Mariettans' answer to the first question, thus far, has always been "No."
Their answer to the second has not been nearly so clear cut.
And that question is back in the news again, thanks to Councilman Philip Goldstein's proposal to tear down the vintage 1924 Cuthbertson Building at the corner of North Park Square and Root Street. Goldstein, who is the council's most powerful member and who, with his family, is the biggest private property owner in downtown Marietta, wants to replace the two-story building with a five-story, 22,000-square-foot mixed-use building. He appears to have all the necessary clearances and permits - except one. He'll need the city's permission to close the streets at times that border three sides of the property during the demolition/construction process. With memories still fresh of the months-long disruption last winter and spring caused by the city's decision to replace the main water line around Marietta Square, I suspect there may be little appetite for a second helping of that dish.
Mayor Steve Tumlin has formed a committee to offer advice to the council about whether the city needs a height limitation for the Square.
I would say that's an excellent idea - and that one is needed.
Goldstein's planned building, in itself, would not be the end of the world if it were ever built. Its plans show an attractive building whose architecture echoes what's there now and probably would blend in well with its neighbors - except for its height. Even so, five stories would only be about one story taller than the Strand Theatre at the far end of North Park Square, and about the same height as the State Court Building on the east side of the Square.
But the bigger fear is that the new building would be the proverbial camel's nose in the tent. That is, it would set a precedent making it easier for Goldstein or some other landowner or developer to someday erect an eight- or 10-story building facing the Square.
Many of the merchants and landowners downtown think taller buildings will mean more customers and more tenants.
On the other hand, preservationists and those who enjoy the scale and look of the Square as it is want to keep it that way. Glover Park in Marietta Square is a one-of-a-kind place, with its arching trees, its fountain, its statue and its lush grass. It gives downtown a small-town, turn-of-the-century feel, especially on patriotic weekends when the Marietta Kiwanis Club and local merchants erect hundreds of U.S. flags within a block or so of the Square.
A eight- or 10-story building looming overhead would deaden that ambience and would keep part of the Square in a perpetual shadow.
Marietta was the focal point of Cobb commerce for well more than a century, but even so, it was a comparative backwater serving a cotton-based economy during those decades. There was never the money - or the demand - for tall buildings. Yesteryear's hard times had a silver lining, though, in that they removed much of the economic incentive for tearing down and replacing the bulk of the city's core. Thus, the Marietta Square of 2010 would be recognizable in many ways to the Mariettans of 1910, and vice versa. Mariettans have rarely been as bulldozer-happy as our neighbors just down the interstate in Atlanta have been.
The trick for our generation is to keep finding ways to protect the best of what's left from earlier days while at the same time enhancing and maximizing downtown's economic potential. Nobody wants to try to live and do business in a museum, after all.
There's no reason the council should not consider restricting building height. Such guidelines have been in place in Washington, D.C., for more than a century, and are used to protect the historic character and vistas of inner London and Paris as well. In Washington, those restrictions were put in place to keep the Capitol, White House and Washington Monument from being overwhelmed.
The mayor's task force, and ultimately the council, should keep in mind that their decisions - made with today's needs in mind - will have a huge impact on how the Square looks for the next century or longer. A five-or six-story clock tower or courthouse steeple is one thing; but a ring of five- to seven-story buildings, with a few even taller than that, would be something most Mariettans would soon regret.
It would be a towering mistake to let Marietta Square and Glover Park be overwhelmed in such a way.
Joe Kirby is Editorial Page editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and author of "The Bell Bomber Plant."