|Our breakfast at the Back in the Day Bakery.|
Upon getting out of the car we were most immediately struck by some of the amazing juxtapositions that Savannah offers. Looking up the sidewalk beyond a classically inspired brick school building was the spire of the Independent Presbyterian Church. The architectural detailing on the church and spire rivaled the ornamentation found in similar building types anywhere. To have these two buildings side by side, both borrowing from Classical and Renaissance motifs, was a welcome start to our adventure. This would be just the first of several major discoveries of this nature throughout the day.
|Spire of the Independent Presbyterian Church.|
A City of Statues, Squares, and Symbols
We shift from one statue to another. The Bird Girl Statue featured so prominently in the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is simple, accessible, and approachable in a way that the Oglethorpe statue is not. After the film came out and this statue was featured on the cover, visitation to Bonaventure Cemetery (where it was located) and the resulting wear and tear this created, caused the statue to be moved. Today the statue may be found in the main hall of the Telfair Academy on a 5th floor balcony and walkway. The location is so remote, in fact, that many visitors pass through without seeing this famous piece at all, even though it is quite literally right over their head upon entering. What makes this placement more unfortunate is that if appropriately positioned, this piece could drive traffic and interest in the Telfair, and further be a jumping off point for a broader discussion of public sculpture in Savannah. Instead, the Bird Girl is placed so far out of sight that few people will ever see it. Luckily we were among the select few who were able to find it.
|Wall section of the Independent Presbyterian Church.|
In a city so rich in history, one of the remarkable contemporary buildings is the Jepson Center for the Arts. A little less than a decade old (or young as it were), the Jepson Center is an important addition to the educational and cultural life of the city. Designed by Moshe Safadie, an effort is made to connect this building with the surrounding environment in a way that is seldom seen. A comparison might be made with The Getty Museum in Malibu, California. Both have similar light colored stone and are architectural statements in their own right. Where they differ is the Getty is set atop a mountain like an Acropolis, detached from a city whose culture it is seeking to reflect, whereas the Jepson Center is interwoven with the fabric of the city it seeks to celebrate. As such, we find the Jepson a more relevant example of what a cultural institution should be - connected, accessible, and approachable - instead of a place set apart.
|Underside of stairway within the Jepson Center.|
|Some of the unique children friendly exhibits at the Jepson.|
Moshe Safdie provides at least a partial response with the Jepson Center for the Arts. Here there is a deliberate architectural strategy to connect the building with the square. Instead of the building being a hermetically sealed object, cut off and set apart from its surroundings. Instead, the building is re-imagined and reinvented as being interconnected with its surrounding. A centerpiece of the building is a cascading staircase in the interior opening to a glass-walled and light-filled atrium. Glass skylights give a further feeling of lightness and transparency, connecting with the sky above. The overall the effect is elegant and grand. If there is hope for architecture and civilization, it is in the sort of innovative expression of form and structure found here.
The Sacred and Profane
In a city so full of architecture and history, it is hard to name one building above all the others. Oftentimes in church architecture, we find the highest refinement of the architectural form. Were there a single building to make a unique claim to the greatest architectural statement in Savannah, it very well might be the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Having recently undergone a $12 million restoration (with all but around $175,000 paid off), this is a truly stunning building in the heart of the city. The interior is marked by richly painted polychromatic walls. While the vaulting is not quite as soaring as the cathedrals of Europe, the effect created here is fairly remarkable. Paintings and sculpture inside provide nice accent notes to the majesty and beauty of the surroundings.
|View inside a side chapel of St. John the Baptist.|
|Corinthian capitals atop columns fronting Trinity Methodist.|
|The understated Federal Building clad in bathroom tile, with the Post Office behind.|
Savannah College of Art and Design
One cannot really fully understand and tell the story of Savannah without saying a word or two about the Savannah College of Art and Design. SCAD, as it is popularly called, with its 13,000 or so students is a major driver of the local economy and culture today. Many buildings have been bought up and lovingly restored to serve the needs of faculty and students. Particularly dramatic are the many theaters, especially concentrated in the downtown, that have one sort or another of SCAD programming. Even fairly utilitarian and almost modern buildings such as the Woolworth's have been taken over and re-purposed for some sort of student or academic use. There is not a definite center of the SCAD presence in Savannah. Instead, the whole city is a sort of canvas upon which SCAD activities are spread out. (As an aside, the playing fields are actually on the South Carolina side of the bridge heading into Savannah, showing the relative role and position of athletics compared with the the main academic and artistic buildings in the city center.)
|Palimpsest from the Woolworth's store (now long gone) where a SCAD student center is located today.|
|Detail of the front portico of the Owens-Thomas House.|
The Marquis de Lafayette famously stayed here for two days when he visited Savannah in 1825. He addressed the people of Savannah from the south balcony on two occasions, one time speaking in English and the other time in French. During our guided tour the claim was made Lafayette's stay was the reason the house received historic designation. While this was an important event and marked the visit of a significant personage, the architecture too is one of the major claims to significance. Not to mention the story of Richard Richardson who was a Savannah merchant involved in cotton production and shipping. In fact it was Richardson had the house built between 1816 and 1819. This spoke to his relative influence and stature. Regrettably, after losing his wealth, the house passed through a variety of hands and the importance of his role as progenitor of this very special place was lost. Even the name used today recognizes George W. Owens, a lawyer and Member of Congress who acquired his house, and Margaret Gray Thomas his granddaughter who gave the house in trust to the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1951.
Perhaps one of the most unique features of the house was not in the house proper, but in the Slave Quarters across the garden and to the rear. These have been re-interpreted to bring to light this important chapter in the history of this house and the broader story of Savannah. Rough hewn beams are on display inside. They have a rough and unexceptional quality to them, especially when compared with the main house. A slight shade of blue paint is discernible over a significant section of the main room where tours begin. Guides claimed this is one of the largest intact sections of Haint Blue paint. The origins of this paint was that slaves believed evil spirits could be fended off by painting walls and ceilings the color of water. According to our guides, this was one of the largest sections of the original paint on display anywhere in Savannah.
... and you Must Stop by Leopold's!
|A cold treat for the Kremer boys at the end of a busy action-packed day.|
Some Concluding Remarks
|View of the city and historical skyline as we headed towards home.|