Monday, March 24, 2014

#Savannah Through the Decades: The Sixties' "Not So Fast" Era. Coming to Grips With Historic Preservation.

SAVANNAH Georgia (March 23, 2014) -- We thought you might be surprised to learn that the Savannah romantic / historic inn owners don't drive vintage cars that match the color of the house.

Actually, that thought bridges the stories we'll share -- "Savannah Through the Decades: The Sixties".

Much like the spirit of The Sixties, the small indulgence of owning a Mustang correlates nicely with how progressive Savannah is. One of our Savannah Romantic Inns' owners drives a 2013 Ford Mustang convertible. Are you old enough to remember the buzz when Mustangs first rolled out in 1964, or do you remember reading or hearing about the excitement from your parents or grandparents? After fifty years, the popularity still thrives!

Similar to the example of owning a Ford Mustang convertible, overall this southern belle of a city has a pretty conservative way of life, with some southern vivaciousness thrown small doses! Even our little glance back to learn and connect dots of history here feel pretty tame after we refreshed our reading about 1960s love fests, hippie movements, psychedelic temptations, and the iconic Woodstock Festival that happened elsewhere in America.

Our Romantic Inns thought you might enjoy skipping through highlights of how and where the 1960s touched (and still touches) Savannah, Georgia USA.

Some local natives will recall that showing up for a beach shag music party, playing on Tybee Island pier,  was a pretty hip thing to do. As a matter of fact those beach music band events still happen, most memorably on Labor Day weekend. Tybee Island's still a fun place to be -- for young and old!

Savannah Union Station served the role of
the city's central railroad depot for sixty years,
from its construction in 1902 until its closure in
1962 and eventual demolition in 1963.
Source: Library of Congress

The decade of the 1960s in this charming, southern belle of a city could easily be considered the debutante to a southern ball that is entitled "Progress, Yes! but Not-so-fast!"

This would be especially accurate from the time when seven women wielded their money, influence, and no-nonsense southern charm in order to stall how rapidly developers were tearing down the city's magnificent buildings.

Undeterred, the now-famous seven women set momentum in place to the betterment of Savannah. New construction was deemed inappropriate for downtown, especially when it meant old buildings had to be sacrificed. Their actions were spurred by earlier demolitions of the magnificent DeSoto Hotel, Old City Market place on Ellis Square, and Union Station railroad depot (left) located on West Broad Street (later renamed Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard).

At the time the railroad depot (circa 1902) was in the way of a new Interstate 16 route that would dump traffic into downtown Savannah.


World travelers can now appreciate that this Hostess City of South indeed figured out how to renovate and add modern conveniences, too! Today millions of tourists arrive in Savannah eager to see and take part in the modern, hip spirit of America's most beautiful city.
In 1955 the Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission was formed to safeguard Savannah's world famous City Plan, circa 1733. The city (and later Chatham County, added to the scope in 1957) wanted growth accomplished through sophisticated and coordinated planning. Obviously, things didn't progress fast enough for seven brave women!

Thousands of creative students now attend the Savannah College of Art and Design, Armstrong University, the Savannah Arts Academy (high school), and more colleges and vocational schools in the region. From 1960s photos, we see college students and faculty sporting beehive hairdos and airline steward- and stewardess-looking fashions. Many attended Armstrong Junior College, then housed in the Armstrong mansion in downtown Savannah on the corner of Bull and Gaston streets overlooking Forsyth Park.

Wilder-Mercer House on Monterey Square is
central to the "Midnight in the Garden of Good
and Evil" novel and movie. Portions
of the mansion are open for tours.
Built as the philanthropist's city mansion for shipping magnate George Ferguson Armstrong, the former Armstrong College mansion is now a law firm -- the same law firm that represented Jim Williams, reported as the murderer on trial in the novel "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," written by John Berendt. Ask any sightseeing tour guide if you have trouble finding Clint Eastwood's movie locations for "The Book", adapted from the novel and filmed in Savannah.

As now, during the 1960s additional neatly coiffed and dressed African students attended the historically black Savannah State College (now Savannah State University). While the Afro hairstyle was becoming popular during the sixties, we do not see that style in 1960s Bulletin photos produced by the college.

In its 1963 Bulletin we read that the college was "One of the country's most beautiful campus[es]". Picturesque photographs of ancient Live Oak trees, dripping in Spanish Moss, show off the 175-acre landscapes. The university campus runs along marshes of the Wilmington River, the intracoastal waterway. Founded in 1890, originally it was named Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth.
If you've watched The General's Daughter movie, starring John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, and James Cromwell, you've seen some of the beauty of the college's campus and the historic column buildings. Wormsloe Plantation's magnificent Live Oak drive is on-screen, too.

In the 1964 "Geechee" yearly annual of Armstrong Junior College, we find a familiar name -- Irving Victor, M.D., then Chairman of The Armstrong College Commission. Fifty years later, Dr. Victor still practices medicine in Savannah and remains a pace-setter and thought leader. He owns Vic's on the River, a popular restaurant located along Factor's Walk in beautifully renovated, vintage warehouses overlooking the Savannah River waterfront.

In many ways during the "Swinging Sixties" slo-vannah's pace to adapt and change reflects a calm demeanor where progressive attitudes and conservative ways meet up. Here things are done low key, more like a finesse. For example, mini skirts and Twiggy-style pixie haircuts trickled into fashion scenes, as did bikinis on Tybee Beach, which drew disbelieving gasps!


"No decade achieved strong-yet-flirty better than the sixties", writes Sofia Guellaty when talking about 2014 Fall fashion trends in   Is the center part in hair styles and the Bohemian, artsy look simply fresh re-takes on the "Flower Power" of the 1960s? On Savannah streets, don't be too surprised to see blue or purple streaks in hair!

Today Savannah's Baby Boomers like to reminisce about high school years, and pull out #ThrowBackThursday photographs! One recent post was of a girl beaming over her Beatles vinyl album -- a photo she found in her 1966 Savannah High School annual. 

Popularity continues.


Vietnam War protest at the White House |
photographer Warren K Leffler (1968) /
Library of Congress
When one passes the Vietnam Memorial in Emmet Park in downtown Savannah, it's hard to imagine that it has been over half a century since America's substantial American advisory forces (~700) first arrived in Vietnam. After 1966 with the draft in place more than 500,000 troops were sent to Vietnam by the Johnson administration and college attendance soared.

Today one Savannah family, whose father was a cook for the American forces in South Vietnam, owns some of the most popular restaurants downtown and in the suburbs -- Fire Street Food, Ele, Tangerine, King & I, and others.  The family was able to flee Vietnam after the father was repeatedly imprisoned by the North Vietnamese following the American's withdral.

Who can envision life without a computer? 

Yet, it was in "The Sixties", 1968, when the first public demonstration of the computer mouse, the paper paradigm Graphical user interface, video conferencing, teleconferencing, email, and hypertext took place.  I think we read about the Olympics in the newspaper or saw reports on television or in movie theater news reels. Earlier in 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi (Russia) live, while athletes and commentators sent real-time text messages, instant photos, and videos by way of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Tom Brokaw once stated we are in an era of "echo news".

Savannah Visitors Center on Martin Luther
King, Jr., Boulevard -- formerly
Central of Georgia passenger station and
train shed. Photo: Library of Congress
Is the Central of Georgia Railroad passenger station and train shed echoing its history? During the early 1960s the train shed and passenger station offices were converted to Chamber of Commerce offices and a Tourist Welcome Center.

The highest-grossing film of the sixties decade was 20th Century Fox's The Sound of Music (1965). Celebrating its 25th year in 2014, the Savannah Music Festival brings over 100 live world music concerts, over seventeen days in March and April each year, to historic Savannah venues downtown.

"In 'All That Savannah Jazz,' noted local historian Charles J. Elmore explores almost a century and a half of richly varied American music, from the foundation, in 1817, of the city's first black music society, the "Old One Hundred," to 1960, when jazz 'temporarily died' in the area. (Source: Savannah Morning News, 1999)

In 2014, we're happy to report that jazz and music are back! 

Nightly, music is playing somewhere downtown. For Sunday brunch, jazz is played by the Equinox Trio at the AquaStar Restaurant inside the Westin Hotel on Hutchison Island. Catch the free water taxi, departing from the Savannah riverfront bluff near City Hall.
Johnny Mercer bronze statue in Ellis Square,
facing City Market (St. Julian Street).
The statue was sculpted by
Savannah artist, Susie Chisholm
who studio is also in City Market.
Photo: James Byous.
Today Ellis Square is an entertainment square, with native son Johnny Mercer's bronze statue its sole resident. If you don't recall the name, you'll recall his songs -- Moon River, Days of Wine and Roses, Hooray for Hollywood, and about a thousand more lyrics. Henry Mancini composed the tune within Audrey Hepburn's vocal range so she could sing it. It received an Academy Award for Best Original Song for its first performance by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. The song also won Mancini the 1962 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Mercer the Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

The line, "My huckleberry friend" is often thought to be a reference to Huckleberry Finn, a character in Mark Twain's book Tom Sawyer. However, in his autobiography, Johnny Mercer said it was in reference to a childhood friend of his. He used to pick huckleberries with him down by a lazy river near his Vernon View / Savannah summer home. A toast to Mr. Mercer, Huckleberry Sundae is featured often on the Leopold's Ice Cream shop menu. The Leopold and Mercer families were friends and neighbors. Both lived on Gwinnett Street near Forsyth Park.

Did Savannah echo any regrets about the demolition of the Old City Market was demolished? 

Yes! From the 1730s through the 1950s it served as a center of commerce and was home to four successive market houses before it was demolished in 1954.

Yet, when we come full circle again to the present there is a storyline in Savannah, the movie, about the intellectual-turned-crusty fowl hunter, Ward Allen, and his African friend, Christmas Moultrie, who take their vast numbers of game birds to sell in the Old City Market. 
Savannah is a 2013 family history drama film directed, produced and written by Annette Haywood-Carter. It is based on the true story and the book Ward Allen: Savannah River Market Hunter by John Eugene Cay Jr. The movie stars Jim Caviezel, Jaimie Alexander, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jack McBrayer and Sam Shepard.


Savannah keeps pace by updating! In 1962 the Chatham County Commission changed the name of "Back River" to "Moon River" in honor of Johnny Mercer and the Oscar-winning song. In 1963, Johnny Mercer won an Oscar for "Days of Wine and Roses", another famous collaboration with composer Henry Mancini.

An advertisement we found in the 1962 Geechee yearbook, produced by Armstrong College, shows the Bargain Corner, a supermarket located on the corner of Bay and Jefferson Street. Today the stone building is a portion of the Inn at Ellis Square hotel. 

In 1962 renovations, one of the 10-foot deep tunnels under The Pirates' House restaurant was uncovered. Its construction date and purpose are unknown. Another underground passageway lies at the bottom of a stairway in the “rum cellar.” Various tales report that drunks were Shanghaied through the tunnels into awaiting ships on the waterfront. Another legend regarding these tunnels is that author Robert Louis Stevenson included the old tunnels to the Savannah riverfront in his novel Kidnapped (1887).

First African Baptist Church, located on
Franklin Square near Savannah City Market.
L. D. Andrew, Photographer December 30, 1936 /
Library of Congress
In the 1960s NAACP activists organized a boycott of white businesses in Savannah, lunch counter "sit-ins", a young people’s “wade-in” at the all-white Savannah Beach on Tybee Island, voter registration drives and equal employment initiatives.

Once a stop along the Underground Railroad during years of slavery in the Old South, the First African Baptist Church on Franklin Square became an important meeting place for civil rights workers. Negotiations with city fathers, led by attorney and Mayor Malcolm Maclean resulted in peaceful desegregation of public facilities in Savannah in October 1963.

Not so slow this time, Savannah, had acted pro-actively, ahead of new federal law. The church and the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum are open for tours. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. This landmark piece of legislation in the United States outlawed racial segregation in schools, public places, and employment.


The destruction of the Old City Market was a startling blow to the changing landscape in downtown Savannah. By 1962 the Isaiah Davenport House had been spared the wrecking ball and was opened to the public as a house museum. That single action launched Savannah's now-famous historic preservation movement. The actions of seven stalwart women saved the Davenport House, marking the founding act of the Historic Savannah Foundation, which actively continues preservation in Savannah today.

In 1966 the area from East Broad Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, and from the north side of the Savannah River to Gwinnett Street was officially designated a NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK DISTRICT. Savannah’s historic district is one of the largest such areas in the United States, with thousands of  architecturally-significant buildings including award-winning examples of Federal, Victorian, Regency and Italianate architecture located within the 2.2 square miles area.

Completed in 1968, the Armillary Sphere in Troup Square and complementary landscaping elements were the gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Mills B. Lane, Jr., as part of the Troup Ward Conservation Project. The sphere dates to 1968 and functions as a sundial which is decorated with the signs of the zodiac. The term armillary generally refers to a “skeleton” globe, with hemispheric and various other elliptical divisions indicated by metal “bracelets.”

Prior to renovation, The Olde Pink House restaurant
(formerly Habersham House / family home) on
Reynolds Square. Photo: Library of Congress /
Lawrence Bradley photographer (April 4, 1936)
In 1968 The Olde Pink House became a restaurant after being restored by Jim Williams, preservationist and antiques dealer who restored several residences in Savannah. The Pink House is one of the few properties to survive the Great Fire of 1796.  It is Jim Williams again, the central figure in the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, whose story would bring millions of tourists to Savannah. The historical novel mystery was by John Berendt, who first came to Savannah to write a story for Vanity Fair magazine.

In 1968, the B’NAI BRITH JACOB Jewish congregation moved to the city's southside and the 112 Montgomery Street sanctuary (which still has a Star of David in the cornice), became the home of St. Andrew’s Independent Episcopal Church, an offshoot of St. John’s Episcopal Church (prominently located on Madison Square). The old synagogue is currently owned by the Savannah College of Art and Design and serves as a student center.

In 1968, the United States Air Force transferred Hunter Field to the U.S. Army, and it was renamed Hunter Army Air Field.  The U.S. Army remains a big and important military presence in the Savannah area.

Commissioned by Georgia Methodists in 1969, the sculpture depicting John Wesley (founder of Methodism) at the age of 33 is now seen in Reynolds Square.

Come visit. The stories are part of the #littleextras you'll discover when lodging at one of our privately and locally owned and operated Romantic Inns. Here's a link to contact all the Romantic Savannah Inns at once.  We look forward to meeting you and hearing your stories, too!

- "Tour Guide Study Manual - City of Savannah" providing many facts included in this blog post.
- Digital archive, Georgia State University.

Copyright © 2014 Romantic Inns of Savannah / Sandy Traub

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