The Downtown Neighborhood Association's annual Holiday Tour of Homes is always a special occasion, but this year shines even brighter as the organization celebrates 40 years of this highly anticipated, volunteer-organized event. In addition to touring 12 festively decorated homes throughout downtown Savannah, DNA has added several other events to the itinerary, including a Victorian tea, hot toddy tasting and some special surprises to make 2014 the most memorable year yet.
We spoke with DNA's communication chair, Amy Brock, (also Visit Savannah's social media director) about DNA's biggest fundraiser of the year and the famous man who started it all.
How did the idea for a Holiday Tour of Homes first come about 40 years ago?
Brock: During the holidays in 1974, the Savannah Downtown Neighborhood Association's first president, Jim Williams, opened his beautiful home on Monterey Square for DNA's first "Christmas Tour." Jim, one of Savannah's most successful antique dealers, owned the Mercer House. It was the only house on tour, and tickets were $25.
Later events in Williams' life are now well known around the world, thanks to the success of John Berendt's book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The success of the 1974 tour started a wonderful Savannah holiday tradition. DNA has expanded and continuously improved the tour for 40 years, adding historic homes of all types and other events that appeal to both local residents and visitors.
What do you attribute to its longevity and success?
Brock: Savannah delights in making a big fuss over her guests. And her holiday dress is stunning: A chill in the air, centuries-old streets awash with lights, stylish boutiques, world-class culture, award winning restaurants and historic squares preened and decorated for the season. Savannah's irrepressible Southern hospitality and tasteful holiday atmosphere is a perfect backdrop for the tour, drawing guests from all around the globe. Many return year after year.
Who helped make this year's event possible?
Brock: The event would not be possible without the most important part, our gracious homeowners who deck their halls and open their doors to welcome our guests. In addition, more than 75 volunteers and the DNA's board of directors are part of the behind-the-scenes efforts to make the Holiday Tour of Homes a true Savannah experience.
Trinity United Methodist Church, Massie Heritage Center and the Savannah History Museum have opened their doors to host additional events in conjunction with the tour. In addition, the Green-Meldrim House will offer complimentary admission to tour ticketholders. And there are numerous local businesses, organizations, partners and sponsors who have embraced this event and contributed to its longevity and success. The 2014 Holiday Tour of Homes chair is Gale Steves and incoming 2015 tour chair/docent coordinator is Tina Peterson.
What is something that not a lot of people realize about DNA and how it impacts our community?
Brock: Most people don't realize that DNA is a completely volunteer-run organization. Our board of directors is comprised of residents of all ages from diverse backgrounds sharing one common goal: Enhancing and protecting the quality of life for downtown residents.
DNA's board of directors and committees are continually lobbying for the preservation of the Landmark Historic District and have interests in things such as public safety, city planning/zoning, parking, tourism, protecting the environment, promoting fair property taxes and much more.
Another thing people are always surprised to hear? The numbers of families choosing to raise their families in the Landmark Historic District is growing, with more than 100 downtown families in attendance at a recent event put on for the DNA by Rethink Design Studio.
What have been some of the most memorable responses/feedback to the Holiday Tour of Homes events?
Brock: Guests are always so delighted to find that the homeowners themselves are often on hand during the tour and eager to share their home and its history. One really gets the true sense of the downtown neighborhood hospitality while embarking on the tour and will discover something unique in each home. Whether it's an idea for holiday dÃ©cor or how to display an unusual collection, there are always some surprises along the way.
What makes this 40th year extra special?
Brock: For the first time ever, the evening tour will be held along East Hall and Huntingdon streets in Savannah's oldest section of downtown. One of this year's featured homes includes the King-Tisdell Cottage. As the only black history house museum in Savannah, the cottage's new design tells stories spanning decades of the triumphs and trials of the African-American community in the city.
Guests will be serenaded by members of the Savannah Bicycle Campaign riding along the tour route on lighted bikes, and St. John Baptist Church, "The Mighty Fortress," will open its doors to welcome evening tour guests with song.
Between tours, guests are invited to an elegant Victorian Tea served at the Massie Heritage Center on Calhoun Square from 3-4 p.m., or the "Powerful Punches" exhibit and hot toddy tasting from 3-5 p.m. The Savannah History Museum created a back-in-time exhibit that looks at the history of the punch bowl and the wide assortment of appropriate glassware that accompanies holiday imbibing. Guests will get a taste of the liquid refreshment that fuels the Hostess City's holiday season.
Also, Tiffani Taylor painted a beautiful piece featuring the Forsyth Park fountain. Tiffani is a successful gallery owner, entrepreneur and Savannah College of Art and Design graduate. We are honored to have Tiffani as a partner on the tour and her love of Savannah is stunningly captured in this painting. There will be a limited number of signed prints available at the Tiffani Taylor Gallery, 11 Whitaker St.