Ryan Gainey home likely can’t be saved, but garden preservation is possible
This story has been updated.
By Anne Clarke, contributor
The home of world-famous gardener Ryan Gainey will likely be demolished, but there may be other opportunities to preserve his legacy.
That was the general consensus following a special called meeting of Decatur’s Historic Preservation commission on Wednesday. The city called the meeting after the home’s current owner, Teresa Parrish, obtained a demolition permit for the home, located at 129 Emerson Avenue.
Gainey is a world-famous gardener who died at a fire in his Lexington, Ga. home in 2016.
Decatur Planning Director Angela Threadgill said the city had no choice but to issue a demolition permit. She noted that the city did have the authority to delay issuing the permit for 15 days, which it did. The 15 day period was used to explore alternatives to demolition. The Historic Preservation Commission met one day after that period ended, Threadgill said. Parrish agreed to participate in Wednesday’s meeting before moving forward with the demolition.
“She met all the requirements,” she said. “This commission has no authority to delay demolition [further].”
The demolition is necessary because the home is not structurally sound, according to Parrish and experts who have seen the property. Parrish wants to build a new home that is similar to Gainey’s home.
The commission and the community asked if there was a way to preserve Gainey’s legacy.
Architect Richard Stevens, a Decatur resident that Parrish hired, said that the new construction is designed to keep the garden in place.
“The garden is significant. Ryan is significant. But the house is not significant,” he told the commission. The property is not on the state or national historical registry, nor did it qualify.
Stevens provided this image of what the new home on the property will look like:
The commission also saw photos documenting the condition of the outside and inside of the house.
Ted Baltrusaitis from Century Craft Homes stated that the structure was damaged in 2016 by a tree that fell onto it.
But Parrish said it was the vast termite damage and extensive mold and water damage that made her decide to stop renovations of Gainey’s home.
“It is not a viable structure,” she said.
Parrish and her children are currently living in the rental house on the Gainey property. She is in the process of selling her own property on Emerson Ave., which will help finance work on the Gainey property.
The Gainey property has three buildings; a main house, which is uninhabitable, the rental house and a large glass greenhouse that also has major damage. The entire property is less than an acre full of greenery that was featured on garden tours and in major media.
One of the tours that stopped by Gainey’s house was led by Decatur’s Wylde Center, an organization that promotes green spaces.
“Ryan Gainey’s property is more known for its gardens than his house,” Wylde Center Director Stephanie Van Parys said. “The folks that went on the Decatur garden tour were there to see his outdoor living spaces, meaning his gardens and historic greenhouse structures.”
Residents at the meeting agreed with that assessment.
“You would have to walk outside to get to the main bathroom,” said Huckleberry Starnes, an industrial designer who had known Gainey for 26 years. “No one besides Ryan could live in that house.”
The Historic Preservation Commission members agreed that they did not want to lose the opportunity to create a landmark in Decatur. But it would be hard to do at this point in the process.
“I didn’t know to extend a helping hand earlier,” said Debbie Fritz, vice chair of the commission.
Many people at the meeting felt the same way after hearing about Parrish’s struggles to maintain and renovate the property over the past 18 months.
While the demolition may be on the horizon, Parrish was open to discuss preservation options with the commission and their community preservation contacts over the next 30 to 60 days.
“I definitely want to keep his legacy and honor him,” she said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to add additional context to remarks made by Angela Threadgill, who also wrote a memo about the current status of Ryan Gainey’s home and garden. She provided a copy of that memo to Decaturish: