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Civil War at 150: Local architect leads charge to restore Grant's tomb
Dedication of General Grant National Memorial took place in April 1897
Garland Reynolds is helping to design a new visitors center for Grant’s Tomb in New York and is also helping to make improvements to the late president’s tomb. The Gainesville architect also has worked with The Longstreet Society in restoring a portion of the former Piedmont Hotel on Maple Street in Gainesville, which Gen. James Longstreet operated in the late 1800s.

Forget the ages-old riddle "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" for a moment.

Try this on for size: What's Gainesville's connection to the famous U.S. monument in New York City?

The short answer might be Gainesville architect Garland Reynolds, who is known, among other things, for restoring a former hotel run by Confederate Gen. James Longstreet.

Reynolds, whose work ranges from churches to equestrian centers, has helped in efforts to restore the final resting place for Ulysses S. Grant, the Union's top military leader and the nation's 18th president.

"It just seems like a worthy cause," Reynolds said. "I think it's a great American story."

Ed Hochman, secretary of the Grant Monument Association, gushed about Reynolds' work on the project.

"Garland has been saintly," he said. "No gesture could ever match the kindness he has shown us."

Now for the rest of the answer, starting with a history lesson.

Grant, a national hero, died in 1885. The Grant Monument Association was formed soon after to raise money and build the tomb that would house Grant and eventually his wife (she died in 1902).

The dedication of Grant's Tomb, now known as the General Grant National Memorial, took place in April 1897.

"It was the event. There were over 1 million spectators," Hochman said. "Grant's Tomb is the most visited federal site through the end of World War I."

But as Civil War veterans died, interest waned.

"Americans being Americans, one generation's hero usually doesn't translate down to the grandchildren," Hochman said.

In the late 1950s, the Grant Monument Association turned over the tomb's operation to the National Park Service, "with the view that many of us had years ago that if the federal government took something over, it would, of course, be run correctly."

Within five or six years of the Park Service taking over the reins, "the deterioration began," Hochman said.

"There's water pouring through the roof. Graffiti is on the outside, the steps are rotten," he said.

By the early 1990s, Grant's Tomb "is a sewer," Hochman said. "It is a disgrace. It is not guarded at night. It is physically decaying. ... It's a marble granite structure, but you can actually see stones starting to shift from ill repair."

The iconic mausoleum had become home to vandalism, drug dealing, prostitution and animal sacrifices.

Frank Scaturro, a student at Columbia University who volunteered at Grant's Tomb, reported the problems to National Park Service supervisors.

He ended up writing a 325-page report, including 25 pages of pictures that wound up attracting international media attention.

The Grant Monument Association sued the federal government to clean up the tomb.

"The question then was what repairs needed to be done to stop the hemorrhaging, repair the damage and then go on to perhaps finish the tomb as it was originally envisioned," Hochman said.

Hochman said he and Scaturro "had absolutely no expertise in what needed to be done. How do you make a building like that handicapped accessible without destroying the architectural integrity of it? How do you make certain repairs to the dome?

"How do you design a visitors center to make sure it's adequate under federal law?"

Enter Reynolds, who had worked with the Gainesville-based Longstreet Society to restore the one remaining wing of the former Piedmont Hotel, which Longstreet ran in the late 1800s. The hotel is a one-story wooden building off Maple Street.

That work, which topped $500,000 in costs, was completed in 2007 after 13 years.

"Garland played an essential part in lighting the fire under the National Park Service to make the repairs," Hochman said.

The U.S. government ended up repairing the tomb under President Bill Clinton's term.

The work was adequate, "but they did the minimal necessary," Hochman said. "One of the reasons they did what they did was Garland was nice enough to come up with plans. The National Park Service could have rolled over me and Frank because we didn't know any better."

Reynolds' involvement in the project carried clout to get things done.

"This is not a fly-by-night guy. That is nationally renown architect who has a special interest in the Civil War and these type of monuments," Hochman said, adding that Reynolds donated his time and services to the effort.

Hochman found Reynolds through his own interest in U.S. history.

A longtime admirer of Grant, he became with familiar with Longstreet, who spent many of his postwar years in Gainesville.

The two men were more than generals on opposite sides during the Civil War; they were longtime friends who had known each other since their days at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Longstreet was a groomsman in Grant's wedding.

"I got on the Internet. There's a Grant Monument Association, so I wondered if there was anything to this guy Longstreet. And there was - in Gainesville," Hochman said.

He called Reynolds and proceeded to learn more about Longstreet, including the unpopular stances that he took, such as becoming a Republican and advocating civil rights for blacks.

And Hochman filled in Reynolds on Grant's Tomb and the restoration fight.

"And he essentially, he offered his services," Hochman said. "It was a godsend."

The National Park Service just restored the "overlook pavilion" near the tomb that gives visitors a view of the Hudson River and "has made it into a visitors center with bathroom facilities," Hochman said. "It is not what we wanted. We wanted a separate (visitors) center, but the National Park Service was (financially) constrained."

Reynolds told the Park Service that the pavilion would cost more to repair than to demolish and build anew, but the work that was completed wouldn't have been done without Reynolds' involvement, Hochman said.

In talking about the project, Reynolds said the No. 1 goal now, in addition to "making sure that repairs are kept up," is to make the tomb accessible for handicapped persons.

In essence, the federally run memorial violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Hochman also would like to see that improvement made, especially as Grant ached for soldiers who finished the Civil War disabled.

As for current conditions, "the tomb itself, physically, is in good shape now," he said. "... But the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. The price of maintaining Grant's Tomb or any monument is the same type of vigilance.

"And it's also fighting for the money. If it comes down, are you going to spend an extra dollar on Liberty Hall in Philadelphia or Grant's Tomb or a great national park?" Hochman said. "We're all fighting for the same limited funds."