MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Nearly a year after the death of Harper Lee, a group in south Alabama hopes to develop new attractions and bring more tourists to the novelist's hometown of Monroeville, which helped inspire both "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Go Set a Watchman."
Working with Lee's attorney Tonja Carter and others, local businessman and philanthropist George Landegger has purchased the 1909 bank building that housed the one-time office of Lee's father A.C. Lee — who served as the model for attorney Atticus Finch in both books.
Organizers plan to renovate the 6,000-square-foot building and convert it into a museum in Monroeville, where Lee died in February 2016. Other attractions could be added later, including renovations of historic structures and reproductions of places mentioned in the books. A museum in the old county courthouse already prominently features Lee and author Truman Capote, childhood friend of Lee.
Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell, who has been involved with discussions about the project, answered questions about plans to spruce up Monroeville, which served as Lee's model for fictional Macomb in both "Mockingbird," which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and "Watchman," which Lee actually wrote first but released decades later in 2015.
AP: Tell me about the old bank building; you've been in it. What does it look like?
Sentell: There's been a drop ceiling put in probably since the days when Mr. A.C. Lee saw it, but you can see some nice trim and the old ceiling. It's an empty building with very little furniture, but some built-in cases still exist. The most interesting feature is, since it was a bank, the vault with the large door still there. I think the intention is to certainly restore the vault because it was an important commercial building for the community beyond the connection to the Lee family.
AP: Once the building is restored what will it be?
Sentell: The intent is to have exhibits and artifacts related to Harper Lee and her career, (and it's) to be determined as to what kind of additional exhibits. It would be a place where people, where pilgrims, could come and experience on a little more personal basis the character of Harper Lee beyond what they just now see in the courthouse museum.
AP: How would this fit into the overall Mockingbird-related tourism portion of Monroeville?
Sentell: George Landegger, who was associated with the business community of Monroeville for several decades, was a close friend of Harper Lee particularly late in her years. He wants to help the economy of the town by either restoring or recreating additional structures where visitors could get more of a sense of what the community looked like in decades past.
AP: Is the state going to dive in and help promote this?
Sentell: The state Tourism Department is enthusiastic about the prospects of Monroeville being a more robust destination because international visitors and other people who make the trek off the interstate to Monroeville want to experience and feel more about the town when Harper Lee lived there. It will be an easy sell.