By H.M. Cauley

Each week, a dedicated crew of volunteer tour guides take visitors and locals alike through some of the city’s architectural gems. They lead crowds through the ballrooms of the Fox Theater; through the tree-lined streets of Ansley Park; and by the city’s first skyscrapers downtown as part of the Atlanta Preservation Center’s corps of guides who conduct walking tours in various parts of the city.

They carry out the APC’s mission to educate metro Atlantans and visitors from around the world about the city’s historic sites.

For guides like Brookhaven resident Tom Mahaffey and Mike Kelly of Sandy Springs, the reward is taking an active part in preserving Atlanta’s past.

“I like sharing the excitement and fascinating history of one of America’s largest and most beautiful theaters that is right here in Atlanta,” said Mahaffey, a five-year volunteer who conducts at least two Fox Theater tours each month. “At the same time, I’m meeting visitors from around the globe. I encounter such interesting and diverse people. I did a tour recently that had people from Peru, China, Kenya, France, New Jersey, and Roswell.”

Fond childhood memories motivated Kelly to sign on as a Fox guide four years ago.

“I particularly remember the sing-alongs with the ‘Mighty Mo’ organ and the sunrise-sunset effect in the auditorium’s sky,” said Kelly. “Becoming a tour guide was a way I could give back to the theater that has meant so much to me over the years.”

The APC is currently recruiting new volunteers to conduct tours of historic neighborhoods and sites around the city.

Along with the Fox, there are tours of Historic Downtown, Inman Park, Grant Park, Druid Hills, Historic Midtown, Ansley Park, the Midtown/SoNo Commercial District and the railroad district around Underground.

Volunteers need not have any special knowledge of these areas. The APC offers extensive training that provides future guides with the history and details of the areas they want to focus on.

New guides will also have the chance to be part of the APC’s 30th anniversary year. The nonprofit organization, based in Grant Park, has been leading the city’s preservation efforts since 1979, and several events are planned throughout 2010 to celebrate.

The next guide training sessions begin in January. Three introductory and overview classes will be held Jan. 13, 20 and 27 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. An additional four to six classes will provide in-depth details on each specific tour.

Guides must be members of the APC or join with a $35 individual or $60 family membership.

As members, guides are welcome to take all of the APC’s regularly scheduled tours at no charge. In addition, there is a $25 fee for training materials. Prospective volunteers are invited to contact Rebecca Roberts, 404-688-3353, ext. 13.