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For Iconic Tara Plantation, History Isn't Yet Gone With the Wind

Seventy-five years after "Gone With the Wind" made its debut, a Georgia man is laboring to save the homestead the movie made famous.

LOVEJOY, Georgia — It was a story for ages — and 75 years after "Gone With the Wind" made its debut, it is still drawing audiences to an unlikely place.

Monday will mark three-quarters of a century since the classic film premiered, later winning 10 Academy Awards and immortalizing that scene when Rhett turns to Scarlett and delivers those unforgettable parting words: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

But all those years ago, as moviegoers watched Scarlett vow to return home, few would have imagined what would become of that precious home, Tara.

Now, on a cool morning outside an old dairy barn just south of Atlanta, historian Peter Bonner proudly shows off one of the most iconic pieces of American cinema.

In his own way, he is trying to restore one of the most famous facades of all time.

"Welcome to Tara!" he shouts in a cheerful Southern drawl.

It turns out Tara wasn't a real home, after all — just an exterior Hollywood set. (Bonner jokes that's not surprising, since most people in Hollywood are fake, anyway.) The facade was built in California in 1939. It sat on a movie lot for 20 years before studio owner Desi Arnaz tore it down and sold the pieces.

A Georgia company had hoped to turn it into a tourist attraction — but those plans fizzled. Finally, Betty Talmadge, the wife of Sen. Herman Talmadge, bought the facade for $5,000 in 1979, Bonner said. Since she died in 2005, the pieces have remained in the dairy barn, untouched.

"It amazes me that there's any of it left," he said. "Margaret Mitchell's story of survival is, in a sense, right there in the barn — in that Tara is still here."

Now, Bonner's convinced that Talmadge's family to let him try to rescue Tara one more time. Talk to him long enough and he'll quote William Faulkner: "In the South, the past is not forgotten."

He is far from a typical conservationist. There are no protective gloves here. He claims the first time he tried to clean off one of the wooden pieces, he wiped off a good chunk of the paint.

But he is nothing if not passionate. Most of the pieces have now been categorized. He gladly tells you where each of the neoclassical pillars and grand cathedral windows shows up in the movie.

"Each one of these has a story," he says.

And ever the businessman, he is now giving "Gone With the Wind" tours. Fans of the classic film can't seem to get enough.

"I got chills when I saw it — and almost teary-eyed," movie buff Missy Eversole says.

Emily Green, who says she's watched the four-hour film about a dozen times, decided to take the tour while visiting from Miami.

"To see the pieces from the movie and actually hold them in your hand is just a story you will take with you forever," she says.

Peter Bonner freely admits he hasn't thought too far ahead. He has no timetable for how long it might take to put Tara back together and doesn't even have plans to erect it to its previous glory.

Right now, he's slowly matching up the pieces — on his own dime — and says the worst that could happen is that he gets stuck with a few Home Depot receipts.

"We're in a chrome and glass world," he said. "But we always need to look back, because that trail from the past helps us get to the future."