the test of time,” he said.

“I put a lot of thought into a plan that honors the original structure, opens the interior by removing soffits and other interior components that previously obstructed the vaulted ceiling and steel trusses in order to create a more inviting and usable space. Beyond this, we have opened up and resurfaced the patio with 2000 square feet of reclaimed brick from a historic mill in south Georgia, creating a more welcoming environment and interface with the adjacent BeltLine. All of these plans were approved and permitted by the city,” Lennox said.

“While I am sensitive to the concerns and reactions of some of our neighbors, my hope is that the people of Atlanta will give us a chance to tell a new story in this beautiful space, and I look forward to having the opportunity to deliver a fun, delicious and memorable experience to our guests in the very near future,” he said.

Reader Comments 0

12 comments
JonRitt
JonRitt

Simple action for all ... don't go to Ladybird anymore; don't go to Golden Eagle (how precious -- a "workingman's tavern" -- hah!) and Muchacho (an exceedingly condescending gringo name). Folks, we all can live and eat well without going to any of these places. Lennox (1) has no idea of the decades people have put into living in neglected neighborhoods in Atlanta and (2) is why "gentrification" is an eff-ing pejorative expletive. 

WSS7200
WSS7200

This is a crazy overreaction. Painting brick is usually a bad idea. Fine. Does this really merit a campaign to destroy a brand new business before it even starts? One that was going to make use of an unused property, I might add.

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drewK
drewK

Seems to me a restaurant makes it if it serves good food, with good service at good prices. The exterior has nothing to do with it. Epic Fail business guy. See how many neighbors support ya now.

NativeAtlantan aminority
NativeAtlantan aminority

This was obviously a fluff PR piece for someone with a measure of pull and influence. It portrays the restaurateur as a do-good for the community that has become a victim to a raging neighborhood.

This is the first time I have seen a restaurant building suffer under gentrification.

What was done to this building is really sad. Moreover, to state that this building is not protected and therefore the restaurateur was within his rights to alter the exterior speaks volumes about how Atlanta views historic preservation and supporting neighborhoods and their character.

Just another loss in the effort to drive the Beltline to the expense of the neighborhoods it collides into.

#whitewashinghistory #youlltakewhatIgiveandlikeit

1Fred
1Fred

I wonder how much money the people complaining and being childish by giving false ratings to these businesses have put into the project?  If they didn't want any changes, why didn't they buy the building and pay the taxes and upkeep?  Sheesh!

NativeAtlantan aminority
NativeAtlantan aminority

@1Fred I guess the neighborhood was too busy pouring everything they had in making the neighborhood a community.


Conversely, I wonder how much the property owner invested in the neighborhoods efforts, that in turn enhanced his property's value.

jeffufl
jeffufl

@NativeAtlantan aminority We are all entitled to our opinion, Native, but I'm not sure how you can expect someone to be beholden to your wishes.  You make it seem like he painted a "KKK" in the side of the building.  Painting bricks white is temporary.  It can be sand blasted off, so he hasn't done a thing to the building.  Seems that people like you would rather have a decaying building that could draw vandalism, arson, etc...

54pontiac
54pontiac

@jeffufl @NativeAtlantan aminority Sandblasting is expensive and can destroy the protective fired coating on the exterior of the brick, leading to distintegration. Painting unpainted brick is really a situation where you can't really go back. I think that's one reason people are so upset. The designer should have known this and protected the owner from this grave mistake. That was her job. The building was not decaying as far as I know.