Victorian District: Savannah, Georgia
Savannah's Victorian District lies immediately to the south of the well-known National Landmark Historic District. The Victorian District encompasses the West Victorian, East Victorian, and Dixon Park neighborhoods. This downtown neighborhood was developed in the second half of the 19th century as a streetcar suburb of the original city. It was designed in a compact, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use development pattern with a modified ward structure and street grid from the original James Oglethorpe 1733 plan.
Bounded on the north by Gwinnett Street, on the south by Anderson Lane, on the east by East Broad Street, and on the west by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Thanks to residents' dedication and commitment to preservation and restoration, the Victorian District is known for its beauty and charm. The Victorian Neighborhood Association is actively involved in landscaping and cleaning lots and street lawns — and recently received funding from the city and transformed a vacant lot into a community garden with assistance from local residents.
The Victorian District's short city blocks and vibrant mix of residential, commercial establishments and parks make it one of Savannah's most walkable neighborhoods. In late 2011, the city transformed Price Street from a two-lane road into one lane for automobiles, one lane for bikes, and one lane for parking. The neighborhood enjoys an off-street pedestrian/bikeway facility on the Forsyth Park perimeter and a dedicated bike lane on Lincoln Street. The neighborhood is also served by nine Chatham Area Transit bus routes and the City of Savannah's express shuttle, which has greater citywide connections.
Forsyth Park has been central to the Victorian District's social and cultural fabric since its creation in the mid-19th century. The 30-acre park was influenced by the remarkable vistas inspired by Parisian urban renewal efforts and envisioned as a center for beauty and hospitality. The main walkway is highlighted by the prominent white fountain, erected in 1859 and restored in 1988 by city and community residents. The park also contains the Fragrant Garden for the Blind, a project of the Savannah Garden Clubs. For locals and tourists the park is a hub of social interaction: concerts, recreation, sports clubs and teams, and weekly farmer's markets. Several monuments pay tribute to Civil War and Spanish-American War soldiers.
The neighborhood plays an essential role in Savannah's local tourism economy. Approximately 13 million visitors, both business and recreational travelers, come to Savannah each year, and many pay the Victorian District a visit to explore and admire the neighborhood, homes, architecture, and Forsyth Park.
Defining Characteristics, Features
History and Architecture
- By the late 1830s, the older part of Savannah was laid out according to James Oglethorpe's original plan with each ward arranged around central square
- The creation of Forsyth Park in the 1840s marked the city's expansion to the south and a departure from the pattern of development established under the Oglethorpe plan.
- Horse drawn streetcars began operation within the city, setting the stage for the development of the Victorian District around and beyond the lower half of Forsyth Park (1869)
- Eckburg Hall, built in 1892, as the Henry Street Elementary School; the three-story, Queen Anne Revival building houses classrooms, design studios, and a resource library for Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) fashion design, marketing, and management studies
- Anderson Hall, designed by Gottfried L. Norrman in the Classical and Colonial Revival styles (1896) served as the Anderson Street Elementary School and now houses the SCAD foundation studies program
- Dixon Park was planned and developed (1906)
- The Carnegie Library (1914) that opened across from Dixon Park, primarily for Savannah's African American population, was the first freestanding public library in the city and remains one of the only examples of Prairie style architecture in Savannah
- Historic Savannah Foundation was chartered (1955) to "acquire, hold, improve, preserve, develop and restore sites, building, residence and the squares which are a part of the original plan of Savannah, and to preserve neighborhood design in mass and scale and proportion"
- Historic Zoning Ordinance implemented by City of Savannah (1973)
- Victorian Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1974)
- The neighborhood was designated a Neighborhood Strategy Area, and the city applied for an Urban Development Action Grant to commission plans that resulted in the re-landscaping of two parks (1978)
- Victorian Planned Neighborhood Conservation District created; includes design guidelines and development standards; Savannah Victorian District Design Manual published; Victorian District Design Review established (1981)
- The MLK Streetscape Plan was adopted (2001)
- The MLK/Montgomery Street Corridor Urban Redevelopment Plan was adopted (2002), and in 2004 Land Use and Design Strategies were adopted
- The Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission established a Gentrification Task Force in 2004 to recommend programs to mitigate the negative effects of gentrification and stimulate residential revitalization
- The city approved an amendment to development standards for districts within Victorian District to address density and create uses more suitable to the neighborhood's urban fabric (2013)
- This year, the Victorian Neighborhood Association forged the city's first "Good Neighbor Agreements" with neighborhood businesses to ensure consistency with neighborhood planning goals and encourage residents to patronize participating businesses
Community Engagement and Amenities
- Savannah Landmark Rehabilitation Project was founded to provide safe, affordable housing to low-income residents in the Victorian District (1974) and subsequently built 300 apartments for low-income renters in the neighborhood (1982)
- Park Place Outreach Youth Emergency Shelter, a 24-hour facility on the district's east side, was renovated in 2008 through the collaboration of the Cowart Group, J.T. Turner, and SCAD students; one of the first LEED-certified nonprofit buildings in Savannah
- The neighborhood is home to the new headquarters of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign (SBC), a local bicycle advocacy group, which shares its space with its statewide counterpart, Georgia Bikes, along with Healthy Savannah — a local initiative dedicated to making Savannah a healthier place to live
- SBC and Healthy Savannah are working with the City of Savannah to encourage the adoption of a Complete Streets ordinance — in addition, SBC's new facility will rehabilitate donated bikes for distribution to underserved populations to use as a dependable transportation option
- The American Legion complex serves as an excellent example of adaptive reuse; as a local neighborhood hangout it draws a diverse crowd with local shops, bars, and a variety of restaurant options