SMYRNA, Ga. — Crews officially demolished a well-known restaurant that served Southern staples and lured celebrities, but also used racist imagery to evoke the pre-Civil War South.
The city of Smyrna confirmed the demolition of Aunt Fanny’s Cabin on Friday after months of debate on what to do with the property.
In December, a task force recommended the restaurant’s demolition unless someone offered to move it.
A city spokesperson confirmed it accepted a bid, but the plan to move it fell through and the second-place bid declined to take it. That left the city with the choice to tear it down.
“With all members of Council present for discussion regarding the matter, the majority supported honoring the vote by Council regarding the property while also making it clear that the honoring of Fanny Williams in a substantial way will be moving forward through the work of the Committee assigned by Mayor Norton for the purpose of honoring Fanny Williams. In compliance with the vote of Council, the structure has been demolished,” the city wrote in a statement.
Aunt Fanny’s Cabin opened in the 1890s and became a popular dining destination during World War II. Many celebrities dined there for decades before the place closed in the early 1990s.
But it also embraced an “Old South” décor and theme. According to news reports, young Black people hired as servers wore wooden menu boards around their necks and the walls had framed advertisements for slaves.
“The young boys —that look like my son’s age— carrying around menu boards on their backs. Or the placemats in there. We have images of that. Graphically showing some of these images. It’s painful,” Councilman Lewis Wheaton said in December. “How we wrestle with that history relative to a building is something we need to think carefully about.”
The namesake “Aunt Fanny” was a real person. Fanny Williams was a cook and housekeeper for the family that owned the restaurant. Wheaton said she was a mascot for the place but never had a financial stake.
The city previously said it would work to honor Williams.
“We wish to honor Fanny Williams and not the racist theme and myths of the former establishment and others like it, popular and profitable in post WWII Atlanta. Though sometimes viewed in more glowing terms by an almost exclusively white patronage with fond memories of “great food” and a “family atmosphere,” these establishments are symbols and sentiments of a time that does not represent or honor the dignity of all, and certainly does not represent our community. Fanny Williams’ image and person, by all verifiable historical accounts, was exploited in the social and marketing myths of the former establishment. We hope to help protect her memory from myth and exploitation by honoring her, not the memory of a restaurant,” the city said.
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