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Best of Savannah 2007: City Life 

Best Old Building

Owens-Thomas House

The Owens-Thomas House, completed in 1819, is recognized nationally as an architectural treasure, perhaps the finest example of Regency architecture in America.

“In the early 19th century this was avant garde,” says Tania Sammons, curator of the OT House. “It was the first house in Savannah to have plumbing, and one of the first in the United States.” Cutting edge fixtures included “two water closets, a number of sinks, and a shower. This was really advanced technology.”

Sammons noted that in the early 1800’s, cast iron was not being manufactured in the United States -- “if you had it, it was shipped over from England” -- yet the OT House is liberally decorated with cast balconies, railings, fences and gutter downspouts.

The house was designed for the Richardson family by William Jay while he still lived in England. Construction was well under way before Jay ever arrived in Savannah. No architectural drawings, notes, or journals have been found that discuss Jay’s ideas or how his client influenced decisions in his design.

“Things turn up in people’s attics all the time,” says Sammons. “We always have hope.”

Although less ornate than the main house, the carriage house/slave quarters building at the east end of the property is equally important to architectural and cultural history.

Last year the Telfair Museum of Art, which owns the house, received a $40,000 planning grant for “reinterpretation” from the National Endowment of the Humanities. Sammons says there were from nine to thirteen slaves who lived on the property, either in the slave quarters or in the main house.

“We’re bringing in more of the social history,” she says, “the story of the wives, children and slaves.” -- (RG)

Editors’ Pick: Owens-Thomas House

Best New Building

Jepson Center for the Arts

Guess it fits in downtown after all, eh?

Editors’ Pick: Jepson Center

Best Restoration

Mansion on Forsyth Park

Former Fox & Weeks Funeral Home rises from the dead to attain instant landmark status.

Editors’ Pick: Roundhouse

Building Most in Need of Demoliion

Drayton Tower

Ironic choice considering the old Tower -- actually a fine example of International-style architecture, if you want to know the truth -- has just been renovated into upscale condos.

Editors’ Pick: Tie: Savannah Civic Center/ The building they’re trying to build on the Southwest corner of Bull Street and Park Avenue

Best Neighborhood to Live in

Ardsley Park

Perennial favorite that’s (finally) becoming more diverse by the year.

Editors’ Pick: Isle of Hope

Most Overrated Neighborhood

The Landings

Yeah, we already heard how you did it up north.

Editors’ Pick: Baldwin Park

Most Underrated Neighborhood

Starland Design District

One of Savannah’s most diverse neighborhoods, with a diverse commercial presence to match.

Editors’ Pick: Thomas Square

Best Potential Use for Old Sears/DFACS building

‘Some kind of Art/Cinema/Theater/Music Center’

My choice for the best possible use for this behemoth of a yellow brick building on Henry St. between Bull and Drayton was something along the lines of “Some kind of Art/Cinema/Theater/Music Center.” Imagine my surprise to find that the majority of folks who dig Connect agree wholeheartedly with me!

While an ongoing series of investors/developers seem incapable of getting anyone to pony up the dough to chop up such an imposing piece of architecture into the all-too-predictable “urban condo lofts with retail underneath,” the massive floor plan, relatively soundproof construction, lack of residential neighbors, enviable location just one block from Forsyth park and large, attached parking lot would seem to make opening a multi-purpose performance venue a no-brainer.

It would take truckfuls of cash to do that up right, but if anyone with that kind of money was looking for a mandate from the local populace, methinks they just got one. -- (JR)

Best Potential Use for I-16/I-95 ‘Megasite’

A Water Park

Perhaps using Jekyll Island’s not-half-bad Summer Waves as a model?

Editors’ Pick: Burial ground for all of Sonny Perdue’s dumb ideas

Best Square

Johnson Square

Oglethorpe’s first square and still number one in your hearts.

Editors’ Pick: Washington Square

Best Church

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

This church on Lafayette Square is spiritual home of Savannah’s Irish Catholic community.

