Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall owner Michael Lennox is opening two new restaurants, Golden Eagle and Muchacho, in the former H. Harper Station space at 904 Memorial Drive SE, but the renovation has recently become a public relations nightmare. Lennox decided to apply a white coat of paint to the old building’s red brick, and neighbors in Reynoldstown have unleashed fury at the restaurateur.
“I think any time you make a change to a public-facing building you can expect some resistance,” Lennox tells Eater Atlanta, “and I expected some people would prefer the original brick.”
Lennox has received more than “some resistance.” The new restaurants’ Facebook page had to be shut down because of negative reviews and comments, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Talk of the Town blog. Designer Elizabeth Ingram, who is in charge of executing Lennox’s vision, also received vitriol and has publicly come out against the paint job: “Would it have been my first choice to paint the building? No. Was it my choice at all? No,” Ingram told Talk of the Town. Lennox believes everyone is making too much of the design decision.
“There are older commercial brick buildings that have been painted all over Atlanta, in Little Five Points, Virginia-Highland, Inman Park, Downtown, etc.,” Lennox says. “Go to NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia or DC, and you will see tons of older brick buildings that have been painted at some point in their history. Atlanta’s historic Flatiron Building was originally raw brick and was painted white a few decades ago. There are murals dotting the sides of brick buildings all over town.
“Point being, this is hardly without precedent, and I do feel like the response has been out of proportion with the issue at hand.”
Long before it housed H. Harper Station, which closed last year, the building that dates to 1930 was home to a train depot for the A&WP Railroad, as Curbed Atlanta notes. It eventually fell into disrepair and was boarded up for decades before becoming a restaurant in 2007. Jerry and Krista Slater took over and opened H. Harper in 2010. The building’s design fits into the Georgian Revival style, according to Curbed, but despite its rich history, Talk of the Town reports it isn’t officially registered as historic.
Lennox says all of the work he’s done on the building has been permitted and approved by the city of Atlanta, and he points out other architectural elements — such as the facade, stonework, and terra cotta roof, which was added in ’60s — are being left untouched. He recognizes people are free to form their own opinions about any changes, but is adamant that “restaurant owners should be allowed some creative license to design spaces that will hopefully bring something new or interesting to the dining landscape.” In this case, “new and interesting” means a “workingman’s tavern” (the nebulous description assigned to Golden Eagle) and a West Coast-inspired, counter-service spot (Muchacho). Like Ladybird, Lennox’s new restaurants sit adjacent to the BeltLine, which may be their biggest attraction for diners.
It remains to be seen how much of the clientele will come from the surrounding neighborhood. Lennox hopes Reynoldstown residents will give him another chance, but he isn’t second-guessing the building’s renovation, and he’s confident Golden Eagle and Muchacho will draw crowds no matter what neighbors think of the restaurants’ design.
“I really enjoyed the original brick but decided to move forward with some cosmetic changes — many of which are still in progress — that I believe will improve the overall feel and appearance of the property,” Lennox says. “We’ve also spent months building a very talented leadership team and developing exciting menus that we’re almost ready to share.
“At the end of the day, the most important elements for any restaurant are its food, beverage, and hospitality, and I look forward to having the opportunity to welcome guests in the very near future.”
• Restaurant Owner Responds to Concerns About Changes to Former H. Harper Station Building [AJC]
• Reynoldstown, Cabbagetown Neighbors Outraged Over Train Depot’s Paint Job; Restauranteur Says Changes Necessary [Curbed Atlanta]
• Ladybird Owner Will Open Two Restaurants in the Former H. Harper Station Space [EATL]