The Herndon Home sits majestically atop Diamond Hill in the Historic Westside. While Gaines Hall, Fountain Hall, and neighboring structures may face a perilous future, the Herndon Home encourages enthusiasts of historic African-American architecture.
Born into slavery in Georgia, Alonzo Herndon (1858-1927) became Atlanta’s first black millionaire, first launching a chain of barbershops including the Crystal Palace at 66 Peachtree Street, and later founding the highly successful Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Adrienne Herndon (1869-1910), his wife and a gifted actress, established her alma mater Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) as the premier drama and elocution department in the South and Atlanta as a regional center for dramatic arts. The Herndons gave generously to local institutions, such as Morris Brown College and the Carrie Steele-Pitts orphanage.
In 1910, the couple completed their 6,000 square-foot Beaux Arts Classical style estate next to Atlanta University. Mr. Herndon built the home as the general contractor using Mrs. Herndon’s design. The brick-faced Herndon Home impresses visitors with six stately Corinthian columns at the entry and intricate balcony railing around the building exterior. Millwork throughout the residence showcases the skills of African-American craftsmen. Sumptuous furniture and artwork express the distant travels of the couple. Mr. Herndon’s second wife, Jesse, maintained the home décor and furnishings even after the death of Adrienne in 1910.
Norris Herndon, Alonzo and Adrienne’s only child and a talented businessman just as his father, formed a private foundation in 1950 to preserve the Herndon Home and to immortalize the work of his parents. Like many nonprofit organizations supporting a house museum, the Alonzo F. and Norris B. Herndon Foundation faces the challenge of making a distinguished past meaningful to young people without the familiarity of the Herndon Home or its original occupants.
Bridging this gap, the foundation has committed to educate, mentor, and equip the next generation of entrepreneurs. Outreach to senior centers and churches is complemented with programs at high schools. The Museum engages community members of all ages about ongoing programming and preservation efforts through quarterly newsletters and social media.
Managing Director Julissa J. White-Smith, staff, and volunteers have implemented the Game Changer program since 2013 to hone the business character and skills of 11th and 12th grade students. The foundation has awarded over $40,000 in college scholarships and technology to students over the past five years. By emulating the civic work of Alonzo and Adrienne Herndon with diverse public outreach programs, the Foundation sustains the Herndon Home as a dazzling landmark reflecting the power of hard work, social responsibility, and entrepreneurship for people across generations.
Visit herndonhome.org for more information about the Herndon Home.
Melody L. Harclerode, FAIA promotes significant natural, historical, and cultural sites as a non-profit leader, architect and writer.