Started in 1913, gutted by the Great Augusta Fire of 1916 and opened in 1918, the Lamar Building of 1974, known then as the Southern Finance Building, was a monument to owner Eugene Holley’s stature and wealth.
Politically, Holley was a power broker. Elected to the Georgia State Senate in 1964, he was on the influential Appropriations Committee and able to steer resources toward several important Augusta projects, including guiding a measure that secured funds to establish the Medical College of Georgia’s School of Dentistry, now The Dental College of Georgia. As a businessman, his association with the oil industry financed an increasingly lavish lifestyle that culminated in the construction of the Lamar Building’s glass penthouse, designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, who would later design the glass pyramid at the Louvre.
Known locally as the toaster, the wedge-shaped penthouse, which made the building the tallest in Augusta, may have been the most audacious aspect of the project, but those lucky enough to make it inside were treated to a host of breathtaking appointments, including handpicked, handcarved Italian marble, historical artifacts from the 17th century and the era’s highest-tech indulgences. Ever the showman, Holley would often impress guests by ordering carryout from the neighboring Pinnacle Club and then sending his helicopter to pick it up.
While such high-flying excess captivated the Augusta community for a time, public opinion turned on Holley just after Christmas 1975, when he erected a 36-foot-tall illuminated cross on the top of the building, something he called “a present to Jesus on his birthday.” That marked the beginning of the end, and by May 1978, the bank had foreclosed on the building, selling it for just $300,000 more than the cost of the penthouse. While it no longer buzzes with the same level of activity, the Lamar Building continues to dominate the skyline.