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A builder who made his point
The pyramid-shaped building in downtown Gainesville was an architectural feat for its time
Carl Lawson stands in front of the pyramid-shaped building on Academy Street. Lawson was the original owner of the building, which was designed by "Bear" George Newton Jr. - photo by Robin Michener Nathan

GAINESVILLE — It’s one thing to see a pyramid structure in Egypt or South America.

But in Gainesville? They’re not so common.

But we do have our very own miniature pyramid sitting right on Academy Street across from the Hall County Library. The building even has its own pyramid-shaped sign out front.

"Academy Street was put in about 1964," said Carl Lawson, the original owner of the building that now houses American Legacy Mortgage. "Nothing was there and Academy Street stopped up at Bradford Street ... when they cut the street through it made (my lot) a triangle lot."

The building, erected in 1966 originally housed the Carl Lawson Agency. It was one of the first buildings on the newer section of Academy Street, according to Lawson.

"It was modern and we had a contest for naming the building," Lawson said. "We had a lot of people send in all these crazy names and I think we called it ‘The Wigwam’ or something."

The triangle-shaped building was quite a modern feat in the ’60s, for an architect.

"Back during that time battered walls that sloped were really popular ... (it was) an interesting structural shape," said Dick Bachman of Gainesville’s Bachman & Associates. "The shakes were really en vogue."

The architect for the building was "Bear" George Newton Jr., who Lawson said had a great imagination.

"I kept getting Bear to finish the drawings so I could go ahead and start," Lawson said. "And he came up one day in the office and said how about paying me and I said I haven’t gotten any plans yet ... he wanted the money up front so we could start on the building and he offered to supervise every day and he did.

"He came down there every day and drew on a little shingle on what he wanted them (the builders) to do because it was so unusual and the builders didn’t know how to do it."

Bachman said years ago it wasn’t unusual for architects to be on site every day.

"That goes back years ago when architects were called a master builders," said Bachman, who has been designing in Gainesville for 22 years. "That can even go all the way back to building the pyramids."

The design of the structure called for wood shakes for the exterior of the building, but the city building codes didn’t match the plan.

"Originally we were going to have wood shakes on the roof and the city wouldn’t approve that and this was after we were nearly through with the building," Lawson said. "So I drew up a city ordinance that any building within a certain distance of any other building in this area could be approved with wood shakes on the building; this building is the only one in the city in the downtown district that has that ... the city approved the ordinance and we put wood shakes on it."

Lawson owned the property that he ran his real estate and insurance business out of until 1985.

"We rented it for a while ... and then sold my insurance business to Turner, Wood & Smith (in 1990)," Lawson said.

Currently Charles W. Pittman Jr., of Pittman Investments LLP, owns the building that is leased to American Legacy Mortgage.

"We like the location and the pyramid-style building is obvious in Gainesville," said Stacey Rogers, owner of American Legacy Mortgage. "So it was very noticeable, it was location and the most obvious thing in Gainesville. We tell people where the pyramid building is and they know exactly where that is ... it’s a unique building and that is why we like it."