A historic Montgomery attraction has added an intriguing new offering to the city’s lodging options while bringing new awareness to a cultural treasure.
In the last few months, Sara Powell has fielded interview requests from reporters as far away as Italy, London, Japan and India. As the Fitzgerald Museum’s Executive Director, she’s well aware of the worldwide allure attached to the Fitzgerald family; it’s nothing new. But the increased attention the museum has garnered this year has been “overwhelming, yet fabulous,” she said.
This past January, the Fitzgerald Museum converted an upstairs apartment into an Airbnb rental. Garden & Gun was the first to grab hold of the story, soon followed by the New York Times, National Geographic Travel and a host of other national and regional publications. “I don’t think we anticipated the response we were going to get,” said Powell.
Not only has it put a spotlight on the Montgomery attraction, it’s also brought in hundreds more touring visitors than usual. The Airbnb itself has been consistently booked, sometimes two to three months out. “Most people just love the chance to stay in the home where Scott and Zelda lived. And we are very lucky in the sense that Cloverdale is very marketable,” Powell said. “You are a block away from some great, local restaurants and coffee shops and one of the oldest movie theaters in the state. It’s a unique place to be.”
The Home’s History
The home at 919 Felder Avenue is one of the last four surviving homes of the Fitzgeralds and the world’s only museum dedicated to their legacy. Scott, Zelda and their daughter Scottie lived in the home from October 1931 to April 1932. During that time, Zelda and Scott wrote portions of their respective novels, “Save Me The Waltz” and “Tender Is The Night,” while in the house that is now a museum. After they moved, the home was subdivided into four apartments.
Today, the Airbnb space is upstairs, and the museum is housed on the first floor, where visitors can tour rooms filled with the family’s personal items and other artifacts. Original pieces of Zelda’s artwork and paper dolls, Scott’s handwritten letters to Zelda, manuscripts of their books and a printing of Scott’s meticulous ledger are among the many displays.
Though the Fitzgeralds’ time in the home was short, Montgomery owns a significant piece of the family’s story. As Powell tells it, the Fitzgeralds’ romance began in 1918 when Scott first met Zelda Sayre at a Montgomery Country Club dance. Zelda grew up in Cottage Hill and attended Sidney Lanier High School. At the time they met, Scott was stationed at Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, awaiting deployment during World War I. Their courtship and marriage followed shortly after, and the two went on to live a glittering and nomadic lifestyle throughout the United States and abroad, averaging six months in each place. “They were known for being wild, for throwing great parties, and for spending absurd amounts of money at a time when that wasn’t really common,” Powell said. “But there were also a lot of underlying, tragic struggles in their lives, including Scott’s alcoholism and Zelda’s mental illness.”
It was ultimately that illness, and the need to get away from their excessive lifestyle, that brought the family back to Zelda’s hometown. Their time in Montgomery would become the last place Scott, Zelda and Scottie would live together as a family. From there, Zelda would seek treatment in North Carolina, Scott was off to Hollywood and Scottie to boarding school. In the 1970s, Scottie would return to Montgomery, settling here for the remainder of her life. In fact, some of the museum’s current board members were friends of Scottie’s.
More than half of the museum’s visitors are international travelers, and several new projects are aimed at engaging more locals. One project is a new cocktail and history garden that will provide a place for outdoor events and gatherings. Local Eagle Scouts helped install four raised flowerbeds and local agriculture-based non-profit E.A.T. South developed the crops planted. The effort both mimics and promotes the nearby Cloverdale Community Garden, encouraging folks to use and spend time on the property. Powell also hopes to continue growing the Fitzgerald Gala, the annual fundraising party that evokes the Jazz Age images the Fitzgeralds defined. A restoration capital campaign to bring the home more in line with what it looked like when the Fitzgeralds lived there is in Powell’s plans as well.
In addition, the bedding company Siscovers just unveiled a new F. Scott Fitzgerald luxury bedding line. The company will partner with the museum to redecorate the Airbnb with Fitzgerald-inspired linens. “The biggest thing is to get people coming through the door. People who live in Montgomery always tell me, ‘I see it and drive by all the time, but I’ve never been there.’”
As the only employee of the museum, Powell stays busy between the tours, special events and now, the Airbnb, but she’s proud to play a small part in continuing the artistic and literary legacy Scott and Zelda left behind. “Their appeal is timeless; they were some of the world’s first celebrities. And lucky for us, they documented it well,” said Powell.