Sam Burnham, Curator
Over the last several years, the views along South Broad Street in Rome have made a pretty substantial change. Gone are the small homes on Etowah Terrace, the old McCall Hospital, and the “Flatiron” building at the triangle at South Broad and East Main. These losses were tragic from a historic and architectural standpoint. The hospital and the small homes were just too far gone to be saved. Years of neglect and abuse made renovations unrealistic. The triangle remains a travesty, a shame that still stings.
Today a new challenge stands along South Broad. At the corner of South Broad and Butler stands the former Fire Station Two. According to the top historian of the Rome Fire Department, retired Captain David Oswalt, there were multiple stations built at this location with each built in the footprint of its predecessor. This particular station was built around 1927.
A recent article in the Rome News-Tribune and Marietta Daily Journal highlights the current situation of the station. Owned by South Broad Baptist Church, the station is now on the Georgia Trust’s “Top 10 Places in Peril” list. The South Rome Redevelopment Corporation approached the church about purchasing the station for restoration. The Rome News-Tribune article reports the claims by the church that the price isn’t the issue but that the responsibility for environmental remediation is what holding up a deal. In a Facebook post we at ABG suggested the corporation was playing hardball but I have since been shown evidence that suggests both the church balking on the price and the corporation taking responsibility for remediation costs. This suggests the church is also playing a little hardball.
Now the corporation has left the table and the station continues to rot.
When negotiations were active, the corporation discussed the possibility of using the building for a community center. I personally hate this idea. First, there’s already a community center in this area. Second, and more importantly, “community center” seems to be the go-to when restoring a large building in a neighborhood that is in transition. It’s silly. This neighborhood doesn’t need a community center. It needs jobs. It needs greater access to fresh food. It needs economic engines. It needs opportunity.
The right buyer could transform this building into office space, a restaurant, or even a small neighborhood grocery store. Some creative thinking could lead to even more ideas. Providing jobs within walking distance of residents would help to remediate the neighborhood, not just the building. The church is on record in the newspaper that they would sell the building for $20 thousand. And let’s face it, a buyer isn’t cleaning up PCBs or a coal ash pond. We’re talking lead paint and maybe, maybe, some asbestos. But the building likely predates that particular hazard.
The corporation says it is moving on to focus on housing. They have had some great success with that. Apartment buildings at the old Etowah Terrace and McCall Hospital sites have not only provided housing options but also given the neighborhood some handsome architecture that is a credit to the community. While some of the buildings lost in the area had character and charm, the new construction has replaced it with much of its own. The building at the old hospital site is a dramatic improvement over the building it replaced.
But, like the community center, housing is not as pressing. Jobs would drive housing. That brings us back to the station.
With the church and the corporation apparently at an impasse, I’m hoping an investor will come forward. What is needed is someone with some resources and some vision. There’s no doubt that historic preservation grants are available to assist with restoration and remediation. Housing developments have potential customers and employees within a few blocks. This property would serve to connect the ongoing development to the north with the recent improvements around the new Anna K. Davie Elementary School. This project could be a game changer. It just needs the right people to step onto the scene.
As an added bonus, one of the original trucks that served in this station is also available. It needs some work but could be an amazing addition to a project at this location. If you’re interested in the building project, we’d love to connect you to the truck as well.
For now, it’s all just a theory and a prayer. This is too unique of a structure to lose. The similar old Station Four stands across town in north Rome but otherwise, I’ve not seen a building similar to this one.
Someone, please, make this happen.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire