An exploration of time and place in Savannah’s burgeoning Starland District

By Joshua Peacock and Zach Dennis

Edited by Heather Henley and Josh Rayburn

From marshes to farmland to cultural arts hub, the story of Starland is one of slow, but consistent, evolution centered around local communities. Follow this journey through this special area’s past, present and future.

[The Starland Creamery, the center of the Starland District.]

The Thomas Square Streetcar Neighborhood (1733 – 1995)

In the years after Savannah’s founding in 1733, settlers began shifting south of the city’s center. They transformed forest and marshland in what is now The Thomas Square Streetcar and Metropolitan neighborhoods into farms and plantations.

Bull Street, the city’s main vein, was at the time elevated on a ridge, becoming the main route between Savannah and the Forest Rivers of what is now southside Savannah. The tract lines between the farms evolved into the primary streets of the neighborhood.

In 1888, streetcar lines A and B were extended from downtown Savannah into the area, opening it up for residential development. In the late 19th century, development in the area was slow going, with the streets hardly defined. A large portion of land south of 37th Street was a privately owned botanical garden, known as Concordia Park or Keisling-Teynac Botanical Garden. The only remaining relics of the garden are two stone gatehouses at 2600 Bull St., at the city of Savannah’s Park & Tree Department headquarters.

In the early 20th century, development of both residential and commercial buildings took off, peaking in 1920 – the same year the street cars were removed. During the period, two-story homes, apartments, and single-family buildings were added. A number of architectural styles can be found in the area, including Queen Anne, Folk Victorian, Neoclassical Revival and Craftsman.

The Starland Creamery in the 1930s. [Courtesy Georgia Historical Society]

Historically, the area around Thomas Square, one of 12 original parks and the only one still in existence, was bounded by Anderson Lane on the north, East Broad Street to the east, and Victory Drive to the south. The Metropolitan neighborhood mirrored Thomas Square, running north to south from Victory to Anderson Lane, and east to west from Bull Street to West Broad Street/Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. 

From the beginning, Thomas Square and Metropolitan had been homogeneous neighborhoods because of their proximity to downtown. Schools, fire stations, police stations, a library, grocery stores and other utilitarian business popped up to serve the growing number of residents.  During the early 20th century, Bull Street and Victory Drive were also used for auto races, like the International Grand Prize Automobile Race.

In the 1930’s, a number of dairies dotted the neighborhood, including the Starland Creamery and Annette’s Dairy, which served both downtown Savannah and the nearby residents.

After World War II, the neighborhood shifted dramatically as wealthy residents filtered out and into the suburbs of Ardsley Park and beyond. Their former houses became occupied by low-income families, and businesses left the area.


Back in the Day Bakery at 2403 Bull St., the corner of West 40th.

Welcome to Starland

The Starland District  (1995 – 2013)

The detailed redevelopment plan focused on building upon Thomas Square’s unique advantages, including cultural institutions, a mix of commercial and residential buildings, and a diverse population. In 1997, due to efforts by the redevelopment plan and the Thomas Square Neighborhood Association, the area was deemed a National Register Historic District. The new designation essentially merged Thomas Square and Metropolitan into a single neighborhood, which took the former’s name. 

Among other things, the redevelopment plan called for a new definition of zoning, which allowed for mixed-used development. The new focus was to help eliminate blight, encourage more businesses to open and cater to existing residents.

People eat on the front porch of the Starland Cafe on Oct. 18. [Will Peebles/Savananhnow.com]

In 1999, two SCAD students, John Deaderick and Greg Jacobs, had a vision for the area around the old Starland Dairy, which was in danger of being razed. They wanted to transform the old dairy, and area around it, into a new cultural and arts community. They purchased the building in 2001, eventually adding 20 more properties to their plan. The two built retails shops, offices and condos on the site. They named the area the Starland District, using the old dairy’s red star as their logo.

John Deaderick displays the city map  he and Greg Jacobs used to persuade businesses and locals to invest in the Starland District in the late 1990s and early 2000s. [Joshua Peacock/savannahnow.com]

There has since been a lot of confusion about the actual boundaries of the Starland District. For Deaderick and Jacobs, boundaries were never intentional. They simply looked to form an artistic community centered around the Starland Dairy on Bull Street, between West 40th and West 41st Streets. The Starland District has organically grown to include portions of Thomas Square, Metropolitan, Ardsley Park, the Victorian District and Bingville.

