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Signs of spring

In 1935, the Historic Savannah Foundation was 20 years away from being organized to prevent the Davenport House from being demolished.

In 1935, Ardsley Park was a contemporary streetcar suburb of Savannah. An affluent neighborhood on the south end of town, its oldest houses were barely 25 years old and most were much newer.

And in 1935, the Women of Christ Church organized its first annual Tour of Homes and Gardens, which in the 73 years since has served to confirm the arrival of spring in downtown, hinted at weeks earlier by St. Patrick’s Day.

Beginning Thursday, this matriarch of Savannah’s many house and garden tours will welcome a thousand or more people a day all weekend as they troop and snoop through private homes built in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries.

Historic Savannah Foundation, nearly a matriarch in its own right after 53 years of advocacy and restoration, has co-sponsored the tour since 1976. Proceeds benefit many of HSF’s preservation efforts, as well as various missions supported by Christ Church.

Not so long ago, a historic tour focusing on 20th century homes might have seemed ill-defined. This Sunday, the Tour of Homes and Gardens will devote the entire day to that era, opening houses in the former suburb Ardsley Park--now the heart of midtown Savannah, and quite possibly the neighborhood of the organizers of that first tour in 1935.

But lest we pigeonhole generations of church ladies as clinging to the past, consider the homes on the tour in 1960. Among the 16 homes featured all over the city were a small historic cottage and a Greek Revival mansion, both in downtown, and a “well-appointed contemporary home” located in Ardsley Park.

73rd Annual Tour of Homes and GardensWhen: March 27-30Info: 234-8054.

Home, sweet mid-century modern home

Perhaps people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but they can sure throw a heck of a house tour. Or three. This weekend’s first installment of the three-part Mid-Century Modern House Tour, benefiting the American Diabetes Association, shines the tour spotlight through the floor-to-ceiling windows of a whole different kind of historic house, built from 1945 to 1965 or so, with flat roofs, koi ponds, concrete floors, and sometimes even a geodesic dome.

Dozens of such houses are scattered throughout Chatham County. With lines reflecting the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, they were designed by local architects with names like Helfrich, Grantham, Levy, and Stacy. And, Gunn & Meyerhoff—the partnership of my father, Bob Gunn and Eric Meyerhoff

Walking into a Grantham-designed residence on Brandywine a couple of years ago, I had a wave of deja-vu at the sight of the wall of glass opening into an interior courtyard, similar to the wall of glass in the house my dad designed for our family on Wilmington Island.

As a child, our house seemed at once cool and weird to my playmates, with its random steps and interior landings, the living room that was upstairs while the bedrooms were downstairs. We had a reflecting pool—no good for swimming but fun for the dogs to splash in, or for my brother to fall into while wearing his Easter outfit. I wonder if the Grantham kids, the Levy kids, and the Stacy kids felt the same confused pride mixed with desire for a “regular” house when their friends came over after school.

That Grantham house on Brandywine will be on this Saturday’s tour, restored by its two most recent owners. Around the corner on Abercorn, the Kaminsky-Edel house, designed by two generations of Helfriches, will also be featured, as will three other houses.

Last week by phone, architect Carl Paxon “Bunky” Helfrich talked about working with his father, Carl Edward Helfrich, on the Kaminsky-Edel house. “It was sort of an oriental contemporary. We had a geodesic dome to cover the atrium. It was a redwood dome and it had a whole bunch of redwood screens in it to carry the Chinese flavor of it” in the style favored by the owner.

“They were both very hands-on,” said Bunky, describing his father and Daniel “Lyndell” Grantham. “Whatever they had on their drawings went into the house, they went to the job every day to make sure it was built the way they were looking for.”

Danyse Edel bought the house in 1969 and lived there for 30 years, in love with its look and solid construction. “I bought it after looking at two rooms. I was looking at the electrical closet, which had the same integrity as the front door, it was built with such precision.”

Mid-Century Modern House Tour Info: