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Company's new Buford home has charm, grace and history
Businessman Siebold relocates HQ to Bona Allen Mansion, a landmark of celebrity cowboys
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Steve Siebold, CEO of The Siebold Success Network and professional speaker, stands in the stairwell Thursday at the Bona Allen Mansion in Buford. Renovations to the mansion will begin in about six months, according to Siebold. - photo by Erin O. Smith

A pair of brass lions lounge at the main entrance of the Bona Allen Mansion.

Their tired, tarnished eyes have watched guests come and go for 104 years. They’ve seen some of the South’s wealthiest enter the iron gates, shoes tapping up and down the brick steps. Celebrities have strolled past the statues. Singing cowboy Gene Autry visited once, as did the cast of the popular TV Western “Bonanza.”

“Roy Rogers slept in this house,” said Steve Siebold, a Gainesville entrepreneur who last week purchased the 9,000-square-foot home and 6 surrounding acres in Buford. “A lot of people who were in the old Western movies visited here, because the Bona Allen Co. had the nicest saddles in the country.”

Built in 1911, the European-style home of tannery business tycoon Bona Allen Sr., is soon to become the headquarters for The Siebold Success Network family of businesses, which offers speaking, training and consulting services.

Siebold said his company plans to put its staff of more than 20 into the home and four surrounding buildings within the next six months. But first, they’ve got a lot of renovating to do.

“We’re doing several million dollars in renovations,” Siebold said. While he didn’t disclose how much the property cost, he did say the renovations were going to cost more than the purchase price.

The author of seven books and a professional speaker, Siebold finds inspiration in Bona Allen’s story.

“I’m not sure he could have imagined the ways people like me would make money today, but I’m confident he would relate to and approve of our entrepreneurial spirit, and be proud that his home is helping to carry that forward,” he said.

The Bona Allen leather enterprises was most successful in 1932, employing more than 2,200 people at the tannery, located down the street in Buford.

Last February, the long-defunct tannery caught fire. Prior to that, in 1981, a blaze gutted the building, which at the time was owned by Tandy Leather.

But other than the toll time will take, the mansion has maintained much of its original beauty.

What struck Siebold from the start was “how grand of a property it is. You drive up to the gates of this place, and your jaw just hits the ground. There’s no way you can’t be blown away when you see it.”

Siebold added that he also had great respect for what he’d heard about the Allens’ business.

“The way I understand it, the Allen family basically built Buford,” he said. “They were great business people, and they had a reputation for treating their employees right. That mirrors our company’s philosophy of treating people the way you want to be treated. So, pretty much everything about this place, about the history of the family, it felt like the perfect fit for us.”

Currently headquartered in Gainesville, Siebold said he’d initially planned to relocate in an office complex, “but when we heard about this place, I thought, ‘what a cool place to work.’ We saw the 6 acres surrounding it and figured we could make a campus out of it, because we need something like this. Our company’s growing like crazy.”

Siebold said every time he walks the grounds, he imagines what it must have been like to see the place “when it was in its prime.”

“They had politicians from Washington out here. They had celebrities. I bet they had some unbelievable parties here,” Siebold said.

According to a column published on March 22, 2009 by Johnny Vardeman, retired editor of The Times, during the “heyday of Western movies, most of the cowboy stars sat in Bona Allen saddles. Some would come to Buford to specially fit their horses.”

One such encounter is memorialized nearby. A statue of Roy Rogers, his horse Trigger and saddle-maker Jack Johnson stands in a downtown Buford park across from the old company.

And, not too far away, sit the regal lion statues at the entrance to the Bona Allen Mansion.

Custom-made for Allen and imported from Italy, the brass animals were shipped over in a boat in 1911. There they have lounged for more than a century.

“I think these lions are the coolest thing about this place,” Siebold said. “Look at them. They’re not mean. They’re sort of welcoming. They just watch. Everytime I come here, I learn a new story about some aspect of this place. That’s the charm.”

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