Protest Done Up in Polka Dots
Stan Pike wanted to build a round front stoop on a home he owns in this small city seven miles east of Atlanta. But the local Historic Preservation Commission rejected his plans earlier this month, saying they were “atypical” and out of sync with the rest of the houses on the street.
Pike’s response came the next day, in extremely colorful terms.
To protest what he felt was an arbitrary decision, he painted the formerly off-white house lime green, festooning it with large purple polka dots. And he threatened to leave the garish motif up for a year if the commission did not reconsider its decision.
His act of rebellion has prompted an outbreak of sympathy dots from fellow residents and has drawn TV cameras and reporters to Avondale Estates, whose “English Village” enclave -- developed in the 1920s -- landed the town on the National Register of Historic Places.
“It’s not like I’m trying to put a clock tower on the house,” Pike said. “I’m asking for rounded stairs like other homes in this neighborhood.”
Avondale Estates, with 1,200 homes and a population of 3,000, entrusts decisions involving its design guidelines to the volunteer six-member commission and a paid consultant.
“We learned about what happened to Stan and we’re supporting him,” said Ted Waters, who cut plate-sized purple dots out of a tablecloth and tacked them up on the tree in front of his home.
Waters said the commission initially rejected his plans last year to erect a statue in his front yard. His yard art eventually was approved on a tie-breaking vote cast by the mayor, but Waters said he resented the extra steps he had to take.
Subjectivity is to be expected from these panels, said James Reap, a professor at Georgia State University who specializes in historic preservation law. Reap noted the difficult task they face in applying design guidelines to renovation proposals.
He said Pike could keep the garish colors indefinitely if he chooses because Georgia law does not govern how homes are painted, and “he has a right to express himself.”
But, as a former member of three local historic preservation commissions who has observed the hoopla surrounding the Pike case, Reap added: “I think all this is childish.”
The house in question, built in 1956, sits around the corner from the one that Pike, a contractor, has lived in for the last 15 years. He has had few problems gaining approval for renovations to other homes, he said, adding that he is befuddled by the current commission decision.
Pike said he was not given clear reasons why his plans were rejected, or why he was refused the chance to discuss the matter before the commission. A draft of the monthly meeting minutes in which Pike’s stoop proposal was debated states that “the curved stoop would appear to be atypical ... and approval of the new stoop design is not recommended.”
Calls to Mayor John Lawson and the commission were referred to City Manager Warren Hutmacher, who said the officials would not comment until Pike’s appeal is taken up May 27.
Pike says that if the commission turns him down, he will board up the home and leave it painted as is for a year. He also muses playfully about adding yard decor, such as toilet bowls filled with geraniums.
Other ideas have started to pour in from people who have heard about his dispute. One postcard from Huntington, W.Va., reads: “Mr. Stan Pike@ the Lime Green House, You Go!” and offered additional lawn suggestions such as an old water heater with peeling white paint.
Pike said he would not do anything to devalue the neighborhood, where houses sell for between $250,000 and $750,000.
On Friday, Pike wore a lime-green shirt and grinned as he fielded phone calls about the polka-dot controversy. He happily gave neighborhood tours to reporters and other visitors, pointing out rounded porches like the one he says he wants to build -- as well as seemingly overbuilt projects that still managed to gain commission approval.
“What about the house down the street with their 4,200-square-foot addition on top of a 1,200-square-foot house?” he asked. “It looks like a helicopter landed on it.”
The polka-dot phenomenon has spread to a local United Methodist Church, whose front sign briefly featured purple dots along with details of a weekend church barbecue. But the Rev. Tayve Morgan said the church is not trying to make a political statement.
“It’s been all over the news,” she said. “So we’re just trying to ride the wave of the purple-dot craze and get people to our barbecue.”
But the dots came down Friday. The church didn’t want to attract the preservation commission’s attention.