Legions of tourists stroll dreamily among antebellum townhomes, gawking at the Gothic flourishes on every street corner, some even making it a mile south of downtown district to the blocks of Victorian loveliness. Most stop there. Construction in this city began at the river in 1733 with General Oglethorpe’s master plan; architectural style evolves as you move south, and it’s only so walkable in the heat. You’d have to skip over the 20 or so blocks of perfectly nice but somewhat characterless brick ranch homes built in the late 40’s (including Casa Yenta) to get to Savannah’s trove of mid-century modern gems, a good coupla miles away from the madding crowds.
It’s a bit of a shame that these gorgeous homes don’t get any real attention lathered upon them, since in my opinion they’re way more interesting than the old dames up front. They’re the ones with the crazy futuristic lines, huge sunken living rooms and monster picture windows; some have indoor pools and at least two or three still have those wacky central vacuum systems. Every time I’m lucky enough to visit one I just want to don a hulahoop Judy Jetson frock and drink a big ass martini.
Whole neighborhoods of modern design were fabricated in the 50’s and 60’s–and lots of Jews moved in. A couple of these areas, Habersham Woods and Fairway Oaks, are walkable to both the Orthodox and Conservative shuls and still house a big portion of the city’s Jewish population.
So why in Sam Hill would someone schedule a tour of Savannah’s Mid-Century Modern Homes–on Yom Kippur??
I had a couple of tribal real estate friends call me all kinds of pissed off about it, including Beth Vantosh, because obviously, they have treasures on the market that would be wonderful to display or would just like to be part of an event showcasing their own homes. But it turns out it wasn’t the local organizers who chose the dates:
DOCOMOMO (a shortened version of “documentation and conservation of the modern movement”) is a national organization that contacted its state chapters, who in turn garnered participation from local historic preservation organizations. Terri O’Neil, the very nice program director I spoke with at Historic Savannah Foundation was extremely apologetic about the situation and let me know that HSF had already nixed that date for their annual meeting because their many Jewish members wouldn’t be able to attend. She suggested that maybe HSF should have passed on helping oversee the event, but didn’t want to leave the tour without any kind of local organizing support.
I told her I completely understood. I don’t blame the brilliant and amazing folks at HSF at all: Such a tour is part of their mission and programming; the show must go on.
The real responsibility lies with the national DOCOMOMO organization, who chose to schedule dozens of tours of fabulous homes across the country on a day that would be a little like arranging a firefighter fashion show on 9/11.
No, it’s not a huge deal; after all, none of us expect the world to come to a halt on Jewish holidays, even the most important ones. But it shows an appalling sense of insensitivity.
Especially for a group with a well-heeled board of directors out of–whaaaaat? New York? A shanda, I tell ya.