Savannah Magazine

The Authentic Savannah

JF17Cover

JF17Cover

Fall16Cover

Fall16Cover

FallWinter16Cover

FallWinter16Cover

Tag Archives: Beau Kester

More than 150 years after Cockspur Island heard its final shot, Fort Pulaski National Monument still finds itself fighting on the front line. N.W. Gabbey and Emma N. Hurt go back in time to get a sense of our future.

Read More »


Creative Spaces-4 We spend most of our waking life at work—so isn’t it about time we made ourselves at home? Allison Hersh gets insider tips from a quintet of coastal creatives who are redefining their work spaces with a personal approach to design. Photography by Beau Kester

Read More »


African-American farmers are helping to reshape how and what we grow in the South. 

Read More »


Meet Zach Smith—Savannah's very own prince of tides.

Read More »


The simple chicken coop comes of age in “The Garden.”

Read More »


The city's newest shared creative space makes its sparkling debut.

Read More »


Photography by: Beau Kester/Round 1 ProductionsWhen he designed Savannah’s urban grid 260-plus years ago, General Oglethorpe knew that our common spaces would define us.  Now a new generation of visionaries is taking that plan one step further.  Native Zach Powers explores the city’s newest—and oldest—trend.  »  Photography by Beau Kester

The building on the corner of Congress and Montgomery languished for more than a decade.  Warped plywood the color of wet ash covered every window.  I could only imagine the rot on the inside, the dust that clung thick to every surface.  Whenever I walked past, I cringed, but not at the decay.  My disgust was a little more pragmatic than that.  I resented the circumstances that allowed such a prime piece of real estate to waste away. When the chain link fence went up around the building last summer, I rejoiced.  No, I probably won’t be shopping at the new Anthropologie on a regular basis, but I celebrate every time I see progress in Savannah.  What I value more than a new shop for myself is the growth and diversification of our community.  I want my city to thrive.
A Ghost Town
When my family moved away from Savannah in 1991, I can only remember there being two establishments on Broughton Street: Levy Jewelers at one end and Welsh Pawn Shop at the other.  A couple more might have lived and died in between over the years, but I’ll never know.  Back then, nobody went to Broughton.  There was no reason.  Out of the entire Historic District, the only spot that ever warranted a visit was River Street.  As a kid, I probably didn’t know that “downtown” meant anything more than the strip between Factors Walk and the river. There are several well-worn theories concerning Savannah’s stagnation and its subsequent revitalization.  I’ll offer my own summary: it involved politicians and prominent residents who thought preserving the past meant preventing progress.  The collapse of this regime coincided with Forrest Gump, The Book, and the rise of the Savannah College of Art and Design.  That was 20 years ago, and the perfect storm of tourism and increased downtown residency allowed restaurants and boutiques to move in and, to my pleasant surprise, succeed.
Lovely But Lonely
Jump ahead to 2009.  My teenage self wouldn’t recognize downtown Savannah.  I’ve got an apartment in the heart of it all, around the corner from the current Gallery Espresso and just a short walk to dozens of restaurants and bars.  The city bustles, sidewalks full of tourists, Forsyth Park dotted with sunbathers.  Frisbees and footballs sail overhead.  Every square plays host to its own microcosmic community.  It seems ideal. But I’ve spent several years applying for jobs in other cities, looking for a way out.  As much as the city has grown, I find it a hard place to be a writer.  More specifically, in 2009, I’m the only writer I know.  I crave a community of the literarily like-minded, the kind I’ve seen in places like Atlanta and Boston and Chicago.  Not to mention New York.  With each day and every ignored job application, I feel myself more isolated.  More frustrated.  While the city flourishes physically, local culture—from writing to music to theater—is still an abandoned storefront.
The Gathering
In 2010, I take matters into my own hands.  Along with Christopher Berinato and Brian Dean, I launch the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live.  Our goal is to establish a literary scene in Savannah, to fill cultural storefronts that had long been abandoned. And Seersucker isn’t alone.  Around the same time that we’re getting started, JinHi Soucy Rand raises the curtain on Muse Arts Warehouse, a nonprofit blackbox theater on Lousiville Road, and Kayne Lanahan kicks off the Savannah Stopover Festival, bringing more indie bands to Savannah in a weekend than performed here over several years prior.  Savannah’s culture erupts from paucity to glut almost overnight. Welcome to 2014.  Seersucker, Muse and Stopover have connected artists with an eager audience.  They helped create a community where before there had been only individuals.  As these innovations become household names, I can’t help but wonder: What’s next for Savannah?  Where do we grow from here? My quest for answers takes me away from downtown, to meet the people who see possibilities in unusual places. Photography by: Beau Kester/Round 1 Productions
Old Men, New Concept
Cohen’s Retreat is hard to miss from Skidaway Road.  The main structure reminds me of a small-town train station, its two-story entranceway flanked on either side by long, low wings.  Set back from the roadway, it possesses an air of detachment from everything going on around it. When I was a kid, attending Hancock Day School’s former campus right across Skidaway, aging men would idle away afternoons on the row of benches up against the fence, facing the street.  The men were the residents of Cohen’s Old Men’s Retreat, a cast of quirky characters I only ever knew by their waved greetings.  That was the scene for five decades, but then Cohen’s closed its doors, and those benches sat empty for years.  Every time I drove by and saw the overgrown lawn and darkened windows, I wished I had the time and inspiration necessary to reclaim the space.  While the building may have been physically empty, I knew it teemed with potential. Enter Colleen Smith and Karen Langston, the founders of the new Cohen’s Retreat.  They purchased the facility—the main building plus sixteen cottages and a few additional structures—two years ago, and began the process of turning it from an abandoned asylum into a creative collective. “We had seen similar settings in other, bigger cities,” says Smith, “but Savannah has so much untapped talent.  We knew it was possible to bring this kind of setting.” Smith and Langston, both products of Savannah, used to visit the men who lived at Cohen’s.  They share with me fond memories of the place and the people.  I’m struck right away by the warmth of these women, and it truly shines as they reminisce.  Their personal history allows them to see their new development as a continuation of the Retreat’s legacy. Smith can’t help but grin as she talks about her work. “This building is phenomenal.  We didn’t dream we’d get the chance to be here.” I enter through the tall columns on the front porch into a cozy lobby.  I’d expected something more “in progress,” but the renovations to the main building are nearly complete, and the south wing, a gallery space, has already hosted two shows.  A banquet table dominates another room.  The back wall is finished in wood left over from the renovation, arranged in random mosaic.  Small candles rest atop the pieces of wood that jut out.  Subtle touches like this abound, revealing the meticulous care with which the project has been undertaken.
If You Build It
The space, however, is only half the work.  Without someone to use it, Cohen’s would just be a big, pretty building.  But creative types are already flocking to the retreat from all over the city.  A couple of working craftspeople live in the cottages out back.  Two designers, as well as Smith and Langston’s own business, Savannah Plush, have offices upstairs.  The next gallery exhibition, featuring several area artists, is already being installed.  Soon, the north wing—newly opened up into a single large room—will host lectures, classes, workshops, and more. Smith says, “We just wanted to provide a setting where the most accomplished artist can come in and go away with something, but so can someone who has never even picked up a paintbrush.” Both founders downplay their desire to engineer a community, saying instead that they want Cohen’s to grow into a living place.  By welcoming creative people into their shared space, they intend to encourage its natural evolution. By the end of January, a public café will open in the main building, operated by Form’s Brian Torres.  A restaurant and artists’ retreat will follow.  They’ve even fixed up the shuffleboard court out back. “We wanted to open it up to all the possibilities,” Smith says.  “It’s too cool to keep to yourself.  We have to share this.” While the facility looks nearly finished to me, I’m told work remains to be done.  Langston shows me a map that features a new patio space, vegetable and herb gardens, and a fountain to be installed out front.  Many of the fully-renovated cottages are still available for rent.  A few landscaping projects remain to spruce up the grounds. Even without the finishing touches, Cohen’s is already a success, and I’m excited to see how it grows over the next few years.  It demonstrates that, with a little vision and a big effort, the same kind of community that developed downtown can be cultivated on Skidaway, connecting the corridor from Five Points to Sandfly.  It also models a new type of space for Savannah: a shared hub where creative people can gather to innovate, socialize and live.  Cohen’s is no longer a forgotten building on the side of the road; it’s the center of a new Savannah community.