Editors’ Pick: Nature

Best Pastor

Father Patrick O’Brien

The rector of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church on the islands is also a police department chaplain.

Editors’ Pick: Fr. William Willoughby, St. Paul the Apostle Episcopal

Best Rabbi

Rabbi Arnold Mark Belzer

One of Savannah’s favorite citizens and spiritual head of Temple Mickve Israel, North America’s oldest continuous Jewish congregation.

Editors’ Pick: Rabbi Belzer

Best Private School

St. Vincent’s Academy

Best Principal/Headmaster

Sister Helen Marie Buttimer, SVA

Best Liberal

Donna Antonucci

What makes St. Vincent’s Academy the Best Private School in Savannah, when other schools have more students, larger campuses, newer facilities and pricier tuition?

For starters, there’s the demanding college prep curriculum, competitive varsity sports program, and the historic downtown campus--the same spot the school’s occupied since its founding in 1845, serving as an ideal backdrop for mandatory freshman fine arts courses. The 350-student high school is girls-only, owned by the Sisters of Mercy, an order of nuns in the Roman Catholic Church.

According to our readers, St. Vincent’s also has the best principal and at least one teacher with star quality in the political arena.

Sister Helen Marie Buttimer is a St. Vincent’s alumnus who’s served as principal since 1994. Biology teacher Donna Antonucci is Savannah’s Best Liberal—an unusual award for a science teacher at a school with a strong religious foundation.

Antonucci is vice-chair of the 25-member Savannah River Site Citizen’s Advisory Board, a federal appointment. She’s vocal in her concern about the impacts of nuclear waste on the Savannah River Valley, although unlike many environmentalists she believes in the positive potential of nuclear energy. “We just need to figure out how to deal with nuclear waste,” she says.

In a warm, quiet voice, Principal Helen Marie Buttimer describes “a number of lessons” St. Vincent’s reinforces to the students as part of all school activities. “To be who they are, to become their best selves, to develop their God-given gifts, to be independent. As a woman to know what are your gifts and talents and to rely on those. We hope that service to those in need will always be part of their life’s focus.”

Antonucci describes her take on politics as part Libertarian and part Democratic “along the lines of Eleanor Roosevelt.” She favors social programs to help the disadvantaged, the elderly and children, and “even though I teach in private school” she supports strong public education as the foundation of a strong middle class. She advocates “preserving the environment for our children, as stewards.”

Antonucci sees no conflict between her political ideals and her Catholic faith.

“I utilize the Jesuit philosophy of questioning,” she says. “That’s an appropriate response with living your values. I always come from a place of love.”

When classroom science topics venture into the political arena, “I’ve been supported by Sister Helen and the Sisters of Mercy,” says Antonucci. “I understand the age of my audience. They’re 15 years old. Some topics there’s only so far you can go.”

“We don’t always absolutely agree on every issue,” says Sister Helen. “At times we have to go back and have her re-explain something” as her opinion.

“There’s a willingness to work harder for Sister Helen,” says Antonucci. “She lets us know when we go over the line. I respect my students’ upbringing, and their parents’ views. I want them to speak convincingly, even if they are on the other side. I always love them, no matter how far apart our opinions are. It’s safe right here in tenth grade.”

Marie Singleton and Sarah Reynolds, 10th graders, are both in Antonucci’s Environmental Club.

“I definitely love ‘Nooch.’” says Reynolds.

“I actually like not having guys here. It’s more relaxed,” says Singleton, describing St. Vincent’s academics as “challenging but not overwhelming.”

“The students are intensely loyal to one another,” says Antonucci. “They think their experiences are unique. Helen has helped us all become stronger and better people.” -- (RG)

Editors’ Pick, private school: Savannah Country Day

Editors’ Pick, headmaster: Sister Helen Marie Buttimer

Editors’ Pick, liberal: The Drinking Liberally Savannah crew (drinkingliberally.org), “promoting democracy one pint at a time.”

