I recently moved into a new apartment just around the corner from Foxy Loxy and the Bull Street Library. It's on a charming little street paved in cobblestone and eloquently draped in Savannah's romantic moss. But there's more to this iconic setting than meets the eye.
Just a few feet from the front door of my house is where De Soto Avenue begins.
It's a hidden gateway that dares you to venture off the grid leading you directly into the heart of the city's vibrant and revitalizing Starland Design District.
Depending on who you ask, the boundary lines of Starland wobble. Some consider it an extension of the Victorian District with its vital history and impressive architecture, while others believe it stretches into the SoFo neighborhood (South of Forsyth Park). More specifically, Starland is simply the community that resides in and around Thomas Square, just past 37th Street, where the 1940s-operated Starland Dairy still stands.
But regardless of where you place it, there's no mistaking the district's meaning to Savannah.
With its colorful community of local businesses, art galleries and spacious venues, Starland Dairy is widely recognized as a pulsating hub for art, music and creative freedom.
It began in 2001 when the city announced exciting redevelopment plans for the unattended square. Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Commission board members voted unanimously to move forward with the project that aimed to attract residential and commercial businesses.
"The redevelopment is based on the idea of creating a neighborhood where people live, work and play," local architect Jerry Lominack said at the time.
Fast-forward 12 years, and the vision for Starland is still expanding.
The community provides an abundance of creativity, entertainment, shopping and dining experiences to whet the appetite of any adventure-seeking tourist, while satisfying the needs of longtime residents.
Preserving Starland's authentic character is a top priority for local businesses and developers in the area.
Eccentric shops such as Graveface Records & Curiosities provide a wealth of vintage merchandise and oddities from vinyl records, cassette tapes, antiques, toys and taxidermy. And just next door is local (and increasingly national) favorite Back in the Day Bakery, serving up irresistible deserts, treats and award-winning cupcakes. There's also a quaint restaurant known as the Starland CafÃ©, plus an adorable dog park officials hoped for.
Meanwhile, for local artists, it doesn't get much better than Starland. Frequent events and reoccurring series such as the First Friday Art March have garnered networking and showcasing opportunities between artists, musicians and local businesses.
Most notably, the team behind Starland's nonprofit art group Desotorow Gallery has made significant strides in drawing more attention to the arts community. Located at 2427 De Soto Ave., Desotorow is primarily a student-run organization staffed with passionate volunteers and focused on a mission to provide awareness and appreciation of the arts.
Jon Taylor, a longtime Desotorow volunteer and illustration student at Savannah College of Art & Design, has been a key player in organizing major events within the Starland District.
Last Friday's transcendent art and music exhibition "The Rapture" is his latest success. It included dozens of submitted artwork, interactive multimedia displays, and a tube collection of human hair samples.
"I also did a thing called the Starland Circus about a year ago," Taylor said.
Both events took place at the gallery and within the unrestored portion of the Starland Dairy.
The former milk-processing plant has been serving as a majestic staple for art and entertainment shows following last year's decorative storm of volunteers, who came in and adorned the space with graffiti, posters, string lights and a new welcome sign featuring Starland's historic emblem.
But while the colorful structure is earning high praise from guests, Taylor says the dairy won't be available much longer after a recent announcement that the building was sold to New York-based Thermedesignbuild Company.
"To be able to be a part of the history of the Starland Dairy community is in itself an exciting prospect," new owner Nate Fuller said of the acquisition. "The dairy is an iconic building and the importance of preserving the architecture and historical use of the structure goes without saying. Working alongside individuals and groups within the community, we hope to play an active role in the continued rejuvenation of the neighborhood."
The company's development plans for the dairy are currently unknown, but word on the street is the building could feature anything from new residential units to a beer parlor.
Regardless of the outcome, artists like Taylor look forward to joining forces with the new owners in the future.
"Honestly, our goal is togetherness," Taylor said. "And the more exploding this community is, the better."