Season 17: Savannah, GA
Project premiered on PBS
February 3, 1996
Eight half-hour episodes; Programs #1519-1526
This Old House heads south to the historic splendor of Savannah, Georgia, where Mills and Marianne Fleming have purchased an 1884 Italianate Victorian townhouse on Monterey Square, one of the city's most beautiful. We tour the house, whose rotting back porches will be replaced by a permanent structure holding an expanded kitchen and dining room on one floor, and a master bedroom and bathroom on the second. Other needed improvements include restoring the heart pine flooring, adding guest bathrooms, installing a HVAC system to cope with the region's high heat and humidity and improving the facade with an appropriate iron balustrade and wooden shutters. Mills leads a "greatest hits" tour of downtown Savannah. Then contractor J.T. Turner, whose firm has restored many homes and buildings in the historic district, shows us a job in progress and a finished restoration. Finally Turner's job foreman, Mark Fitzpatrick, goes over the subject house and gives us his take on the main challenges facing the project team.
The show begins with the TOH guys antiquing and then heading over to the jobsite on Monterey Square. With demolition of the rear porches complete, the Turner Construction team, led by Mark Fitzpatrick, has moved on to framing, using engineered lumber where possible. Mark tours the project from garden-level apartment to roof. We visit the next door twin of the Flemings' house for clues about its original floors, lighting, mantelpieces and archway between front and rear parlors. Homeowner Mills Fleming and designer Jeff Verheyen review some of the changes—mainly in bathroom placement, number and design—that have occurred since the original blueprints were drawn up. Meanwhile, plumbing contractor Ernest Hutson shows us how to vent an understairs powder-room toilet with an air-admittance valve that precludes the use of a through-the-roof vent. Viewers then tour the architectural and plumbing splendors of the Owens-Thomas House, an outstanding example of the English Regency style built in 1819 by architect William Jay.
The show opens at Wormsloe Plantation, ruins of a 1736 dwelling on the banks of the Inland Passage and the earliest remnant of those colonial times in Savannah. Back at the project house, a new water main is going in on Gordon Street. Inside the new historically accurate (true-divided-light, single-thickness glass) windows have arrived, and project manager Mark Fitzpatrick applies brick-mold trim to one and installs it. The high-velocity air-conditioning ducting and air-handlers are now on site. Viewers then tour the Green-Meldrim house to see its many methods of keeping cool in the days before electricity. Atop the Flemings' house, a new terne metal roof and a fluid-applied acrylic and polyester mesh roof coating system will stop leaks over the entire metal roof, new and old. A pull-down attic stair is installed, while out back masons reuse local "Savannah Grey" bricks from the original structure to build up a veneer on the new addition.
The show opens at an architectural salvage shop in downtown Savannah; the proprietress drops by the jobsite to buy up some of the salvaged plumbing fixtures and woodwork. The strip oak flooring is ripped up to reveal the original heart pine beneath—it's in great shape and can be refinished. A new spray-on cellulose insulation is perfect for the irregular and thin spaces against the exterior masonry walls of the building. The exterior of the new addition is paneled over with medium-density overlay board, ideal for exterior painted surfaces. Finally, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil author John Berendt takes us on a tour of the Savannah portrayed in his best-selling book.
The show opens at Fort Pulaski, a Federal fort taken over by Confederate forces early in the Civil War, only to fall to superior weaponry, rendering its masonry construction obsolete. At the site, new mouldings, custom milled to match the existing ones in the house, have arrived and are stacked neatly and out of harm's way in the carriage house. Upstairs, job supervisor Mark Fitzpatrick uses a fax service to obtain up-to-date specs for the new appliances so that he can rough in electrics and gas accurately. Upstairs, drywall contractor Kevin Landry is using a vacuumed sander to smooth out his joints. Viewers then check out a new batt insulation made of cotton scraps and meet flooring contractor Mike McMurray, who will lay a new heart pine floor in the addition and make it match the old, which he will also be refinishing. We see paint and wallpaper prep, and a new plaster ceiling medallion made by master plasterer Jean-Francois Furieri. We visit the Lucas Theater restoration project, where Furieri has repaired or recast the entire theater's plasterwork. Finally, we learn about a central ventilation system that services several wet rooms at once, with a vent fan located up in the attic.
The show opens at Congregation Mickve Israel, where Rabbi Belzer takes us on a tour around the 1876 building and shows us the congregation's Torah, the oldest in America, brought over with the original temple members in 1733. At the house, city preservation officer Beth Reiter confers with Mills Fleming about the exterior paint colors and the way they will be applied to the stucco building. Inside, paper hanger Peter Bridgman works on one of the four ceilings he is treating with wallpaper. Before he could proceed, paper hanger Don Taylor had to stabilize the cracking plaster with a system of vapor-barrier paint and fiberglass fabric. Finish carpenter Steve Scherz shows us some of the elaborate new mouldings going up, including a cornice made up of seven separate elements, designed to imitate the building's original plaster cornices. We visit blacksmith Johnny Smith's forge, where he is fabricating a new wrought iron railing for the Flemings' house, while back at the house tile contractor Dennis Spikes prepares the guest bath wall for tile using a full mud job (concrete backing).
The show opens with a visit to the Port of Savannah, one of the busiest container ports on the East Coast and a major employer for the region. He delivers the new cedar shutters to the jobsite, while the heat pumps are hoisted onto the roof. Installer Jimmy Woods shows us the new maple cabinets going into the kitchen. The building's front facade gets a lift as project manager Mark Fitzpatrick removes the old sheet metal "pigeon guards" that were obscuring the lintels. We visit nearby Gulfstream Aerospace, where state-of-the-art business jets are built and fitted out with cabinetry of the finest veneers. Back at the house, we see a floor mosaic go down in the entrance vestibule; its intricate Greek key and acanthus leaf design is formed of porcelain tile cut by computer-controlled water jet. We check out the new and old heart pine floors, matched perfectly by specialist Mike McMurry and crew. Finally, paper hanger Peter Bridgman continues his work in the rear parlor.
The final days in Savannah. We visit a preservation expert in charge of saving Pulaski Monument in Monterey Square, which is falling victim to the ravages of acid rain, sulfur and bacteria. At the house, we meet up with homeowner Mills Fleming, who is busy programming his new security system via a touch-tone phone. Blacksmith Johnny Smith is installing the new wrought-iron railing for the house's front stairs. Inside, lighting designer Cyndee Sessoms shows the sand-cast and crystal chandelier lighting fixtures she chose for the house, while in the kitchen Mills sees the completed cabinetry and stainless-steel appliances. The granite countertops are in, and we visit the local shop where they were fabricated. On the main staircase, we check out brass dust corners, period hardware that keeps dust from collecting in stair's corners. Outside, painting contractor Parker Chapman works to make sure the house will be ready for the final day. The final morning starts with Savannah mayor Floyd Adams presenting a key to the city to the This Old House team. Project manager Mark Fitzpatrick uses an epoxy product to repair the broken masonry of the front steps, while inside the building's heating and cooling system is fired up and we tour the master bath, laundry and guest bath with Marianne Fleming. The Savannah project comes to a close with an old-fashioned oyster roast in Monterey Square.