MONROEVILLE, Ala. (AP) — 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.
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 $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 southwest Alabama home of Monroeville.
In Lee’s new book “Go Set a Watchman,” Atticus’ office provides the setting for a climactic dressing-down of Finch, beloved for his sense of justice in Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” 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.
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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 6,000-square-foot building in recent weeks. It’s been 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 out-of-town owner, envisions it as a potential spot for a restaurant, shops or apartments with New Orleans-style balconies overlooking the old courthouse, which inspired the set of the film version of “Mockingbird.”
“I can’t imagine the Monroeville square without it,” she said.
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.
While the asking price of $125,000 might be high for dilapidated property valued at $46,460 on county tax rolls, federal and state tax credits for historic preservation could help a new owner recoup as much as 45 percent of the cost, Bryan said.
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.”