“We wanted to open it up to all the possibilities,” Smith says.  “It’s too cool to keep to yourself.  We have to share this.”
Common Ground
Tim Cone is a high school teacher, but that wouldn’t be your first guess if you saw him around town.  His beard better befits a lumberjack.  Like me, he’s probably most often mistaken for a SCAD student.  But a teacher he is, and now he has the plaque to prove it: Cone recently was named teacher of the year by the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System. When he’s not enlightening young minds on the science of engineering, Cone devotes his time to Maven Makers, a group that plans to open a makers’ space in Savannah.  Put briefly, a makers’ space is a shared workshop furnished with the tools of light industry, from woodshop to metalworking equipment to 3D printers.  Members pay a monthly fee, and have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. “It works sort of like a gym,” Cone tells me. If all goes well, the space could be up and running within the year.  But Cone almost didn’t stick around long enough to even begin the project. “My first year, I loved my teaching job one hundred percent, but I hated Savannah,” he confesses.  “I didn’t get plugged into anything.  I just went to work, came home to my apartment, ate dinner, and went to bed.  But I moved downtown my second year, got plugged into a lot of different areas, and started really connecting with the community.  I started learning that there are all these little pockets of things that are happening.” Savannah’s cultural and community offerings helped Cone find his place in Savannah—a shared space he’s building, people first.  His network of innovators and entrepreneurs is united by their desire for this space and working together to bring it into being. Photography by: Beau Kester/Round 1 Productions
Cornhole for Creatives
“Maven Makers is one of those things that I think everyone can come together and say ‘Yes, this is one thing that we absolutely need.’  It can absolutely be the center of innovation.  It can be the driving force that’s going to push Savannah to be a model for other cities to follow.” Innovation is key to Savannah’s future, but what good is that future if it doesn’t extend beyond the individual, if it doesn’t bring people together from time to time?  Progress in any venture, from cultural to industrial, can’t occur in a vacuum. As it prepares to share Ramsey Khalidi’s Southern Pine space in the old Star Laundry building, Maven Makers has already drawn interest from local leaders and businesses.  Cone says he’s been overwhelmed by the positive reception, and he hopes to secure funding within the year. For the time being, Maven Makers will focus on providing workshops and joining with other organizations throughout the community to host events.  One of their first events will be a cornhole tournament, but with a twist.  The beanbags have to be lobbed by homemade trebuchets. “A makers’ space is just one small piece of a larger movement in Savannah,” Cone says.  “There are a lot of people out there being forward thinkers, wanting to mix things up here in town.  They have grand ideas or some kind of passion, and they just need a space to express themselves.”
Photography by: Beau Kester/Round 1 Productions
A Place for Us
For innovators like Cone, building community is about providing greater opportunities for individual success.  That begins with the ability to see potential, especially when that potential is hidden under the surface.  Where I saw only abandoned storefronts on Broughton Street 20 years ago, I think Smith, Langston, and Cone would have seen the kinds of businesses that could thrive there.  Where I see a group of people with shared interests, they see a home base where those people can gather and forge community. “This has kind of renewed my interest in living in Savannah,” Cone says, “and made me realize that this isn’t just a temporary spot.  I could be here for a very long time and make this my home.” Savannah is fortunate to have residents for whom the idea of home extends beyond their own four walls.  This concept built—and rebuilt—downtown, and similar progress can extend to wherever people are willing to take it. Let’s hope it spreads far and wide.

