It was built for Amos Giles Rhodes, one of the first large-scale furniture magnates to market reasonably-priced furniture to the middle class. His innovative desire to modernize the old-school furniture business (he was also one of the first furniture retailers to offer payment installment plans) is similar to how he approached his new mansion on Peachtree Street. Despite the old fashioned look of a medieval castle, the home was a marvel of modern electric technology. The result was “Le Réve” (French for “The Dream”) which is today known as Rhodes Hall or Rhodes Memorial Hall, currently home to the 800-pound gorilla non-profit The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.
Amos Giles Rhodes, the son of a wagon maker, was born on December 29th, 1850 in Kentucky. By 1875 he was in Atlanta working as a laborer for one of the many railroads that crisscrossed the city. After marrying his wife Amanda in 1876, Amos broke away from the railroads, starting a small furniture business in 1879. It was this business that would provide him and his family immense wealth; it would grow throughout the 1880’s and beyond. At its zenith A.G. Rhodes & Son would have stores in 35 markets across the South and parts of the southern Midwest.
The influx of cash in the 1880’s allowed Rhodes to become more than a furniture retailer. He held vast amounts of land inside and outside Georgia, started an investment company, and teamed up with J.J. Haverty in 1889. The partnership with Haverty in furniture would eventually dissolve, but the two would again join forces to build the Rhodes-Haverty Building at 134 Peachtree Street in 1929. It was the tallest structure in Atlanta until 1954 and the 21-story building is still there, now a Residence Inn.
Rhodes was also a generous philanthropist. He donated large sums to the Home for Old Ladies, later called Eventide, in West End, along with providing a huge donation of money and land to the Hospital of the Atlanta Circle of the King’s Daughters and Sons in 1900. The later organization was founded in 1897 for patients diagnosed with incurable diseases.
Rhodes basically saved the Hospital of the Atlanta Circle. With his funds they built a new building at 350 Boulevard SE between Oakland Cemetery and Grant Park. The new structure was named after their benefactor. When Rhodes died he left even more money to the organization which still exists (they currently have three locations including the original Boulevard hospital) and is now known as A.G Rhodes Health & Rehab.
Amos and Amanda took a European vacation at some point in the 1890’s. When they returned they decided to build a home inspired by the castles they encountered in the German Rhineland. In 1901 Rhodes started accumulating land north of Goldsboro Park (now Pershing Point; the name was changed in 1918), with most of the land extending east across Tanyard Creek. He would eventually hold 114 acres, and he turned to a promising young architect in 1902 to complete his and his wife’s vision of a European castle on Peachtree.
The architect was Willis F. Denny II who was only 27 years old when he drew up the design for the Rhodes’ dream home. In 1894 Denny came to Atlanta and started drafting designs for architectural firm Bruce & Morgan. He mostly designed residences in his short career. Along with several homes in Inman Park, he also designed the Kreigshaber House on Moreland Avenue (built in 1900) and the Inman Park Methodist Church (built in 1897). Denny died young in 1905 at the age of 31.
Rhodes Memorial Hall is quite possibly Denny’s masterpiece. The design is considered a marvelous Victorian example of the late Romanesque Revival Style. The exterior utilizes Stone Mountain granite. The combination of hefty material and old-school design makes it not only remarkable, but one of a kind in the state of Georgia. According to the Atlanta Urban Design Commission, very few residential structures are built in this style with granite because of the cost to move the rock and the intricate designs required, such as the archways. Rhodes’ “Le Réve” reportedly cost $50,000 to complete in 1904, and he cut every corner he could to save money without sacrificing the look. You can see his cost-cutting decisions while on tour of the mansion, such as the complicated carved capitals on the columns on the front porch versus the bland capitals on the columns on the back of the home (where visitors rarely visited). This type of construction with granite was typically reserved for commercial buildings and churches.
The luxurious architectural insanity extended indoors. Rhodes insisted his castle be cutting edge, wired for electricity from its inception. Many of the rooms offered call buttons, there was a modern security system and the home was lit up at night by more than 300 light bulbs. “Le Réve” was reportedly the gem of Peachtree Street, extraordinary considering the roadway was lined by posh mansions of the Southern elite.
The interior of the home is as astonishing as the exterior. Original hand-painted murals, intricate tile fireplaces, imposing floor to ceiling mantles, beautiful columns and so much more. Small details jump out to each visitor, and are too numerous to list. The home is open for tours; visit the Georgia Trust here for hours and tour fees.
But the centerpiece of the interior is certainly the main staircase to the second floor. It’s impossible to ignore. It features carved African mahogany that wraps upstairs below glimmering stained glass windows, each a piece of artwork documenting the rise and the fall of the Confederacy. It starts with Fort Sumter and ends with Appomattox, the panes sprinkled with fifteen medallion portraits of Southern Civil War heroes. The windows were designed by the Von Gerichten Art Glass Company, an award-winning firm ran by two German brothers out of Columbus, Ohio.
Amos Giles Rhodes passed away in June 1928, within a year of Amanda’s death in 1927. After their parents passed away the two adult Rhodes children granted the home and less than an acre surrounding it to the State of Georgia under the requirement that it was used for “historic purposes.” This is a curious request, considering the castle is now available to be rented for weddings.
The two Rhodes children, a son and daughter, divided, sold and developed the remaining 113 acres that was the Rhodes estate. It includes the I-75/85 Brookwood Interchange, the neighboring Rhodes Center built in 1930 and numerous other buildings and neighborhoods.
Also in 1930 the Georgia State Archives moved into Rhodes Hall, occupying the home until the ultra-modern Georgia Archives Building, also known as the “Ice Cube”, was completed in 1965 (this mammoth structure is currently part of the Endangered Memorial Corridor). The Archives remained in Rhodes Hall after 1965 however, butchering the former mansion for its architectural details such as the impressive staircase and stained glass windows, which were both removed to the new “Ice Cube” facility.
That changed in 1983 when The Georgia Trust started a long-term lease, making Rhodes Hall their headquarters. Under the direction of this non-profit, the home has undergone a breathtaking restoration. Since the interior has been mostly restored to its original state; the incredible windows and impressive staircase were both returned and re-installed into the home in 1990.
And while they are a huge preservation non-profit, the Georgia Trust does need our help through volunteers and donations. View their website for Volunteer Opportunities here, or donate to The Georgia Trust here. They offer Preservation Resources and even feature Endangered Properties for Sale. They are truly an amazing organization doing amazing things for the state of Georgia from an amazing headquarters. Start helping them today by clicking on any of the above links.
Did You Know? Rhodes Memorial Hall was designated a Landmark Building on October 23rd, 1989.
Did You Know? The outline of the original landscaping is barely visible throughout the remaining property; the Georgia Trust plans to raise funds to restore these gardens for educational purposes.
Did You Know? Rhodes Hall was positioned on a small hill next to a curve in Peachtree Street to maximize its imposing castle look.
Did You Know? Rhodes built his home before Ansley Park was developed in 1905 and he would lead hunting parties on his massive 114 acre estate.
Did You Know? Pershing Point (the park located where West Peachtree intersects with Peachtree Street) was formerly Goldsboro Park, and was named for General John J. Pershing in 1918 to honor his leading of the United States armed forces to victory in Europe in World War I.