One of Forsyth County’s most iconic structures is no more.
This week, crews continued work to bring down the iconic Barker house atop Sawnee Mountain, long known for its unique, spaceship-like design. Newman Smith, owner of Newman Smith Contracting, said taking down the one-of-a-kind structure on a skinny mountain road had brought some issues.
“With it being so unique, not just the structure itself, but where it’s at location wise, it’s hard to get,” Smith said. “Typically on something like this, I’d use a much larger machine instead of the smaller equipment just because of access.”
The house was designed by late architect Jim Barker as his home and sports a flying-saucer-shaped structure on top connected to a basement through a staircase and elevator. The unique layout of the house has led to a common refrain that the house was “Jetsons on top, Flintstones on bottom.”
With the ongoing demolition, the property is littered with insulation, broken glass and twisted metal. As of Wednesday evening, only the now-stripped stairwell and the bottom portion of the house remained.
“Basically, we had to do a lot of hand [demolition] to get the structure ready to bring down,” Smith said. “Once we got to the point where we could actually use the machine, we started basically just taking it apart piece by piece. You have to take your time and separate stuff as you go and work around it.”
According to a Forsyth County News article from 2003, the house and about 13 acres around it were purchased for $1.8 million to be used to preserve the mountain, though the article stated “how the house might be used in that context has not yet been decided.”
Between 2003 and 2010, five studies were done to find uses for the house, all of which found extreme damage.
A study done by Georgia Tech in 2004 found the property would need an additional lobby and tower for an elevator to meet American Disability Act standards.
In 2010, a use and feasibility study by the county’s parks and recreation department looked at the property for visitations, programs and rental for classes, small events and weddings.
The study found the revenue would not approach costs. It was estimated the annual revenue would be $40,000-$80,000, but it would also cost $80,000 in annual operating expenses and around $1.8 million for renovations.
Having no fire hydrant and the house being “generally not up to code with visible water damage and exposed electrical connections” were also concerns.
The house had fallen into disrepair since the county’s purchase and had been the site of illicit activities such as vandalism and trespassing.
From the beginning of 2015 to August 2016, local emergency personnel responded to 83 emergency and non-emergency calls at the property.
In September 2016, Forsyth County Commissioners voted to bring the structure down but decided the week after to postpone the decision to give Barker’s family six months to find an alternative.
The family was unable to do so, and in March, the decision was made to bring the house down.
“When we talked to the architects and talked to the contractors and talked to demolition experts and talked to these people, they would say, ‘What a shame,’” Bambi Parham, Barker’s daughter, said at the time, “but when they got down to brass tacks of figuring out when they could get to the house and when they could schedule it, it just never happened.”
In August, Newman Smith was selected to handle the demolition for $75,560. Hibernia Enterprises Inc. also received a $21,790 bid for asbestos abatement.
The property is expected to be used by the county’s parks department, and a pavilion with the house’s iconic shape has been considered as a remembrance of the house.
Smith said the house should be completely down in approximately a week.
“Probably with everything, I’m shooting to be done the end of next week,” he said. “The biggest thing is we still have to haul out and the concrete and metal and debris and then actually take down the center part of the structure and everything.”