I have combined in meandering prose short stories and historical ruminations. So at the end of this post to continue you will need to go to the Historical Ruminations Page for the conclusion. I know my faithful readers can adapt to this change and hopefully it will be worth your time.
A Gaffe, A Paradise, and a Gift
It was our first dinner party as a couple. The gathering was in celebration of her colleague starting a new job. I wanted to make a good impression. They were all friends she had made as a curator at the art museum. I was a minister/social worker who worked with Persons Living with AIDS. I knew no one and their world was different from mine. The night was going well and her friends appeared to be liking me as I was them. The subject as could be expected turned to art and museums. I was not an expert but comfortable with discussing art after all I made an A in my art appreciation class and had been to hordes of art museums as well as read a few art books. The subject of architecture came up. And the conversation had been witty and a little ribald. So I thought I would bring up a subject I had with my friends about what was the ugliest building in town. Savannah is a city of 18th and 19th century architecture with very few examples of modern architecture. The building my social work friends had all come to the conclusion for the ugliest building was a modernist apartment complex. It seemed to us the logical choice. The group became quiet which should have been a clue something was up. Chris my partner was out of the room at the time. I coaxed the guests and they all named various buildings but the one I was sure should be the answer as my social work friends had chosen was not included. After a few awkward moments I chastised them for not naming what was to me the obvious choice. I said the modernist apartment complex. The room became as quiet and uncomfortable as a teenage boy’s first meeting of his date’s father. The man who had said he was a lawyer in town looked at me and said, ‘Calmly my father was the designer of that building. Some people think it is quite a remarkable building.’
At first I thought he was joking with me, but one look at his solemn face showed he was not. I apologized profusely which did not help matters. Thankfully, one of her friends tired of seeing me squirm politely changed the conversation. Chris who had been out of the room had come in at the tail end of the disaster not soon enough to hear the disaster but to feel the uncomfortable air in the room. She would ask me later what happened and she aghast looked at me and shook her head. Needless to say that particular dinner party never returned to the table. And the building? It has since been put on the National Register of Historic Buildings.
It turns out Cletus Bergen who designed Drayton towers, the modernist building, is considered one of Savannah’s great architects. In fact while he was alive and even today he is called “the Dean of Savannah Architecture.” He opened his office in Savannah in 1927. He would serve on many city committees: Secretary of the Chatham County Planning Board, Chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Commission, Chairman of the Historic American Building Survey in Savannah, Chairman of the Chatham County Construction Trades Council, President of the Chatham County Building and Trades Association, Chairman of the Georgia State Board of Architectural Examiners, and President of the South Georgia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to name a few. Many of the city's major architects began their careers with internships in his office. He has major buildings throughout Savannah. He has designed many of the Tudor homes you see throughout Savannah. He designed the Savannah College of Art and Design Bergen Hall on MLK Jr Boulevard. It was originally built in 1926 for one of Savannah's largest dry good wholesalers. His work can also be seen in St. Mary's Home for children on Victory Drive now the diocese headquarters, Henry Ford's Richmond Hill plantation, the Art Deco Emma Kelly Theater in Statesboro, and Savannah State University's library. He and his son William who joined his firm as a partner were prolific not only in numbers but also architectural styles. He died on May 6, 1966.
One of his buildings was Gould Cottage that sits in Ardsley Park on Hull Park. This is a beautiful Tudor building designed to be a boys’ home. I was fortunate enough to have an office in the building with a window overlooking Hull Park for several years. It is truly a beautiful home. Its history is interesting and I want to tell you this but first I will tell you as I meander a personal story that somewhat indirectly connects to the reason for the building.