Rumors are circulating that the 1965 Savannah Pharmacy and historic NAACP Headquarters under W. W. Law is slated for unannounced demolition as soon as this coming week. As this is a significant building for a number of reasons such an action would not simply be the loss of yet another unoccupied building left to atrophy, but it would be an arrogant and atrocious affront to a variety of constituents that make Savannah the great city that it is.
Architectural historians will bemoan the loss of yet another mid-century structure, particularly as this is by Gene Maxwell and was purpose-built to be unique and eye catching.
Historic Preservationists will lament yet another piece of valuable historic fabric sacrificed rather than adaptively reused.
Urbanists and city planners will decry the loss of valuable urban fabric giving a sense of a vibrant West Broad/Martin Luther King Blvd. that has too little such fabric remaining.
African Americans will complain about the direct evisceration of nothing less than an omphalos, or core of the struggle for Civil Rights. And when I say that African Americans will protest this demolition, I really mean that every Savannahian who cares about the healthy ideal of equality and knows the universal values of Civil Rights will decry this loss. This is not just another building, but a touchstone of an age and an ideal.
Of course there will be those who say that the struggle for Civil Rights already has its monument, the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum of 1914, just up the street. Its namesake, Ralph Mark Gilbert, breathed new life into the Savannah NAACP, led it for 8 years, and helped found over 40 branches of the NAACP across Georgia. The former Wage Earners Loan and Investment Company was the second largest black-owned bank in the United States and did serve as the NAACP headquarters.
But we appreciate the power and reach of the Civil Rights story not just because of one person or one building but by the many that still exist and the different figures and organizations they represent.
It is on this note that we cannot forget that W. W. Law took up where Gilbert left off, and Law’s legacy of 26 years of leadership of the Savannah NAACP and his subsequent efforts resulted in many lasting accomplishments, not least of which was founding the Civil Rights Museum itself, but also included helping reinvigorate whole neighborhoods like the Beach Institute neighborhood.
The Savannah Pharmacy was Savannah’s second largest Black business and became the headquarters of the NAACP under W. W. Law symbolizing the movement’s bold ideals as it moved into the future and its progressive character at the height of the struggle. The City of Savannah owes it to itself to honor W. W. Law and its own evolving Civil Rights history by preserving and restoring this iconic structure in honor of its iconic history. This would be particularly appropriate in light of the fact that the National Trust for Historic Preservation that feted Law with its National Preservation Award in 2001 is returning to Savannah in 2015, and one would assume would hope to see Law’s legacy preserved– not erased. Thank you very much,
Daves Rossell, Ph.D.
Professor of Architectural