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There’s a penthouse ‘hidden’ atop the Aflac parking garage in Columbus. Relive its heyday.

Columbus might be the only city on planet Earth where a businessman built his dream home on top of his company’s parking garage. And if it isn’t — the Aflac penthouse was probably the swankiest of the bunch.

If you drive along Wynnton Road and look toward Aflac headquarters, you’ll catch a glimpse of the house’s red-tiled roof peeking out the top of a building near the company’s tall tower. That home once belonged to company founder John Amos and his wife, Elena Diaz-Verson Amos.

In its heyday, it was a sprawling mansion looking out to a pool and impeccable views of the Chattahoochee Valley. Trinkets, knick-knacks and other fancy mementos covered the interior. It was a place for entertaining.

Now, no one lives there. It’s used to store props from Columbus High School’s drama department, according to an Aflac spokesperson.

Ledger-Enquirer archives, submitted photos and documents, county assessor records and an interview with a member of the Diaz-Verson family offers a partial picture of the million-dollar penthouse’s history. Aflac officials did not grant the Ledger-Enquirer a tour of the home.

John had already turned over day-to-day operations of American Family Corp. — which would later become Aflac — to his brother-in-law Salvador Diaz-Verson Jr. and nephew Danny P. Amos in 1983. He was still working, though, focusing his attention on new markets.

While a new office building and parking garage were being built for the company in the late 1980s, John decided to build a new home on top of the garage. According to county assessor records, he paid the company $50,000 for the home lot in December 1985. L-E archives reported that he was to spend $1.5 million on constructing the penthouse.

John’s health was worsening at the time, too. Doctors removed a fourth of his left lung in October 1986 after they found a cancerous tumor.

Several different stories exist as to why John built the home. Pat Diaz-Verson, who was married to Elena’s brother Salvador Diaz-Verson Jr. from 1976 to 2011, said it’s because John liked to tell stories.

One explanation is that John’s father, who owned a small grocery store in south Alabama, told him he should always live above the store. The second story came as John’s health was worsening, and he simply told people he wanted to be closer to home — so he built on top of the garage.

“I think more than anything … (John) wanted to give Elena somewhere where she’d feel like she was still in the middle of things and would be close to everyone when he was finally gone,” Pat Diaz-Verson said. “I believe he kind of knew he would definitely be gone before she was.”

Diaz-Verson described the home as sort of bracket-shaped with three levels. The lower level included the pool and game room. The second level included the main entrance, living room and dining room. Bedrooms were on the third level.

The penthouse was called the “Joshelte II,” named after members of the family: John, Elena, Shelby and Teresa Amos. The first phonetic syllable of each of their names in Spanish were joined to form the home’s name, according to a fact sheet used during an open house for Aflac’s employees in the home’s early years.

The home, which had 10,000 square feet of living space, was built by Ignacio Carrera-Justiz, best known for his work on the Bacardi International Headquarters building in Miami. The Amoses moved in on Nov. 19, 1987.

The home featured little personal touches throughout, Diaz-Verson said.

Here are some of the features and amenities of the penthouse:

An elevator with stainless steel doors

A 200-year-old fountain from Rome and an Italian chandelier in the foyer

7,200 square feet of imported Italian marble

His and her libraries

Elena’s ever-growing doll collection that included Lady Diane & Charles, Queen Elizabeth and other antiques

A Columbus-made television cabinet that was hand-painted by artist Gloria Mani Pipkins

The gong from the Broadway play “The King and I” in the dining room

The Buddha from “The Good Earth” film in the living room

A gazebo

About 5,000 pots to house all the plants

There were three guest bedrooms, and the Amos’ bedroom was on the same level. One of the home’s coolest features, according to the family, was Elena’s garment conveyor — rotating her hung clothes like you’d see at a dry cleaner, Diaz-Verson said.

“She wanted something that reminded her of the homes she saw during her childhood in Cuba,” she said. “It was a gorgeous, gorgeous place.”

A home that large naturally lent itself to hosting family and friends. Family members gathered for holidays like Christmas and Easter. Elena played Santa in December and found places in the penthouse to hide eggs in April.

The couple entertained politicians, foreign dignitaries and other bigwigs over the years at the penthouse, Diaz-Verson said.

“Elena and John loved to entertain. This house was built for entertaining,” she said. “John felt like if you were doing business with someone — if you brought them to your home, it created a different environment than if you took them to a restaurant or a club.”

The home wasn’t built without some controversy. Susie H. Millsap, a company stockholder, filed a lawsuit against John Amos and company officials in 1989 alleging, among other things, that he improperly benefited from building the home atop the garage.

Amos died in 1990 at the age of 66. Former President Jimmy Carter and half a dozen U.S. Senators attended his funeral.

Elena lived in the home until she died in 2000.

Following her death, the family divided up the possessions. Many things were kept. Others were removed and later sold elsewhere. It sat empty for a while, and Diaz-Verson said she doesn’t remember the circumstances under which Aflac took ownership of the home.

Muscogee County Assessor records show that Aflac purchased the home for about $2.3 million in June 2001. Elena Amos was listed as the seller.

Diaz-Verson’s son, Sal Diaz-Verson III, is an Aflac employee. He gives brief tours of the penthouse to elder employees who request it, she said. She hasn’t been inside herself in almost two decades. Only a select few get to enter the home.

“It’d be extremely, extremely expensive to maintain as a residence,” Diaz-Verson said. “No else has ever lived in the house since Elena was dead.”

Nick Wooten is the Southern Trends and Culture reporter for McClatchy’s South region. He is based in Columbus, Georgia at the Ledger-Enquirer but his work also appears in The (Macon) Telegraph and The Sun Herald in Biloxi.Before joining McClatchy, he worked for The (Shreveport La.) Times covering city government and investigations. He is a graduate of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia.
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