Read More »


The Savannah Film Festival celebrates 16 years with flights of imagination.  Andrea Goto steps into the spotlight.

Read More »


Ditch the veil!  Tackle the most visible areas in bridal beauty with help from Savannah’s look-good, feel-good experts.  | By Colleen McNally  | Photograph by Beau Kester

Read More »


With the help of a born ’n’ bred naturalist, editor Annabelle Carr visits an alternate Savannah where development never happened.  »  Photography by Beau Kester

I can taste salt and exultation in the air as we leave civilization behind, skimming across the inscrutable water, blue-black laced with shimmering olive highlights. I’ve asked John “Crawfish” Crawford to show me his favorite places.  We’re in a Carolina skiff that belongs to Crawfish’s employer, the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service, aka MAREX.  Crawfish’s daughter, Lauren, 11, his wife, Jeana, and my son, Santo, 12, are along for the Sunday ride. “We have one of the largest stretches of undeveloped coastline in the US—60 miles from Tybee to Sea Island—and the highest tidal range from Cape Cod to South America,” Crawfish calls out above the roar of the motor.  “This right here is the nursery of the ocean.  Dead grass feeds bacteria, which feed plankton, which feed everything.” Underneath a Captain Ahab beard, his voice sparkles with boyish enthusiasm.  I feel suddenly privileged to be here, in this diverse ecosystem based on constant change, with a bona fide disciple of Poseidon. A Savannah native, marine science education specialist and U.S. Coast Guard master captain, my host came by the name “Crawfish” honestly.  He grew up exploring the woods and marshes of Savannah’s east side, catching specimens in jars, leading his fellow Boy Scouts on natural history expeditions and riding his bike to the now-defunct Savannah Science Museum, where he found mentors and a lifelong passion.  After a stint in the Navy, he went on to have a hand in every local ecological organization I can think of, from Wilderness Southeast to the Caretta Research Project.  Today, he leads groups “from ages 10 to 110” on learning expeditions into the coastal wilderness.  Back in laboratories at MAREX’s saltwater aquarium on Skidaway Island, he and his colleagues teach by example.  They involve their students in field research, inspecting plankton, dissecting fish and observing horseshoe crab behavior in salt tanks. When I thank Crawfish for spending his day off at work, he laughs and quotes Georgia folk hero Br’er Rabbit: “Please, please, please don’t throw me in the briar patch!” This is one local man who doesn’t just live on the water—he lives for it.
Adrift With Living Fossils
Wilmington Island’s crowded shore gives way to oyster-lined tidal creeks where ’gators larger than our children slide noiselessly into the water.  Crawfish shows us where the ageless reptiles have changed the marsh over time, creating new waterways by wallowing through the grass.  He explains how they keep other species alive by digging holes that stay wet through seasons of drought—reverse “arks” where these unlikely “Noahs” unwittingly preserve their prey. It’s one thing to take an ordinary Savannah boat ride—koozie in hand, marveling at the raw, wordless expanse and gossiping with the usual suspects.  It’s another thing entirely to take a ride with Crawfish, a lifelong champion of coastal ecology.  I pester him with questions and find that he can answer them all.  How do starfish eat?  (Through a mouth that’s disturbingly close to the anus.)  How do you tell a great egret from a snowy egret?  (Yellow beak vs. yellow feet.) After 10 years in Savannah, I feel like I’ve finally arrived. We pass a sand bar where glossy clusters of watermelon-sized horseshoe crabs float in the shallows.  Nothing like the occasional stragglers that surface on Tybee’s South Beach to die, these living fossils are active and plentiful. “These fellas mate only on the spring tides—the full and new moon—so we’re in luck,” Crawfish says, tossing an anchor overboard so we can get a closer view. Everywhere we look, the prehistoric creatures have strung themselves together, the males’ hooked legs, or pedipalps, locking onto the shells of the females.  They haven’t changed much in the past 300 million years. Lauren disembarks to help a stranded male.  Crawfish shows me the crab’s underbelly, a fierce, flailing knot of spidery legs. “You can see that they’re related to scorpions,” he says, and the “stinger” is clearly the sword-like tail, which aggressively slices the air on its abdominal hinge.  “But, even though it looks threatening, it’s only trying to propel itself.” My host also knows his plant life—he’s particularly fond of “what other people call weeds”—and he offers us a crab-watching snack.  As we sample salty sea blight and succulent glasswort near the water’s edge, birds hover close by, no doubt hoping to feed on horseshoe crab eggs.  The birds’ diversity is astounding but Crawfish can name each species, pointing out their unique markings and peculiar habits as we motor onward. I’ve been making magazines for so long that I only have eyes for the supermodels: the leggy, graceful great blue heron, standing on ceremony at the skirt of the tide.  But Crawfish has a place in his heart for each unique creature. “See that smaller bird there?”  We spot a flash of deep emerald with a reddish throat.  “That’s the green-backed heron, and it uses bait to catch fish.  You’ll see it ‘casting’ the same twig again and again, then snapping up the fish that comes for it.” [nggallery id=290]
Where the Wild Things Are
As I contemplate a world where birds use tools, the Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge stretches out before us in all directions —10,053 acres of wilderness accessible only by boat.  Separated from the mainland by vast marshes and tidal waterways, the refuge encompasses Wassaw and Little Wassaw islands, along with several smaller hammocks. On Wassaw Island, we follow a sandy path through thick woods of pine and palmetto, which gradually give way to an older maritime forest sheltered by vast oaks.  Along the way, we sniff fragrant, willowy dog fennel, so named because it keeps fleas away; wax myrtle, a natural insect repellent; and the crisp, glossy leaves of the vanishing red bay tree. “The red bay is native, and it’s under attack by the Asian ambrosia beetle, which carries a symbiotic fungus that feeds on the tree,” Crawfish explains.  “It arrived in the U.S. by way of the Port of Savannah, presumably in the infested wood of packing crates aboard a cargo ship.  Now the tree is threatened.” I consider that precarious view of life on the water. “Only naturalists were concerned, until the beetle reached Florida and tackled the red bay’s cousin, the avocado.” He hands me a red bay seed, which looks and tastes like a marble-sized version of its celebrated relative.  I wonder how many more people will hold one of these in the palm of their hand before the trees are extinguished forever.
Kingdom of the Ghost Shrimp
To my surprise, the forest takes a sharp turn upward, and we’re scaling a 45-foot hill in the shade of towering oaks.  After years in the lowlands, this promontory presents a challenging climb, its view breathtaking. “A hurricane in 1893 made these dunes overnight,” Crawfish tells me.  “See, there are still sea oats up here among the trees.” The sea oats proliferate, the dune slopes downward and we emerge onto the brilliant, sugary beach: seven straight miles of uninterrupted purity. Our kids, shy until now, become instant friends, gathering sun-bleached sand dollars and the swirling shells of lightning whelks.  We marvel at the way the ocean forges friendships and brings children to life. “I had a group of sixth-graders out here,” Crawfish remembers.  “Most were pretty excited but there was one little girl—when I mentioned there were no bathrooms you could see the horror in her eyes.  And one of the kids said ‘Oh, look at this spider,’ so the kids all gathered around, and this little girl didn’t even think.  She picked up her foot to stomp it.  I caught her in time but that was her impulse.  You could tell that in her family that there was just no environmental awareness.” That’s where Crawfish, a self-described “environmental missionary” sees his life’s work. “By the end of the day she was gathering up all kinds of cool stuff on the beach—stuff other kids didn’t even want to touch,” he delights.  “So I praised her for that.” Crawfish shows me the claw of a ghost shrimp, stark white and finger-length. “That’s what lives here, all along the water’s edge.”  He points to the familiar tiny holes, sprinkled with brown confetti, that I recognize from the shores at Tybee Island. The claw indicates a creature too large to move in and out of those tiny holes, but Crawfish explains that the holes connect to a clay-lined burrow system the shrimp make underground.  “The opening down below is much, much bigger.” For a moment, I see the beach as a long network of underground chambers. “Ghost shrimp are a sign of a healthy and high-energy coastline,” Crawfish adds.  “They only live where there is plenty of wave action and plenty of healthy small organisms to eat.”
