Scuttlebutt, Sugarcubes, and the Nov. 7 City Council Election
It’s hard to believe there was once a time when crime, blight, and plain old neglect made keeping residence in Savannah’s historic district a courageous act.
Back in the 70s and 80s, a few stubborn folks kept up their grand mansions on the squares as the shutters next door disintegrated, the attics left to the rats and roaches. In the 90s, they dug in their heels and drank cocktails on their porches, watching bemusedly as the artists and newly-minted historic preservationists moved in to laboriously restore crown molding and electrocute themselves on pre-war electrical work.
They toasted with more cocktails in the 2000s, rewarded by a robust real estate market and vindicated for their underappreciated fine taste. Then came all the tourists and trolley traffic, escalating into today’s over-amplified tour guide nonsense and bad bridesmaids flashing their boobies in the Airbnb next door.
Only now, themselves in their late 70s and early 80s, could Savannah’s renegade residents imagine being driven out from the enviable addresses whose cachet they helped create.
“We took it a little more south, and we don’t regret it a bit,” relays Susie Myers, a longtime downtown denizen who recently decamped to Baldwin Park from the 1840s jewel on Pulaski Square she and her husband refurbished in the 1970s.
Their new place still smacks of Southern charm, a gorgeous Arts and Crafts bungalow with an acre-sized living room perfect for hosting her book club, to which I’d been invited to speak as a guest author last week. But instead of blathering on about how I got to town (they already knew) and my writing “process” (very boring; mostly involves talking to the dogs), I sat back and enjoyed some good old-fashioned Savannah scuttlebutt.
First there was chatter about the Downtown Neighborhood Association’s vocal push to reduce trolley traffic and enforce ordinances (keep your shirts on, woo girls; this ain’t New Orleans), then a short discussion about which neighbors weren’t too pleased with the renaming of Taylor Square (for some, the lines of historical preservation extend to the problematic.)
A few members of this venerable group still brave downtown habitation, and Wright Square sovereign Susan Prutzman regaled us with shocking stories of tourists digging up the front of her house to steal Savannah gray bricks, which apparently tour guides are telling people are worth $100 a piece.
“Joke’s on them—we replaced that sidewalk in 2008!” she laughed, the room dissolving into cackles.
Talk turned to the travesty at 3 West Perry, where a local STVR behemoth recently demolished a perfect little garden designed by Clermont Lee, Georgia’s first female landscape architect whose English-style paths, center fountains, and other distinctive artistic hallmarks once graced dozens of backyards throughout downtown. (One at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace was razed in 2019 to create better access for the legions of visiting Girl Scouts, though you can view an intact example at the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home.)
The current owner of this historic Greek Revival manse on Chippewa Square has already clawed out a huge ditch he intends to make a communal swimming pool for the company’s 100+ properties, much to the horror of neighbors and the ire of preservation-minded attorneys. Oglethorpe Plan Coalition (OPC) founder Andrew Jones and his team posit that the annihilation of the garden violates a covenant on the property that’s been overseen for decades by the Beehive Foundation. A stop-work order of what is now a dusty hole in the ground is currently in place, though ever more non-compliant projects keep slipping through the city’s review board like famished palmetto bugs scurrying through the transom of an old house.