Monday, April 17, 2017

Savannah, Part II: The old-city neighborhoods

Lee Ann and I devoted most of our first three days in Savannah to exploring the 22 neighborhood squares (parks in square or rectangular shapes) that are sprinkled at nearly perfect two-block intervals throughout the heart of the old city. They are situated smack dab in the middle of primary streets, too, keeping motor vehicle speeds at modest levels.

Walking the old city, in addition to giving ample opportunity for exercise and photography, enabled us to appreciate the wonderful architecture in the homes, to see some landmark places (such as the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, pictured in the lead-off photo), as well as the Mercer-Williams home and nearby Monterey Square, both featured in the 1990s book/movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). (We also dined in some notable eateries in the old city, but I'll have more on that in a separate post.)

On the second day, we bought an all-day pass that enabled us to ride a trolley (driven by someone who identified all the historic points) through the whole old city and riverfront area so we could determine if we wanted to continue devoting time to seeing the neighborhoods. Indeed, the ride confirmed that it would be worth our while ... and it gave us an education about the city in the process.

We came upon the spot, for example, where filmmakers placed a bus-stop bench for the famous scenes in Forest Gump. The bench was a temporary prop, however; there is no bench there today, and the spot in Chippewa Square isn't even marked in any fashion. So if you don't know where to look for where it was, you have to ask someone -- or just known beforehand that it was in the middle of the square's north quadrant. And we learned that the gazebo in the center of Whitefield Square was gifted to Savannah by Burt Reynolds after his experience filming the 1976 motion picture Gator in Savannah.

As always, click on any picture to pull up a larger, sharper version, which is particularly important if you access the blog from a mobile device. To view a full gallery of my shots in Savannah (including photos that will be appearing in subsequent posts), click on the link in this sentence.

Photo geek stuff: I shot everything you see here with a Canon 6D equipped with a Tamron 28-300 f/3.5-6.3 Di VZD VC lens equipped with a polarizing filter. I bracketed all shots for three exposures, melding a good number of all three for each composition in post-processing using Photomatix high-dynamic range (HDR) software. I removed the polarizing filter when shooting indoors, and in some situations where using HDR software was impractical, I composed a shot with single frames.

Temple Mickve Israel (above), 20 E. Gordon St., is the only true Gothic Revival synagogue in the United States. It is the third-oldest Jewish congregation in the country. Inside, it houses the Temple Mickve Israel Museum, which holds documents and artifacts connected to Jewish life in Savannah and Georgia. 

Wesley Monumental Church at 429 Abercorn St. exhibits Gothic Revival architecture, inspired by the Queen's Kirk in Holland. It was built in 1868. 

The First African Baptist Church (abaove) is thought to be the oldest African-American congregation in the country. The church was founded in 1733, and this church building at 23 Montgomery St. off Franklin Square near City Market was completed in 1859. The church served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, a network of routes and safe houses used by African-Americans in the 1800s to escape or avoid slavery and to pursue freedom.

The sanctuary (above) and organ (below) inside the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, the only church we could access without paying a fee. I have many more shots of the inside of this church in the Savannah photo gallery.

Above: A detail shot of the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue Monument, also referred to as the Haitian Monument, in Franklin Square, just across from the First African Baptist Church. It commemorates one of the few African-American regiments (all volunteers) to fight for the Colonies in the American Revolutionary War. The regiment was recruited from Haiti, which at the time was the French colony of Saint-Domingue, under French General Charles Hector to help buttress the American effort. The drummer depicted in the monument is Henri Christophe, who would later become the first leader of independent Haiti. It is believed that in his early teens, Christophe participated in the 1779 Siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War. 

Above: A view of the main pedestrian thoroughfare of City Market, looking east from the west end.

The storied Mercer-Williams House (above), at 428 Bull Street. The Williams half of the name is better known as the home of Savannah antiques dealer Jim Williams. There was considerable publicity surrounding Williams' four murder trials (the only person ever to be tried in Georgia that many times for a crime) for a shooting in the home in 1981 and the 1990s book and motion picture (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) that told the the story of the death and trials. The Italianate style house was built in the 19th century by Gen. Hugh Mercer, great-grandfather of famed songwriter Johnny Mercer (Moon River was among his compositions). Johnny Mercer, commemorated with the statue below in Ellis Square, also was from Savannah and is buried in the city's Bonaventure Cemetery.