Best Public School

Savannah Arts Academy

Charter school and performing arts magnet on Washington Avenue manages an equal focus on the arts and on academics.

Editors’ Pick: Savannah Arts Academy

Best WiFi spot

Starbuck’s

There is more caffeine in their coffee. We read it on the internet so it must be true.

Editors’ Pick: One word: Krystal!

Best Tour Company

Old Savannah Tours

That would be the company with the white trolleys, for those keeping score.

Editors’ Pick: First company that converts fleet to biodiesel

Most Eligible Local Bachelor

Forrest Estes

Most Eligible Local Bachelorette

Karen Guinn

Forrest Estes, 29, was anything but thrilled when told he was voted Most Eligible Bachelor by Connect’s readers.

“At first I thought I didn’t want to do this but then I thought it could be pretty funny, so I just decided to let it go,” he says. The low-key Savannah native is a UGA biology graduate working as environmental project manager with WPC Engineering, Inc.

Estes is a member of Leadership Savannah and recently began volunteering as a patient advocate at Candler’s Emergency Room. “I try to make people feel emotionally and physically more comfortable” while they’re in the ER waiting room.

Is he looking to date someone? “I guess so. I’m always on the lookout.”

Estes is “a huge outdoor person, especially if it involves the water. My absolute favorite thing to do is ski. I am no angler or anything, but I do fish. There’s no fish bumper sticker on my car.”

Besides the outdoors, Estes favors spending time with his friends. “I love downtown Savannah. If I’m going out I usually meet up with people at Locos.” He might also be found at Mercury Lounge, Sorry Charlie’s or Pinkie’s. “And of course there’s the Sunday Stew”--a weekly friends-only gathering.

Estes’ friend Amanda Cohen voted for him as Savannah’s most eligible guy. “He’s really good looking and he has all his stuff together,” says Cohen. “He’s just a really good catch. He hates awkward situations” -- like being voted most eligible bachelor, no doubt.

Cohen thinks the best match for Estes would be “someone who is really laid back and cool that you could talk with, and not too high maintenance. But she’d have to be pretty attractive. I guess he has high standards.”

Savannah’s Most Eligible Bachelorette is a woman on the go. Karen Guinn, 26, Communications Manager for JCB, stays busy traveling with her job and for fun. “Routine makes me antsy. The secret is to travel and try new things,” said Guinn via email en route from a conference in Nevada.

A chance trip four years ago sold the New York native on living in Savannah—she moved here one week later. The Niagara University graduate majored in political science and double minored in English and Psychology. Guinn is active in the William Jay Society and CBETA, and serves on the board for the local USO chapter.

“I play soccer, ski, run. I love to read—do a little writing. Always up for a concert. Anything outside—boating, beach...” Favorite night spots and restaurants are Il Pasticcio, WG’s, and Mercury Lounge. “Reed’s Local 1011 is becoming a favorite spot as well.”

Pet peeves? “When people don’t look me in the eye when they talk to me, people who drive slow in the passing lane, and man sandals. I’m okay with flip flops but the man sandals need to go.”

For Guinn the best thing about being single in Savannah is “being able to be spontaneous.”

She’s “not really looking,” to date anyone. “I am a firm believer that love happens to you, you can’t search it out, change it or tame it,” writes Guinn. -- (RG)

Editors’ Pick, bachelor: Jim Reed

Editors’ Pick, bachelorette: Robin Gunn

Best Place to Propose Marriage

Tybee Island

Must. Resist. Urge. To make really lame “sex on the beach” joke....

Editors’ Pick: Wherever she’s most likely to say yes

Best Place to Watch Fireworks

River Street

And the best part is, there’s always a bar nearby when it’s over!

Editors’ Pick: Bridge to Ft. Pulaski

Best Eccentric Street Character

The ‘Stop the Lie’ Guy

His name is Charles Moody, and he says “the lie” is Marxism. No, really. Ask him.

Editors’ Pick: The dude who constantly counts molecules with one hand

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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