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Historic Savannah Foundation kicks off 60th anniversary year

The Historic Savannah Foundation is kicking off its 60th anniversary with several initiatives and projects as it continues working to save Savannah’s historical buildings from the ever-present wrecking ball.

The nonprofit traces its origins to 1955, when seven women banded together to save the 1820 Isaiah Davenport House on Columbia Square from demolition. The house is now a centerpiece of the organization’s preservation efforts.

At an event Tuesday at the old Kennedy Pharmacy on Broughton Street, attended by members and local officials, the foundation’s president of six years, Daniel Carey, said its mission remains just as critical today as it was in 1955.

“They saved that one building, but they spawned a movement,” he said of the HSF founders. “Out of that came the Revolving Fund, our advocacy and education programs, and it spawned our work throughout Savannah and Chatham County.”

There are now 15 local historic districts, Carey said, and its Revolving Loan Fund has helped rehabilitate hundreds of buildings. The organization is also active in combating demolition, blight and taking on new roles such as advocating for better tourism management.

“We have to do a better job of managing, and we have to be strategic about attracting folks that understand and appreciate our history and heritage,” he said.

Several elected officials spoke during the diamond anniversary kickoff, including Alderwoman Mary Ellen Sprague.

“You are at war; you are always at war,” Sprague said. “There will always be commercial interests that don’t want to do the right thing, that don’t want to spend the extra money it requires to do a project right … you will always have to be vigilant.”

Carey noted that his organization has had to remain most vigilant about demolitions.

“Demolition is still a problem,” he said. “You would think in a city that hosted the National Preservation conference three times and is a recognized national leader that demolition wouldn’t be an issue in this city, but it is.”

In the past month, he said, he’s seen four petitions in the Cuyler-Brownville neighborhood for spot demolition, one of several areas where the Historic Savannah Foundation is working to protect older homes.

And although it’s easiest to point fingers at developers, City Council has twice voted in the past year to raze historic buildings, most recently the 19th century Meldrim Row cottages on Montgomery Street where a new police precinct is planned.

Carey said it’s important to be mindful that even relatively younger buildings, some of which are just turning 50 years old, may soon be eligible for designation for the National Register of Historic Places and just as deserving of protection.

“We may wake up one day and see we’ve lost a critical mass of historic resources in this neighborhood, perhaps threatening its designation,” he said. “We’ll do whatever is necessary to protect Savannah’s heritage.”

 

Photo 1: Local officials and Historic Savannah Foundation members attend at press conference Tuesday.

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