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Life With Ferris: Lookout Mountain Club Remodel

  • Monday, May 20, 2024

The Lookout Mountain Club’s Fairyland location is nearing its 100-year birthday next year. Most folks zip through the parking lot and scurry off to tennis or the fitness center or the dining room, barely noticing the magnificent boulders scattered across the grounds, including the impressive “Twin Sisters,” the two massive, upright boulders inches from the club’s entrance.

During the initial years of the famed Roaring Twenties, folks seemed to be in a spending frenzy, enjoying a boom in all manner of industry. Garnet and Frieda Utermoehlen Carter envisioned their 450 acres in Lookout Mountain, Ga., as a tourist attraction for all the folks zooming across the country in brand new automobiles. Appreciative of the gorgeous natural setting and gigantic boulders littered about like a mythological setting, they wanted to remain true to the magical elements, deciding to develop a residential community called Fairyland, which would have a fabulous vacation resort at its center.

Local architect William Hatfield Sears designed the 65-room inn in the Tudor Revival style, as well as the charming Mother Goose Village nearby: 10 cottages with fairytale names like King Cole, Miss Muffet, Jack Horner and Bo Peep. The masonry figure of Peter Pan presided over a massive stone fireplace, and wrought iron light fixtures bore the “FI” emblem for Fairyland Inn.

The couple also recruited nationally-renowned landscape designer Warren H. Manning, whose plans not only preserved the natural rock formations surrounding the inn, but accentuated the unusual rock formations reminiscent of fairy and elf grottoes of mythical times. The result was an enchanting resort that fit organically into the rugged, natural terrain.

Opening in June of 1925 with alfresco dinner and dancing, the Fairyland Inn offered vacationers expansive views of the valley below while enjoying the cooler weather. Legendary for its grand galas and lavish parties, big bands were routinely flown in from New York City and California to entertain guests and local residents. The large “disco” ball in the club’s balcony overlooking the ballroom is original to the inn and is still operational today. Thriving only a few years, the inn closed during the Great Depression but reopened in 1934 as the Fairyland Club.

Roughly 90 years later, the Fairyland Club, now known as the Lookout Mountain Club, is undergoing a transformation. But it’s not really a transformation per se because the club is being restored to its former glory, and then some. Tom Porta of DBS Corporation is the project manager for the work that began in October of last year, while Wes Robbins served as club president. The architect for the project came from KDC Architects in Atlanta, which specializes in design for resorts and clubs.

The renovation was complicated for several reasons, one being that no one knew what lay behind the plaster walls until they were uncovered. And there were numerous surprises, some hinderances and some treats, such as the hidden windows on the former porch that Mr. Porta called “gems.” Another fun surprise was the catwalk over the Peter Pan room, which was part of the original building.

It was important to keep the original feel of the club while updating and modernizing it. Massive steel beams were veneered to look like they were original, and everything was shored up to safety standards.

The floors were out of level, some as much as 30 inches, which took some doing to correct. DBS removed 2,000 tons of old pipe from the club’s basement; it was left on site from a former renovation. The behind-the-scenes repairs were extensive and not sexy at all, and the membership was anxious for the big reveal. But every single detail was attended to and double checked, ensuring pure perfection, including the plaster. According to Tom, everyone who does this specialized work has either retired or died, and finding someone accomplished at this craft was like searching for a needle in a haystack. The original wrought iron chandeliers are in their intended spaces, and a few lovely surprises include the stone lions over the entrance that had been covered up for decades and the initials FI for Fairyland Inn in an exterior light fixture.

It went without saying that Peter Pan would continue to dominate the space he’s watched over for close to a century.

The club now features a brand new state-of-the-art kitchen on the main floor, which is an absolute dream. There are also separate dining areas for different occasions. The bathrooms have all been updated and are absolutely gorgeous!

The new bar overlooks the valley, and a sea of lights glitter in the evenings. From suspended cabinets and leather insets to undercounter lighting, built-in purse hooks and phone chargers, the bar is outstanding all the way around. And folks congregate around this space that has the feel of being both cutting-edge and cozy at the same time.

There is a formal dining room with special wine lockers for members who want to stock their prized bottles, as well as a family dining room with big screen TVs for watching the game and gathering with the kids. The kids’ playroom truly stars in the renovation, and it is as magical and appealing as a fairyland itself. Children rush in, shooing their parents away and telling them to enjoy their dinner and warning them not come back for a good while.

Obviously, this renovation was not without its challenges. There is no quick fix to a project of this magnitude and with this much history. Both the club and the cottages are on the National Register of Historic Places. But members say the wait was worth it.

For Tom, the best part of the entire project was that they were able to open the doors to the members for the Christmas Eve party. And the enthusiasm and celebratory mood brought the Roaring Twenties back to life in Fairyland almost a whole century later.

* * *

Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series “If Bugs Are Banished.” “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.

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