I HAVE a habit of getting around town, mostly because I’m nosy and always wear good walking shoes.
Yet no matter how many parties I invite myself to or dark lanes I get lost in, I still get bowled over by this city’s stunning beauty and sheer architectural awesomeness. Roof cornices give me goosebumps, and I have been known to wax poetic about triple-crown molding.
If you come across me standing with my mouth hanging open and my to-go cup spilling its contents on the concrete, I am probably not catatonic. I am simply “Savannah struck,” a condition that is unfailingly provoked by entering a private home with Corinthian columns. Its main symptoms are speechlessness and nervous shuffling, brought on by being too intimidated to set one’s cocktail down on any of the furniture.
Such was my state as I stood in the grand foyer of Daniel DePlanche and Jim Martin’s glorious Ardsley Park manse last Saturday. A pair of erudite gents who know their Beaux Arts sculpture from their Art Deco sconces, Daniel and Jim had generously offered up their historic Washington Avenue home to honor two of the local LGBTQ community’s most fabulous, Mark Hill and Clinton Edminster.
Fortunately, I had actually received an invitation and didn’t need to explain my presence as I mooned over the smoke-blue velvet window treatments.
The benevolent hosts opened their sumptuous home for full access, allowing guests to amble around the azalea-fringed brick courtyard and through the second-floor bedrooms bedecked in vintage wallpaper.
I had a small conniption in the master suite, which includes a bidet and a crystal chandelier over the bathtub. (“A true salle de bain,” noted SCAD architecture professor Ryan Madson with a sage nod.)
Momentarily hypnotized by a pair of stained glass Tiffany lamps, I almost spilled my G&T on the bedspread but caught myself in time to convene without incident around the majestic spiral staircase to hear from the evening’s honorees.
Known for his tireless activism and soft-spoken charms, Mark is passing on the reigns of Savannah Pride after 16 years of nurturing the event and its organizing body from just a few volunteers into a family festival attended by thousands. He’s also served on the Chatham County Health Commission and is a regular at the Georgia Assembly, reminding legislators of the power of the gay voting bloc in his West Virginia drawl. (You hear that as your pen hovers on that ridiculous “religious freedom” bill, Gov. Deal?)
Dressed in rainbow seersucker, Mark stood on the glossy bottom stair to address the crowd about the evolution of the city’s gay identity and the work still yet to be done.
“We are part of a living, thriving Savannah,” he said, admonishing guests to get involved, if not with LGBTQ issues then with another local organization that moves the city forward. “We have learned to take care of ourselves. Now we have to take care of each other.”
Our dear Clinton finds his way into this column on a regular basis with his colorful contributions as executive director of Art Rise, owner of Starlandia Creative Supply and all-around bon vivant, though it is his gleeful status as an out-and-proud gay man in his 20s that earned him this particular adulation.
“When we found out Mark was stepping down as director of Pride, I thought, ‘this needs to be recognized.’ Clinton is part of the generation coming up, and we wanted to bridge that legacy,” explained Mark Krueger, another Pride founder who has lived here since 1980, when the climate towards queer folk wasn’t always so friendly.
Krueger reminded that in spite of its abundance of turrets and cornices, Savannah hasn’t always been a fairy tale for LGBT acceptance. While it has long been an under-the-radar enclave, it surely owes its current openness and growing reputation as a gay-friendly destination to those who founded the First City Network, Georgia’s oldest LGBTQ advocacy organization.
Many of those quiet revolutionaries were present at Saturday’s fête, and the rest of the guest list sparkled as brightly as the gold brocade curtain tassels with the city’s moving, shaking gay community and its many allies (at least those who were free and still ambulatory on this extended St. Pat’s weekend).
Kevin Clark of Georgia Equality poured drinks behind the bar, and urban farmer George Wilson offered gardening tips in the kitchen. In the living room, the amazing Anitra Opera Diva performed a dreamy aria followed by a transcendental cover of the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” Anitra’s always resplendent companion, tour guide Nicodemus Hammill, looked straight out of a steampunk fantasy in his light coat and top hat.
As sometimes-mermaid Dame Darcy and her doll, Isabelle, rapped along with 80s MTV favorite “I Know What Boys Like” on the stairs, networking guru Scott West chatted with Clerk of Superior Court candidate Tammie Mosley near the grand piano.
I admired the antique dining table with Russell Kueker, formerly of Stopover and now launching his own real estate design service firm, then exchanged cheek kisses with real estate agent and activist Pam Miller next to the china cabinet. (By the way, Pam is casting her formidable galvanizing efforts against the proliferation of casinos on Hutchinson Island, a nefarious proposition that she calls “cruise ships on land.”)
Busy bee entrepreneurs Yusak Bernhard and Jeff Manley took time away from their third TailsSpin location on Whitemarsh Island to stop by to pay their respects, and the marvelously-mustachioed Jeffrey Downey and Donald Lubowicki of Circa 1875 Gastropub managed to escape the downtown madness to raise a toast in the parlor.
By the end of the evening, I was so overwhelmed that I allowed myself to rest for a moment on one of the angel white satin upholstered chairs (after first balancing my cup on an end table with a coaster, of course). I thought it was the columns in the hallway that finally brought me down, but in the end it was the social architecture that made me swoon.
I realized I must be a different kind of Savannah struck, a joyful stupor brought on by witnessing just how much love, creativity, compassion and hard work can fit into a single house, especially if it’s a palace.
Which reminds me: Daniel and Jim’s place is for sale, listed for just under a million with Keller Williams’ Ron Melander.
A word to the next tenants: If you invite me to the housewarming party, I promise not to faint on the divan.