Steve Mullen: During the Williams Home's intermission, a costume change

July 14, 2010 12:02:00 PM

Steve Mullen - [email protected]


The Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center at the corner of Main and Third streets -- and much of the block it sits on -- is abuzz with activity. Tuesday, a platoon of workers was laying the foundation for the new condominiums and office building behind the welcome center. The new building, which is being constructed by local developer Mark Castleberry, will have the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau as a downstairs tenant. 


That puts the tourism bureau next door to the Tennessee Williams Home, which it manages. Inside the home on Tuesday, bureau Executive Director James Tsismanakis and Project Manager Nancy Carpenter mingled among a houseful of construction workers and painters, surveying the progress on the home''s renovation and looking at samples of paint on the wall and ceiling. 


The home, which was built in 1875, has been at its location along Main Street for exactly 15 years as of Monday. Virginia Thomas, the center''s amiable travel counselor, explained how the erstwhile rectory for St. Paul''s Episcopal Church was moved a few blocks to make room for a church addition back in 1995. Thomas, exiled to temporary quarters across the street during the renovation, said she enjoys the spaciousness of her temporary welcome center, but is ready to move back into the familiar Victorian home when the renovation is finished in mid-August. 


And what a colorful building she''ll return to. Folks driving by are starting to notice the remarkable new color scheme. Gone are the pale blues and yellows of the past. In their place are bold greens, reds and golds.  


I wondered if the colors were original to the home, which was the birthplace of the playwright Williams in 1911. Tsismanakis and Carpenter explained they''re not, but they''re original to the Victorian period. (Little documentation exists as to the home''s original colors, though we know it was painted white for some time.) 


Tsismanakis, Carpenter and Michael Taylor, with Pryor and Morrow Architects, settled on the paint scheme. They had a big assist from Roger Moss, a historic preservationist in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, not Mississippi) who is perhaps the nation''s foremost expert on historic colors in American architecture.  


Moss consulted on the Williams home renovation. The colors were selected from one of the books he''s written on paint colors, Carpenter and Tsismanakis said as they mulled over shades of salmon and blue for the interior molding, ceilings and walls. 


If the colors seem bold, wait for the new metal roof. It''ll be a deep orange color, matching the window panes.  


That''s some hot tin. 


"It''s really going to give you a wonderful entrance into Columbus, and tie in to downtown," Tsismanakis said. "We''re really happy with the colors outside." 


We''ll all have another reason to go inside when the renovation is complete. New to the home will be a gift shop and bookstore, selling Williams'' and other Mississippi writers'' works, and locally made items. (Downtown Columbus could really use a bookstore. This is a start.) 


The new house will be officially unveiled during the Tennessee Williams Tribute and Tour of Victorian Homes, which runs this Sept. 6-12.  


Sign up for the tribute and tour, stop by Williams'' birthplace, and be impressed. What was already a Columbus landmark is at intermission, undergoing a significant costume change. The next act in this home''s story is shaping up to be its most dramatic yet.

Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.