By Rachel Scoggins
The set of Tara was built on the back lot of Selznick Studio in Hollywood. Tara remained there for years, but it was dismantled in 1960 when the studio needed the lot for a new movie set. The doors, windows, and roof lining were removed and shipped to Georgia; the walls were then burned and torn down.
There was talk of putting the pieces of Tara into a museum after the set first arrived in Georgia. Julian M. Forster, an Atlanta lawyer and real estate developer, wanted to rebuild Tara into a theme park. But Tara sat in a barn for 20 years until Betty Talmadge purchased the remains for $5,000 in 1979. After she purchased it, various counties in Georgia competed for the opportunity to own Tara, but to no avail. In 1989, the Atlanta History Center mounted an exhibition entitled “Gone With the Wind: The Facts Behind The Fiction,” and the centerpiece was the original Tara doorway. After being put away again, in 1998 the doorway was displayed at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta and is still displayed there today as part of their “Making of a Film Legend: Gone With the Wind” exhibit. Despite great fanfare, such as hanging “Welcome Home Tara” banners when the set arrived in the state, and great interest from multiple parties, the rest of Tara is still sitting in a barn rotting.
The Talmadge family still owns the set. This is fitting since Margaret Mitchell used her great-grandfather’s plantation, the Fitzgerald House, as inspiration for the O’Hara estate, and the Fitzgerald House is neighbor to the Crawford-Talmadge Plantation, which many suspect may have been the inspiration for Twelve Oaks.
Peter Bonner, owner of the Gone With the Wind tours in Jonesboro, recently entered into an agreement with the Talmadge family to try and save Tara. In addition to being a Gone With the Wind buff, Peter Bonner is also a local historian who has conducted a lot of research into local Civil War history, including the Battle of Jonesboro in 1864, which led him to many Gone With the Wind connections and subsequent Gone With the Wind research. This background made Bonner enthusiastic about the Saving Tara project.
Bonner, along with a group of volunteers, started assembling and inventorying the pieces of Tara lying in the barn. The pieces had been inventoried in the 1980s, but volunteers are retagging each piece, including shards from shutters, pieces of molding, and window frames. “We’ve got all the pieces,” Bonner said. “It’s just a matter of setting them up.”
Currently, the pieces are housed in the same dairy barn where they have been lying since Betty Talmadge purchased them. Bonner and the group of volunteers he calls “Taramedics” have made progress on sorting and restoring sections of Tara. The volunteers have been sorting through pieces of wood and slats from the shutters, and they are starting to put together pieces of the cathedral window from the landing. Sadly, because of multiple moves and the wear from sitting in a barn for years, there are many broken pieces and pieces that have not been found yet.
Tara is being restored and displayed in an old dairy barn with no air conditioning, no electricity, and a concrete floor. As visitors walk into the barn, leaning against the wall on the left are a 12-foot-tall window and shutters that were used in the opening scene of the movie. Just past that is the door leading to the side porch and the side window where Hattie McDaniel (Mammy) called out to Scarlett. Straight ahead are the huge, wide steps of the side porch where Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Wilkes) sat with soldiers. On the left are the seven windows that spread across the front and down the left side of Tara.
Despite offers from national museums to put the pieces in traveling displays, no plans are being made to move Tara to another location, so the hope is to keep sorting the pieces. Since there are no plans to build the Tara pieces back into a tall façade, the goal is to display them in a museum-like fashion, with photos and a write-up by each piece of the façade. Expanded Gone With the Wind tours are also planned where fans can experience the book Tara, the book Twelve Oaks, and the movie Tara all at one time.
“So many people can’t believe that Tara still exists and didn’t crumble into the dust at the back lot in Hollywood,” Bonner stated. “It’s amazing that the thing is still here. Selznick said nothing lasts more than 90 days on the back lot, but after everything, Tara survived. It should be powder, it should be dust. But it’s not.”
The immediate goal is to continue sorting through inventory and finish putting it together in the barn as Bonner and his helpers conduct tours for interested fans. “It’s as much Griffin’s history as it is Lovejoy’s, Jonesboro’s, or Atlanta’s history,” said Bonner. “If this turns out well, then it’s going to bring people to the area who want to stay for the night, eat a meal, or visit the local area, which includes Griffin and Hampton.”