The estate has been a bed-and-breakfast and restaurant. More recently Hough and Rallo hosted weddings on the property. After undergoing over six months of renovations, the property will reopen on April 16.
Rallo, the designer and visionary of the house, had to step away from managing the property. His health was in decline so he temporarily moved to Maryland, where his partner Hough lived and worked. While in Maryland, Rallo discovered that he had a serious blockage in his heart and suffered a brain aneurism afterwards.
After spending two years recovering, Rallo and Hough decided to come back to Georgia. Hough retired from his accounting job and the couple had to decide whether or not they wanted to sell their bed-and-breakfast.
In Rallo’s absence, the general manager hadn’t taken care of the property. The gardens were overgrown and the house hadn’t been maintained. They tried to sell the house, but ultimately decided to stay and give it another shot.
Highgate Estate was Rallo’s dream. He always wanted to be a designer. Hough said that when they hosted dinner parties at their home, Rallo would decorate the tables beautifully.
Rallo always wanted to run a bed-and-breakfast, so the couple began looking at properties in the Northeast where they lived. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find a house that fit the bill.
The couple had met in Atlanta back in 1996, so they decided to look at bed-and-breakfast properties in Georgia. As soon as they walked into the house, formerly known as the Higdon House, Rallo fell in love. Hough said that Rallo had an immediate reaction and knew this was the home.
From 2001 to 2014, Rallo managed the property while Hough stayed in Maryland for his job. Rallo struggled to find adequate employees for the property and faced discrimination from the conservative small town. Hough said that much of the push-back Rallo faced from local government was because he is gay.
One day when Rallo was running a restaurant on the property, officials from city hall came down and gave him a notice that he was to shut down immediately. They said he was in violation of property laws and didn’t have permission to run a restaurant on the property.
Rallo went down to city hall and proved to the lawyers that he had in fact the correct permit. All he asked for was a formal apology in the paper. The officials never did, and from that point on Rallo knew he couldn’t reason with the city officials.
In recent months, as they were applying for a liquor license for the property Hough and Rallo experienced a different kind of city government. Hough said that after the Oconee Brewing Company came in the city has been more open to changing conservative laws. They were finally able to receive their liquor license. Hough said he is inviting the new city council to the opening day and hopes to have a better relationship with the city government in the future.
Rebecca Beato is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.