Buford auditorium qualifies for Register of Historic Places

BUFORD - Usually Jim Chaffin and his staff work to transform exteriors - parks, playgrounds or backyards.

But when Chaffin was looking for a new location for his business Exterior Concepts, he decided to try his hand at recreating an indoor scene.

The result was the renovation of one of Buford's treasures, restoring the old school auditorium and qualifying it for the National Register of Historic Places.

The brick building - where the ticket booth has now been replaced by a window - made the registry in August.

"The Buford Public School Auditorium is significant in the area of education and entertainment/recreation because the auditorium was integral to the education of Buford students for nearly 30 years and because the auditorium was used for community functions through the middle of the 20th century," officials with Georgia's Historic Preservation Division wrote in a press release.

Chaffin, who grew up in nearby DeKalb County, said he doesn't have any memories of the building, but he loved it the minute he saw it.

"I took it and tried to be creative. It's real unique," he said, describing the building as a "disaster" when he purchased it in 2006. "It has a lot of history here, and all we did was enhance it."

In a large room lit with huge windows, the proscenium arch now surrounds the entrance to Chaffin's workshop, placed on the stage; the dressing rooms now hold tools and chemicals.

Chaffin isn't sure if it is an original part of the architecture, but the support beams in the front of the building are huge railroad tracks.

"To me it's just a cool building," he said.

The auditorium was built in 1926 as part of a complex of city schools. When the city issued bonds to build a new complex, it was converted to storage and offices in 1956.

The auditorium is all that remains of the complex, but Chaffin has a photo in the entranceway of schoolchildren in front of the school and auditorium in 1927.

City Commission Chairman Phillip Beard said he can find his father in that photo - the 7-year-old version of his old man.

He remembers going to the auditorium each morning when he began school in the 1940s.

"That was our gymnasium and assembly place," he said. "It was part of my early childhood."

The auditorium was a town gathering spot, he said, and the scene of plenty of meetings and events. To have the building restored means a lot, he said.

"It gives that little portion of town its due," he said, adding that the bricks from the elementary school were used to build the city Masonic lodge. "(Historic buildings) are part of our history, and I'm glad someone has taken care of it."