Antique Cast Iron Lions-A Little History

Here is a little History on the Magnificent Antique Cast Iron Lions  for sale.

Passers-by might notice the two cast iron lions in front of this 1950s home . Their fierce countenance, striking size and bright white paint help them stand out against the brick home behind them, where they’ve stood for more than 60 years.

These regal lions have watched over at least two Montgomery residences in their lifetime — perhaps more than that.

Their lair is in front of the childhood home of the owner. She thinks her father installed the lions about 1952, not long after the home was built, and she doesn’t remember a time when the lions weren’t there.

There’s still some parts of their history that are unknown.

The Morning View estate
The lions guarded the Haardt home for decades and might have remained in relative obscurity if not for a couple of local preservationists. A few years ago, historian Carole King and writer Karren Pell began collaborating on their book “Montgomery’s Historic Neighborhoods,” which was published in 2010.

In their research for the book, they came across some photos and postcards of the Montgomery mansion known as Morning View, the large estate of Gen. Mitchell B. Houghton that stood at the corner of Ann Street and Atlanta Highway. Morning View was recorded as early as 1906, located on the eastern edge of the newly incorporated city of Capitol Heights.

"Morning View has an interesting story; longtime Montgomerians will remember the lovely two-story home that faced north on Atlanta Highway, with four large columns supporting a grand portico. A wide driveway led visitors through the spacious grounds that have been described as beautifully landscaped.

The home was destroyed by fire in the early 1970s. Apartments that were built in front of Morning View, while it was still standing, are still there today at the corner of Ann Street and Atlanta Highway.

(King later would write a blog post for Midtown Montgomery Living detailing some of the home’s history. It was published July 20, 2012, and is still viewable, titled “A Vanishing Morning View.”)

Later, on a driving tour of some of Montgomery’s older homes with a friend, King saw Haardt’s house on South Haardt Drive — built on three lots, it stands out among its neighbors. She noticed the lions on the lawn and recalled seeing lions in the Morning View photos. She compared the early photos to the real thing and discovered the lions in front of Haardt’s home were indeed the ones in front of Morning View, at least at one time.

(Several photos and the postcard are viewable on the “Times Gone By” Facebook page in the “Morningview” album. The name is spelled as two words on early postcards.)

One mystery is how and why the lions were moved from their landscaped lawn at Morning View to the Haardt home, about 5 miles to the southwest.

The home was built by Haardt’s father, John Haardt, a successful local real estate developer who gave the Haardt Estates neighborhood the family name.

Her father, in addition to being a developer and buyer of Montgomery real estate, often bought and kept architectural relics from older homes that were demolished or sold for salvage, as well as antique furniture and decorations. Moldings, floorings, doorknobs, marble, doors — he saved all the pieces he found interesting.

Her father was a close friend of a woman named Bessie Walker, who lived at Morning View. It’s unclear when she took ownership after the Houghtons, but in a historic structure survey done by the Alabama Historical Commission in 1968 that King has found, Bessie Walker is listed as the owner.

Haardt remembers going with her father to visit “Miss Bessie,” and then with her mother after her father died, until about 1975. Haardt remembers Walker as a colorful figure, who sat “in this big wicker chair on the second floor with this big cat. And she had the most Southern accent,” an older, more elegant accent than most people have today.

Haardt theorizes that a sale of Walker’s possessions was at some point arranged, perhaps to raise money to take care of her, and John Haardt bought the lions at that time — either because he wanted to help Walker or because he wanted the statues. She does know that her father loved his Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and the lion is one of its symbols.
“She just stayed up there, fanning herself, being real independent — always had rouge on, and blue eye shadow.”

A new home?

Wherever the lions are destined to go, they won’t go easily.

The cast iron lions are hollow, but pieces of rebar run through the legs and paws into large concrete slabs. Haardt figures there are only two ways to extract the lions — either dig a hole deep and wide enough to pull them out with the concrete intact or to chip away at the foundation and cut the rebar under the paws and later put them on new foundations.

But she points out that cast iron can be brittle, despite its weight.

“Wherever they go, they’re going to have to be permanent for another 65 years,” King said. “That’s why everybody’s moving carefully.”

And there are more questions about the lions, too. King feels that even though the lions don’t appear in photos or postcards of Morning View until the 1920s and later, they are of a 19th-century quality. “It’s like they had another life, even before Morning View.”

Just this week, she received some confirmation of that. She sent a photo of the lions to Scott Howell, the owner of Robinson Iron in Alexander City, whom she knew through previous preservation work. The company has many old molds that were used to make cast iron.

Howell recognized the lions and said they appear in the 1858 Wood and Perot iron works company catalog. Wood and Perot was in Philadelphia but had a satellite location in New Orleans, King said.

So it could be that the lions were produced in the 19th century, perhaps in New Orleans, and were shipped here and placed at another location before Gen. Houghton put them in front of Morning View. But King and Pell haven’t proven that yet."

Regardless of their provenance, these lions are iconic symbols. 

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