Idea of razing library ‘absolutely ludicrous’

Since the Streets of Buckhead luxury development stalled during the real estate bust, residents of the area have had to put up with vacant lots and idle cranes. But the Buckhead Library in the heart of the mess has buzzed on.

The internationally acclaimed black slate building, designed by local architects Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam, narrowly escaped demolition after the Streets developer tried to buy the property. But a groundswell of protest, which included demonstrations, petition drives and pressure on county commissioners, kept the sale from happening.

The strongest opposition came from patrons of the library, including 88-year-old Frances Sottnek, who enlisted the help of her son, Michael Riggall. We caught up with Riggall, 64, a professional photographer, to discuss his efforts to fight city hall, or in this case, the Fulton County Commission.

Q: How did you get involved in this movement?

A: My mother called me; she was very upset because she uses the library all the time. Here was a facility that was a great success in terms of use. It was an architectural gem. The idea of demolishing it just struck me as absolutely ludicrous.

Q: Are you a protesting kind of guy?

A: This was the first time. A friend asked me if I had gotten a permit for our demonstration. I called someone at the police department to see if we needed one but they never called back. I decided that implied consent.

Q: You were up against some pretty heavy hitters, weren’t you?

A: The business community was in favor of the sale. So were two commissioners. The one who changed his opinion and opposed the sale was John Eaves, the chairman. I have great support for him. My father used to say, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” which is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Q: Who opposed the sale?

A: The Northside Library Association. The architectural community, particularly younger architects. The most important group were the people who use the library. Without the public comments, the protests, the e-mails, the letters and phone calls to commissioners, the sale would have gone through.

Q: What about the developer’s offer to build an exact replica of the library nearby?

A: It was absurd. The library’s design is very site specific. It is on the highest point in Buckhead on a ridgeline with a view of the city through the windows.

Q: What do you think would have happened had the sale been approved?

A: It is very possible we could have had a hole in the ground in Buckhead and lost what I consider to be an architectural masterpiece. The British almost tore down the Taj Mahal to use the marble for paving stone. I really felt like the sale was ill-conceived from the beginning.

Q: Has your mother roped you into your next cause?

A: I am like the Roman Cincinnatus. Now that my work is done, I’ve gone back to my farm.

The Sunday conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by e-mail at