Anatomy of an Old House Tour

845 Felder Ave. Photo: Kate Shuster

For many of us Midtowners, attending historic home tours ranks among our very favorite spring weekend activities. They provide, variously, entertainment…insight…inspiration. A great way to see “how the other half lives,” as well.

Even for me, a REALTOR who sees houses all the time, local house tours are a real treat — rather like a trip to Disney World: everything shiny-bright, squeaky-clean, and in apple-pie order. Yes, a little like magic!

It occurred to me as I read about the upcoming Old Cloverdale 2011 Tour of Homes (warning: PDF) that it might really be like Disney World: What we see is the result of what we don’t or can’t see. After all, most of us have heard about “the hidden world of Disney.” Was there also, I wondered, a “hidden world” behind the pretty houses and groomed-to-the- nines yards we would see on April 9?

To find out, I sat down for a chat with 2011 tour chair Jeff Benton. An old friend, past client and historic home dweller, he recounted for me what it is like to orchestrate the opening of six private residences for public viewing. And it turns out that the term orchestrate is quite apropos, as he finds himself and the tour committee directing the contributions of a host of players and a symphony of details.

Planning began last September with the identification of tour committee members — a stalwart group of 12 individuals whose lives for the subsequent six to seven months would not be entirely their own. Next came selection of a theme (this year’s being an emphasis on diversity: architectural, size and degree of grandeur) and the identification of possible houses.

The recruitment committee then went to work convincing sometimes hesitant owners that having hundreds of strangers wandering their homes is a good thing (maybe I should recruit those committee members into real estate!) A party for all participants was one of the carrots dangled, Benton said. Also was the promise that many, many eyes would be on the visitors — as many as 100 docents in all. Finding and training those volunteers fell to Docent Manager and fellow REALTOR Barbara Smith.

Judy Heinzman for years has done the important job of securing sponsorships, and Darby Forrester rides herd on the myriad details that must be overseen if disaster is to be averted. If you’ve seen or heard mention of the tour, credit for that goes to publicity chair Melissa George Bowman who’s been hard at it since January.

The tour kicks off at 10:45 with a free walking tour in Old Cloverdale Park, which must also put its best foot forward on Saturday, as the event will draw visitors from throughout the metropolitan area. They will go home talking about what they’ve seen; and all want them leaving with nothing less than a terrific impression of the Old Cloverdale Historic District (perhaps some of them will even one day come back to stay!) So if you saw volunteers cleaning up and fixing up Cloverdale Park recently, that was just tangible proof of all the person-power it takes to make a tour a success.

You won’t want to miss this six-home tour. Tickets are available in advance for $18 at Capitol Book & News, Derk’s Filet & Vine, M Bagwell Gallery, and Metro Fitness. An information and ticket sales tent in Cloverdale Park will have tickets the day of the tour. No children under 12 or high heeled shoes, please!

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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  1. Charles Barnette says:

    Oh, how I wish I could be there to see, feel, smell, hear, and taste the beauty and grandeur of the homes in Old Cloverdale. Thanks to the committee, homeowners, and neighbors who make this such a fantastic event. It’s like finding a treasure chest and getting to look inside at all the jewels. If walls could talk, certainly these homes would tell us of the fabulous parties, happy family times, and even sadness and loss that beset their owners for nearly a century.

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