On Thursday, March 16, community members gathered at Pulaski Square for a special ceremony commemorating the late Lorlee Tenenbaum. A Savannah transplant, Lorlee relocated to the Hostess City in 1959 and became an active and contributing member of the local community. She was a dedicated philanthropist who supported various local charities and organizations including the United Way, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and local food banks among others. She befriended Savannah College of Art and Designer founder and President, Paula Wallace and was instrumental in the creation of the SCAD Museum of Art. Because of her deep appreciation for art and education and commitment to community service, SCAD awarded Lorlee with an honorary degree in 2014. Now, SCAD leadership is proud to honor Lorlee again by memorializing her life and legacy through the renaming of the university’s workforce housing building.
“We are renaming the Lofts on Pulaski Square to The Lorlee in honor of Lorlee Tenenbaum. She and her husband Arnold were longtime friends of SCAD, huge philanthropists in Savannah, great art collectors and close friends of President Paula Wallace. So, we thought that given their stature in the community, it made sense to rename this building in her honor,” said Scott Linzey, Vice President of Financial Services and Director of SCAD SERVE.
During the ceremony, Wallace shared about her long-standing friendship with Lorlee, describing her as a woman with style who “single-handedly elevated the cool quotient of genteel Savannah.”
“Lorlee loved fiercely, gave generously, blessed my life and lives of every SCAD student through her devotion to art, artists and those seeking beauty in the world around us. It is my great honor to name The Lorlee in her memory and continue her legacy of service to the people of Savannah,” said Wallace. “This building reminds me of her: sophisticated, smart, strong, full of light, open to all, here to serve and not be served. Her name will be forever on our lips when we look upon this place that bears her beautiful name, The Lorlee.”
The 15,000 square feet building, which is located at 328 Barnard Street, was erected in 1914 as the community center for the Jewish Educational Alliance. In the years following, it was a church, a lodge and Salvation Army center. In 1990, SCAD purchased the edifice, which became the university’s first student residential building. It remained as a residence hall for SCAD students until 2021, which is when the university began converting the building into affordable workforce housing in response to Mayor Van Johnson’s plea for such housing. SCAD spent $4 million on renovations to convert the building into 22 beautiful, modern, energy-efficient units, which were made available to tenants in January 2022.
“It is now workforce housing so that individuals who work in downtown Savannah who otherwise wouldn’t be able to live in downtown Savannah have the opportunity to live here in state-of-the-art units that are about half of what the market value would be,” Linzey explained.
He said that SCAD has aligned with a property manager who identifies potential tenants, who must meet certain financial criteria to be eligible for residence. SCAD maintains ownership of the building, but no students live in the property. It’s reserved for local workers. Some of the tenants include police officers, teachers and medical workers. Rents are around $1000 including utilities.
“This place, The Lorlee, represents the kind of innovation that defines SCAD and our mission. It’s a building that throughout its history has been dedicated to community. . . And now, through SCAD SERVE, it provides workforce housing for downtown employees. Today, the apartments inside are offered at 30-50 percent below the current market rate for downtown living, which enables dedicated and essential workers to live near where they work. These emergency workers, service and hospitality professionals are men and women who elevate Savannah as the Hostess City in the hearts of all who visit us. And the name Lorlee imbues that same sense of heart for the Tenenbaum family and their loved ones,” Linzey said.
Members and friends of the Tenenbaum family were in attendance during the ceremony. One of Lorlee’s four children, her son Brian Tenenbaum thanked everyone on behalf of his family for being a part of this commemorative effort.
“The naming of this building memorializes a few things. It memorializes . . . her unique brand of citizenship, the importance of strong women operating behind the shadow of a public figure. Although, she really wasn’t behind the shadow. . . It memorializes some long-standing conversations . . . about things that could happen in the city of Savannah to make it . . . a better place. . . But most importantly, what this memorializes for us is what I’ve called the love affair between my parents and [the SCAD family]. Their friends and community meant everything to them. So, this is the brick and mortar of a lot of time, love, effort, caring and forethought, and nothing can be done or said to express the appreciation that we have for the Savannah College of Art and Design making this day happen,” he expressed.
His sister, Ann Tenenbaum, reflected on the spirited woman that her mother was.
“She was very strong, very opinionated and very outspoken in the best possible way about issues that she cared about, which were plentiful in this city. She tried to make it a better place. . . She was unusual. I think that’s why she and Paula got to be such good friends because they both saw things that were possible that a lot of traditionalists in the city didn’t want to allow to happen. And they fought some of those traditions to make Savannah a more open, inclusive and vibrant place,” said Ann.
She said was moved by the renaming and is glad to have a permanent place in the city of her upbringing to remember her mother, adding that the cause is particularly fitting:
“Our mother would have loved this because she did care deeply about workforce housing among many other issues. I think President Wallace picked the perfect concept to use to honor her, so it means a lot to all of us.”