Savannah Then and Now: The DeSoto hotel

Then and Now

Photos: Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The City of Savannah looks much different than it did when it was founded back in 1733. WSAV is taking a closer look at some of the city’s most iconic locations and how they’ve changed over time.

This week, we’re showcasing The DeSoto.

The DeSoto hotel dates back to 1890, sitting on E. Liberty Street and overlooking Madison Square.

The original hotel was over the top. It was designed by Boston architect William Preston and featured a wide variety of elaborate architectural elements. Luciana Spracher, Municipal Archives Director for the City of Savannah, said it was Preston’s “ultimate expression of his architectural style” with its terracotta designs and asymmetrical floor plans.

The DeSoto had swimming pools, orange groves, beauty salons, and more and took up an entire city block.

“It really was Savannah’s grand hotel,” Spracher said.

The hotel was also seasonal and only open during certain parts of the year.

In the 1960s, developers and investors faced the same issues they faced when deciding what to do with Broughton Street’s skyscrapers. Stakeholders ultimately decided that it would be easier and cheaper to tear down The DeSoto and rebuild instead of doing renovations.

The current structure, still called The DeSoto, was built in 1968. Spracher says she thinks renovations to the original building would have benefited the city by serving as a historic tourist attraction.

“Looking back, I think we see the fall of that decision,” Spracher said. “What could that building be today? It would be a huge draw to have a historic hotel.”

The new hotel has a wide variety of services and amenities, much like the original. Currently, The DeSoto flaunts a restaurant, bar, coffee bar, SCAD art gallery, pool deck and more. It also features some terracotta architecture like the original building.

Though the new structure has similar elements to the original DeSoto, Spracher says, “It’s not quite the same.”

We want to hear from you! Send WSAV your stories and historic photos of Savannah to digital@wsav.com.

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