The Eagle’s Lofty View
Back in the boat, more good environmental omens abound.  Dolphins, pearlescent as hot rods, surface repeatedly to watch us with their knowing smiles.  Dark and hulking, wild boars and their piglets root around on a scruffy beach. Crawfish stops the boat to scan the hammocks for eagle nests in the trees.  We see three massive nests and then a bald eagle at the top of a towering pine, the bird’s beak scowling, its dark feathers lined in gold. “Seeing eagles is another good sign,” Crawfish tells me.  More bald eagles roost in the Coastal Empire each year, he explains.  They’re recovering in the wake of the 1972 ban on DDT, which sterilized much of the population. Crawfish celebrates these victories, one by one. “If I wasn’t optimistic, I couldn’t do what I do,” he smiles.  “My mission is teaching people about the life that’s out there.  I don’t focus on the garbage.  I focus on the natural environment and I want to get the beauty, diversity and value of that across to my students.  And once people appreciate stuff and begin to understand it, they can’t help but want to preserve it.” I know it’s true for me.  Out here, despite its obvious bounty, the coast seems more precious, more illusory, more fragile than ever.  It’s like a beautiful dream that I’m scared to wake up from.  On our way back to the aquarium, I pepper Crawfish with fearful questions.  How are we ruining this bit of paradise?  Will this still be here for Santo’s and Lauren’s children? “Our problems are solvable,” he assures me, steering into the wind. As much as the harbor deepening and the Ogeechee fish kills have made environmental headlines, the saltwater world before us is threatened most by nonpoint source pollution, including pesticides, fertilizers and runoff from parking lots and roads.  We can limit the damage by choosing alternative lawn treatments and paving with permeable materials, which filter pollution rather than storing it up for the next rainstorm.  And then there are the septic tanks, many below sea level, that can leak out into our waterways at high tide if not properly inspected and repaired. We also urgently need to limit our use of plastics, and Crawfish has a much more local reason than the horrifying “plastic continents” scientists have discovered floating in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. “Even if plastic doesn’t strangle a dolphin or get eaten by a sea turtle, it breaks down into tiny particles that don’t go away,” he explains.  “When we do plankton tows with our students, we bring in jars full of organisms, and every time, the kids put them under the microscopes and say, ‘What it this?’  Brightly colored microscopic bits of plastic.  This can be confusing to planktonic animals that are the basis of food webs.  They might spend a whole lot of time trying to get rid of debris that they can’t digest.  That could lower their productivity, meaning that the disruptions could move up the food chain.”
The Sea of Love
This is a sobering thought: that the worst damage to our touted “salt life” comes from all of us at once.  But as we travel home, Crawfish gives me the greatest hope of all.  Revealing that he knows just as much about Savannah’s human history as her natural history, my host points out the various hammocks and islands that have been saved by local families who opted out of opportunities to develop their land. Wassaw’s Parsons family, for example, chose to convey their land to the Nature Conservancy of Georgia in 1969.  Ossabaw Island’s remarkable centenarian Sandy West is widely credited for one of the most public-minded land deals in recent Georgia’s history, ceding her 26,000-acre barrier island system to the state for less than half its value.  In 1970, still more concerned citizens brought about the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act, which, among other things, prevented oil and gas giant Kerr McGee from drilling after Midnight’s infamous Jim Williams sold Cabbage Island to the company. Humans may be the greatest threat to our wetlands, but we’re also their staunchest defenders.  We’ve made tough choices before, and we can make them again. “If it weren’t for locals who care about the environment, all this would look like Hilton Head,” my host says with gratitude. And if it weren’t for locals like Crawfish, we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

Read More »