Above: Across the street from the Mercer-Williams House is Monterrey Square, also featured in the Midnight book by John Berendt and the ensuing film. 

It is extremely common to see elegant oak trees in the Savannah squares (above), around which local horse-drawn carriages (below) will carry passengers in the course of the daily rides.

Above: A distinguished building somewhere in the Savannah landscape.

A detail shot outside a shop in City Market (above) features a stone rendition of Marilyn Monroe in her famous skirt billow pose. A perspective shot of City Market (below) depicts a busier time of day and the colors provided by the awnings protecting tables.

Above: An eatery facade at the west end of Broughton Street, described as the main commerce thoroughfare in the city.

The Greek Revival Trinity Methodist Church at 225 W. President St. along Telfair Square is Savannah's oldest Methodist Church.

Above: Telfair Academy of the Arts and Sciences, appropriately situated along Telfair Square, was the first public arts museum in the Southeast. Among those attending the formal opening in February 1885 were Jefferson Davis and his daughter, Winnie. Greeting visitors in the front of the building are sculptures of renowned artists Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, Phidias and Rembrandt.

Yamacraw tribe chief Tomo-Chi-Chi befriended James Oglethorpe and gave him and the original Georgia settlers considerable support before his death in the 1730s. After his death, Tomo-Chi-Chi's remains were placed in a plot in a prominent position in the city -- the center of Wright Square. In the early 1880s, the city decided to erect a monument to William Washington Gordon, founder of the Central of Georgia Railroad, and to place the monument on top of Tomo-Chi-Chi's burial plot in the square. Upset about the affront to Tomo-Chi-Chi and the city's desecration of the chief's grave, Gordon's widow arranged for a commemorative boulder (above) to be placed in the square. It sits at the southeast corner, not far from the Gordon monument (below) atop the Indian chief's remains. 

While Savannah is rich in Old World architecture, it also reflects the new. Among examples are the civic center (above, with one of the multiple campuses of the Savannah College of Art and Design in the background), and the Jepson Center for the Arts (next two photos below).  

Above: The story of Jim Williams and his murder trials can't be told without mentioning The Lady Chablis, the drag queen who played herself in the 1997 motion picture. Club One (pictured above) was considered her "home" venue during her extensive career of stage performances. She died in September 2016.

(Above) Many of the main thoroughfares in the old-city area of Savannah have landscaped medians such as this one along Oglethorpe Street.  

A novelty in the old-city neighborhoods is Colonial Park Cemetery, whose entrance from Oglethorpe Street is depicted above. Savannah's earliest settlers are buried here, including most of the 700 victims of the 1820 Yellow Fever epidemic. Oak trees are sprinkled throughout the grounds, allowing for serene moments as the one depicted below.   

I got several pictures of the gold-domed City Hall. My favorites were the one taken at dusk from an upper-level rooftop several blocks away (above) on the first night I was there, and a ground-level shot (below) in which I was able to include a near-full moon in the composition. 

Around the corner of the festooned exterior of the Six Pence Pub (above) is a colorful tribute to an artifact of the public telephone evolution (below). 

Above: To find the spot along Chippewa Square when Tom Hanks was filmed in the bus stop scenes of the Forest Gump motion picture, you have to know ahead of time where to look. The bench used for the bus stop in the film was a prop, not a fixture, so it disappeared upon completion of filming, and the city has done nothing to mark or commemorate the spot. It was situated at the point depicted in the above picture in the middle of the square's north quadrant.    

Two movie stars left lasting contributions to the community when they departed Savannah after filming their motion pictures. Actor Kevin Spacey, who played Jim Williams in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, donated sufficient money to the city to save the Lucas Theater shown in the photo above. The theater was in such disrepair at the time that it was in danger of closing. It thrives today. Burt Reynolds, after filming many scenes of Gator in Savannah in the mid-1970s, donated the gazebo seen below that marks the center of Whitefield Square.

Above: I found many scenes like the one above -- people utilizing the amenities of the various squares in Savannah.

Above: Zunzi's is known for its international cuisine and was highly recommended when we solicited suggestions for dining, but we never made it there other than to grab this photo of a queue outside the establishment during lunch hour. 

Above: It was prime bloom time for azaleas when we were in Savannah, and there were plenty of azaleas to enjoy sprinkled throughout the city landscape and neighborhood squares.

NEXT UP: The riverfront area.

Previous posts in this series: 

Part I: Savannah's Forsyth Square

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