Law of­fice of Harper Lee’s fa­ther goes on sale

The China Post - - ARTS - BY JAY REEVES

Be­fore Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mock­ing­bird” made the fic­tional lawyer At­ti­cus Finch one of the best-known names in mod­ern Amer­i­can literature, the man who inspired the char­ac­ter — Lee’s fa­ther — prac­ticed law in an old bank build­ing in her home­town of Mon­roeville, Alabama.

Long va­cant, the two-story struc­ture no doubt helped in­spire a piv­otal scene in Lee’s re­cently re­leased “Go Set a Watch­man,” ac­cord­ing to a town his­to­rian. And for US$125,000 or less, you could own it.

The old brick build­ing that once housed the law of­fice of A.C. Lee on the court­house square is for sale in Harper Lee’s home­town in south­west Alabama.

In Lee’s new book “Go Set a Watch­man,” At­ti­cus’ of­fice pro­vides the set­ting for a cli­mac­tic dress­ing­down of Finch, beloved for his sense of jus­tice in Lee’s “To Kill a Mock- in­g­bird” but re­vealed as a racist seg­re­ga­tion­ist in “Watch­man.” A.C. Lee, who served in the Alabama Leg­is­la­ture, was him­self hes­i­tant to em­brace in­te­gra­tion but be­came a sup­porter of civil rights be­fore his death in 1962.

Harper Lee fre­quently spent time with her fa­ther in the old bank build­ing and would have had it in mind as the lo­ca­tion for her fa­ther’s of­fice when she wrote “Watch­man” in the mid-1950s, said long­time Mon­roeville res­i­dent and his­to­rian Ge­orge Thomas Jones. That man­u­script was re­vised dras­ti­cally to pro­duce the Pulitzer Prize-win­ning “Mock­ing­bird.”

In real life, the two-story build­ing has been empty for at least a decade. Part of the roof has sep­a­rated from a wall, cre­at­ing a gap that al­lowed wa­ter to en­ter the struc­ture and cause dam­age to floors and wall, par­tic­u­larly on the sec­ond floor.

The city is work­ing with the owner to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age, and of­fi­cials say a few po­ten­tial buy­ers have looked at the 557-squareme­ter build­ing in re­cent weeks. It’s been for sale on-and-off for years.

Cham­ber of Com­merce pro­mot­ers hope the global hoopla over Lee’s new book gets some­one in­ter­ested in the old Monroe County Bank build­ing in Mon­roeville, which was the thinly dis­guised model in both books for the fic­tional May­comb, Alabama.

“It’s an im­por­tant build­ing. It’s where her dad’s of­fice was,” said Anne Marie Bryan, di­rec­tor of Mon­roeville Main Street, which pro­motes the down­town area in the town, lo­cated about half­way be­tween Mont­gomery and Mo­bile.

Amelia An­dress Stacey, a bro­ker with Wood­land Realty who has the build­ing listed for sale for the outof-town owner, en­vi­sions it as a po­ten­tial spot for a res­tau­rant, shops or apart­ments with New Or­leansstyle bal­conies over­look­ing the old court­house, which inspired the set of the film ver­sion of “Mock­ing­bird.”

Jones said the brick build­ing, painted red, was built in 1909 and is one of the old build­ings in town. Jones should know: he’s one of the old­est peo­ple in Mon­roeville at 92 and knew A.C. Lee.

“He was a real nice guy. I was his reg­u­lar caddy when I was about 12,” said Jones, who later worked in the bank build­ing as an er­rand boy.

Lee’s law firm moved into the sec­ond floor of the bank af­ter a fire de­stroyed their pre­vi­ous lo­ca­tion in 1928, Jones said, and the firm re­mained there un­til mov­ing to a newer bank build­ing in 1972.

The city com­pli­ance of­fi­cer, Bob Craw­ford, said the old bank has been ne­glected for years af­ter hous­ing a gift store and video rental busi­ness but re­mains struc­turally sound.

“The bones are good,” said Craw­ford. “We would re­ally like to see some­thing done with it.”


This Thurs­day, Aug. 6 photo, shows the old bank build­ing that once housed the of­fice of au­thor Harper Lee’s fa­ther A.C. Lee on the court­house square in Mon­roeville, Alabama.

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