Mayor: City has plan for estate

Published 6:18 pm Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Following is the text of a speech delivered by Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson during Tuesday’s council meeting:

“Because the citizens of Andalusia deserve a complete and accurate explanation of the decision by me and the city council to purchase the historic Springdale Estate, located on East Three Notch Street, next door to city hall, I would like to take this opportunity to address that issue and hopefully debunk a number of rumors surrounding this important decision.

“Springdale Estate was built in the early 1930’s by Mr. John G. Scherf, Sr. This property is historically significant for several reasons, but primarily because Mr. Scherf was the founder of the Alatex, the economic engine of Andalusia for more than half a century. Mr. Scherf came to Andalusia with little more than the shirt on his back, after having immigrated to America from Germany. Shorty after arriving in Andalusia as the executive for the Andalusia Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Scherf and other investors organized and began operations of the Alatex; a clothing apparel manufacturing company that evolved into an industrial giant in South Alabama and Northwest Florida, employing thousands in Andalusia. This phenomenal growth took place in spite of the “Great Depression” and provided much needed income to hundreds of Andalusia families for several generations. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Andalusia’s children were educated through college because their parents had income from their work at the Alatex.

“Also, Mr. Scherf served as mayor of Andalusia for 16 years, during which time many of the public facilities we enjoy today were constructed. It is simply impossible to imagine what Andalusia would be today without Mr. Scherf’s vision and leadership. I think it is not a stretch to consider John G. Scherf, Sr., as the father of modern Andalusia. Of course the great Alatex no longer exists. It is only a memory with Springdale Estate being one of the very few remaining connections to that historic era.

“Springdale Estate is composed of approximately 4 acres, the beautiful main house of Mediterranean design, a large 4-car garage, a guest house, a small lake, several fountains, and beautifully landscaped lawns. It is truly the “crown jewel” of Andalusia’s beautiful old homes. There is also a 1.5 acre commercial lot adjoining the estate on its west side. This property joins the city’s property near the Veterans’ Memorial Park.

“Through the years, Andalusia has lost so many of its beautiful and historic homes with only a handful remaining. Only after this property was put on the market for sale did I learn that Springdale Estate is zoned B1, which means that its purchaser could have used the property for any use permitted in a B1 zone. So two weeks ago we were faced with the very real possibility that we could lose Springdale Estate to commercial developers, which would have resulted in that beautiful property being converted into some sort of commercial use, totally incompatible with its history and heritage. Or, it would have been left to deteriorate like so many of our older buildings in downtown Andalusia. Just take a mental trip around downtown and picture in your mind the many historic buildings that are in such a sad shape of disrepair. The City would have much preferred for Springdale to remain in the hands of someone who would have maintained it as it has been for more than 75 years, but it was obvious to me that unless the City acted to protect this irreplaceable property, it would have fallen into the hands of someone whose only interest would have been to make a buck at the expense of future generations of Andalusians. Frankly, Andalusia could never recover the history and heritage that would have been lost had the City not acted to prevent the commercial development of this property.

“Now the question I hear most is, “What will the City do with this property?” We have a very good plan for the future use of Springdale as well as a plan to recoup the purchase costs. First, this property now belongs to the citizens of Andalusia – all the citizens of Andalusia – and we will use it for many public events. Examples of theses are Christmas programs, decorator showcases, Easter egg hunts, concerts, seasonal open house, and other such events. As time goes on, we will develop many new public uses.

“Also, we will open the rear of the property and join it to the Veterans’ Park with beautiful landscaping and create our large public park that is much needed in the center of town. It will contain walking trails, park benches, and other public areas that will add to the quality of life for all Andalusians. We will also offer the main house and grounds for private weddings, receptions, birthday celebrations, corporate retreats and other such private events that will create income to help defray the upkeep and maintenance expense of the property. And, this property will be an invaluable asset to aid us with business and industrial recruitment.

“Finally, we will organize a public foundation, whose purpose will be to search out grants and gifts for this property so as to eventually repay the city for the purchase price and provide for its perpetual care and maintenance. The city really had no choice I this matter. The money paid for this historic and irreplaceable property is an investment by us into our city’s future by saving an important part of our past. An investment that I am convinced will pay handsome dividends to all Andalusians for many generations to come.

“I know there are those who may disagree with this decision, and that is fine. We are all entitled to our opinions, and I respect that. I only ask that you give this some time, and I believe you will come to appreciate the value that this property will bring to our civic life. Also, I ask you to consider the comments of England’s Sir James Stevens, who commented on the importance of preserving historic places. Sir Stevens said, “Historic buildings are a proud and significant part of our, and every, nation’s heritage. They are an irreplaceable element of the collective memory of local communities…. They contribute both to our sense of identity and to that regional distinctiveness which is so valuable and so vulnerable.”

“And finally, in 1889, William Morris said, “These old buildings do not belong to us only…they have belonged to our fore-fathers and they will belong to our descendants. They are not our property, to do as we like with. We are only trustees for those who come after us.”