Most historic preservation students at the University of Georgia go on a pilgrimage to Savannah, Georgia during the fall of our first year in the program. Our fearless leader, Professor Waters, recently returned from Savannah with his first undergraduate Introduction to Preservation class, and it got me reminiscing about our class’s trip in 2010.
Professor Water’s trip to Savannah is an absolute whirlwind; there of several days of house museums, lectures, and the notorious “death march” throughout the historic district squares, not to mention our “after hours” explorations. On one of our long days of historic district marching, we stopped at the Hilton Savannah DeSoto hotel to for a break. On my way into the lobby, this gorgeous, yet lonely tile grabbed my attention. I found out later, it was one of the original ornamental tiles from the Old DeSoto Hotel.
Savannah, like Charleston, is a model community for historic preservation, having some of the first designated historic districts in the country. The old DeSoto Hotel, was one of the significant casualties in Savannah during the early years of district designation. Hotel DeSoto opened in 1890 and was revered as one of William Gibbons Preston’s masterpieces. Unfortunately, the Hilton chain demolished the hotel in 1968 because it didn’t have air conditioning. They did save some of the terracotta ornamentation (like the tile above) and photographs from the original hotel, and these remaining artifacts are on display at the hotel’s entrance and in the lobby.
William Gibbons Preston was a Boston architect, but was responsible for some of the most remarkable Romanesque buildings in Savannah. Some of Preston’s other Savannah works include, the Savannah Cotton Exchange, Poetter Hall (former armory now a SCAD building), and the former Chatham County Courthouse.