Architect's descendants see revived visitors center

May 6—Michael Torras and Mallory Carmouche are pretty certain their great-grandfathers knew each other.

They aren't 100% sure about it, but considering Torras' great-grandfather was F.J. Torras, the chief engineer for the causeway to St. Simons Island that bears his name, and Carmouche's great-grandfather was Francis Abreu, the architect behind the Visitors Center building at the corner of U.S. 17 and the causeway, it's safe to say they were at least acquaintances.

Throw in the fact that both were of Spanish descent and living and working in the same small town at the same time in the 1920s and 1930s, and Torras is confident his meeting on Friday with Carmouche closed a circle three generations in the making.

"We started talking on Facebook and put those pieces together," Torras said Friday, standing in the old Visitors Center with Carmouche and her mother, Elouise Lamons. "It's very likely they knew each other."

The Torras Foundation and The Visitors Club Preservation Fund have been working tirelessly since last fall to rehabilitate the Visitors Center that was designed by Abreu in 1931, just seven years after the completion of the F.J. Torras Causeway in 1924.

Carmouche and Lamons were visiting the Golden Isles for a vacation from Atlanta, so Torras invited them to come to see the work that has been done on their ancestor's building.

"They had shared with me that they were sad to see the building deteriorating and I wanted them to see the progress," Torras said.

Lamons said the building was a great example of the architecture of the past.

"They just don't make things like this anymore," she said while examining the woodwork and details inside. "The details are just amazing."

Lamons' grandfather was a well-known architect who designed homes and buildings during the 1920s from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Georgia. He moved to Sea Island after meeting Alfred Jones, who encouraged him to move to the island after seeing Abreu's work in Fort Lauderdale.

Abreu worked in the same Spanish revival style as The Cloister architect, Addison Mizner, and designed homes and buildings along the Georgia coast, including on Sea Island. He eventually formed the firm Abreu & Robeson with James Robeson in 1929.

Robeson was a graduate of Georgia Tech, much like F.J. Torras, further solidifying the likelihood Torras and Abreu knew each other.

Lamons and Carmouche are happy to see the Visitor's Center finding new life. The Torras Foundation and the preservation fund have, among other things, rehabilitated the interior, landscaped the exterior and will soon be placing a rehabilitated weather vane by Sea Island Forge atop the tower that gives the building its distinctive shape.

"It's great how the community has been able to preserve it over the past 100 years," Carmouche said.