Mockingbirds and Mansions

neoclassical-2Whether you own property, pay monthly rent, or are just crashing on a friend’s couch until you can get some things together, I’ve got some good news: You have a beautiful house.

Sure, the idea of the Alabama Governor’s Mansion as “The People’s House” is more civic metaphor than legal truth. But there’s still power in the populist symbolism of a beautiful home as an embodiment of our state’s self image. It’s easy to get a chip on your shoulder (or even feel a sense of shame) when you’re talking to a non-Alabama resident about the national rankings of states’ health care outcomes or education spending. But the beauty of the Governor’s Mansion (1142 S. Perry St.) suggests a kind of aspiration that is also grounded in the past. If you look at it right, a house built in 1907 is more than just bricks and mortar constructed in a Neo-Classical Revival style with Corinthian columns. It also evokes a forward-looking greatness.

Let’s start with the story of your house (which, to be fair, you share with around 5 million other Alabama residents). Our governor didn’t always have a publicly-owned mansion. Our first chief executives stayed in private homes, or even paid for hotel rooms during their time serving the state. We didn’t get an official governor’s mansion until 1911. That one, at the corner of South and South Perry Streets and known as The Sable House, was demolished in 1963 to make way for the Interstate.

The home that we all recognize as the current mansion was originally a beautiful home known as the Ligon House. It was built for the son of a Confederate general and member of Congress, and it was purchased by the state just in time for it to be occupied by Gov. Gordon Persons (an interesting character) in 1951.

From that time, the mansion was essentially under the control of whichever governor happened to be occupying it. Some may have been more fastidious housekeepers than others, leaving the preservation of this beautiful property up to the whims of extremely busy elected officials and their families. Recently I was fortunate enough to speak with Mickey Perry. She gave me a real sense of the span of history surrounding the old Ligon House. She also underscored the importance of ongoing preservation efforts.

“We really want to keep that house for perpetuity,” she said. “Before there was a full-time administrator for the mansion, it was always up to the First Lady to make sure the cooking and laundry got done.”

We’ve written about our Governor’s Mansion several times here at MML, ranging from our 2011 look at the architectural stylings to an invitation to join the Governor himself for hot dogs back in 2013. We did a tour at Christmas (and highly recommend you do the same this year) and we did a news update on the crucial 2011 establishment of a management authority to protect the mansion, along with a very cool and surprising find at the mansion in 2014.

But the excitement about the Governor’s Mansion continues this fall. If you care about the upkeep of “your” house, you’ll be glad to know that there’s a fund raiser coming up at the end of the month for preservation and improvements to the beautiful home on Perry Street. On Oct. 29, the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion (FOGM) is holding a benefit at The Capri. Even if you are wholly uninterested in the Governor’s Mansion (and what’s wrong with you, if that’s the case), you’ll still want to jump at the chance to see “To Kill A Mockingbird” on the big screen.

Interest in that book (and movie) is peaking with the recent release of a sequel by Harper Lee, and even if you can recite the whole film by heart, there aren’t a lot of chances to see it up on the big screen. Gregory Peck’s performance is legendary for a reason. You are, of course, welcome to pretend that “Go Set A Watchman” never existed, and simply enjoy the original story on its own merits. Or maybe you’ll watch the film with new eyes if you’ve read the sequel that was released in July.

Either way, it’s for a good cause. If you’re in doubt about where your money goes, consider the following list of past and upcoming projects of the FOGM:

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If you’re like us, you’ve got a your own financial priorities. Maybe you own a home that needs some repairs. Why should you donate to a charity that is helping to take care of someone else’s house?

Because historic preservation of this beautiful home is a chance to share with visitors and future generations an architectural embodiment of our highest ideals as a state. When a leak ruined a carpet in the Mansion, it was the FOGM that stepped up and raised the funds to replace it. When this governor (and each subsequent governor) leaves the Mansion to return to the private sector, the house will remain. It’s an important symbol, not just the site of a bunch of fourth-grade field trips.

If you need a little added persuasion, or just want to feel a little pride, check out a beautiful 1997 book about our nation’s governor’s mansions written by a former First Lady of Oklahoma. Once you see our state’s mansion on display amid the “first homes” of other states, you’ll really start to get a sense of the legacy that we’re leaving behind to future generations. Oh, and there are lots of cool interior decorating ideas in there too, just in case you want some vision about sprucing up your own (presumably more modest) “mansion.”

The FOGM is working on some renovations and upgrades to the First Lady’s Parlor in the Governor’s Mansion. According to Steve Brickley, president of FOGM, when that room is done, they’ll move on to the drawing room, and eventually through the remainder of the first floor. A full list of the FOGM’s admirable accomplishments and future plans can be seen in the graphic above.

The Governor’s Mansion will endure long after any of its occupants are gone. For that matter, it’ll outlast all of us too. But that’s only true if we treat it with the care and attention befitting a house of its caliber.

Come to The Capri on Oct. 29 and watch an awesome movie. Brickley says that in addition to the film, there’ll be a silent auction and a reception at the Stonehenge Gallery next to The Capri. That does sound like a lot of fun. More information about the event, which starts at 6 p.m., can be found here. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased at the event or in advance at the Governor’s Mansion Gift Shop, located at 30 Finley Avenue, or at Sandra Nickel Hat Team Realtors, located at 1044 E. Fairview Avenue.

Consider it an investment in a beautiful, historic home that anchors Midtown and continues to enrich our daily lives. To take a tour of your mansion, click here.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Carole King says:

    Thanks for the great push for Mockingbird. It’s going to be an awesome event–the movie, the silent auction and, last but not least, the food!

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