John Deaderick on hardships prior to the economic collapse and how it shaped the neighborhood boundaries

This mural is painted on the side of the Starland Dairy building. [Will Peebles/Savannahnow.com]

Recent history

The last five years (2013 – 2018)

During The Great Recession, Deaderick and Jacobs’ vision was stalled. The property was sold to new owners, and for the most part Starland remained a derelict pass-through for residents and tourists.

Deaderick and Jacobs retained some of the nearly 100 properties they originally purchased. One was restored and transformed into the Starland Cafe, a centerpiece of the district that Deaderick still owns and operates. Today, he lives nearby and still owns about eight properties in the area. 

One of the neighborhood’s star businesses, the 2015 James Beard Award-nominated Back in the Day Bakery, opened its doors in 2001 when very few other businesses and shops were doing so. Owners Cheryl Day and Griff Day wanted to serve the local community instead of cater to a mostly tourist crowd downtown. Rent was cheaper, too.

People eat inside of Back In The Day Bakery on Oct. 18. [Will Peebles/Savannahnow.com]

“We always wanted to be a food landmark, so we can check that off of our list.” – Cheryl Day, Back in the Day Bakery

Ryan Graveface moved to Savannah in 2011 from his native Chicago to open Graveface Records and Curiosities, anchoring the block next to Back In The Day. In the last five years, a number of other small, locally owned businesses have opened along the Bull Street corridor. In just the last three years, more than 13 new businesses have opened doors, prompting more residential movement as well.

The neighborhood still lacks many of the utilitarian businesses that once inhabited the area. Central Animal Hospital  was one such business that followed Deaderick and Jacobs’ original vision of having a full-service community. Starland has attracted more locally owned development in recent years, due to the influx of national chains moving to Broughton Street and increasing rents. However, with the recent loss of Save-A-Lot, the area does not have its own grocery. 

John Deaderick on how they focused on building the neighborhood when developing the Starland District

Lisa Doyle works behind the counter at her shop, Gypsy World, in the Starland District on Oct. 17. [Will Peebles/Savannahnow.com]

Present Day Starland

Present day (2018)

Starland has become the center of attention in Savannah recently with a planned development exciting some residents and troubling others.

Touted as a “live, work, play” community, Foram Group’s $40 million Starland Village development between 37th and 39th streets consists of two five-story apartment complexes with more than 90 apartments, a four-story office building with a rooftop restaurant, and a 900-person capacity event venue inside a former church. In addition to retail space and artist studios, the developer is also proposing to build an automated parking garage with a public rooftop park.

Some concerns about traffic and parking were shared by Savannah Alderman At-Large Post 2 Brian Foster, who said the project is probably the most dramatic thing the city will do on that side of the Historic District. The changes would set a precedent for the future development of the city, but the city has yet to create a master plan or updated zoning ordinance, he added in a March 29 article for SavannahNow.com.

In two separate letters to the editor on March 29, one resident called the project “an innovative combination of retail/restaurant space, co-working community, artists’ studios, events venue and residential living units; all grounded in the unique culture and artistic vibe of the neighborhood.”

People wait to walk across Bull Street near its intersection with West 41st Street on Oct. 17. [Will Peebles/Savannahnow.com]
Meanwhile, another resident wrote, “There are still concerns about scale, noise, parking, congestion and preservation of the tree canopy which are all part of the quality of life of the residents that have not been addressed sufficiently.” That resident added, “We are not against progress. We simply need to make sure that whatever is decided will truly be for the benefit of all and not of a few.”

In July, a Chatham County Superior Judge dismissed a lawsuit opponents of the Starland Village development filed against the city in an attempt to stop the project. With the order, the judge rejected claims by the three plaintiffs that they would suffer irreparable harm by the project, noting that neither of them owned adjoining property to the city-owned property at 2115 Bull St.

The group had claims in the April court petition that zoning amendments approved by the city council constituted illegal “spot zoning” and were unconstitutional due to some “vague” terms used in the zoning ordinance, while raising concerns about potential noise, traffic, parking and the project’s incompatibility with the neighborhood.

Starland’s First Friday, a monthly event started by Deaderick and Jacobs, has grown to include a variety of arts and community-based attractions. Sulfur Studios, an art co-op in the vein of Starland’s original vision, now anchors the monthly event with Graveface, Starlandia, Two-Tides Brewing, Gypsy World, House of Strut, and a number of other galleries and businesses joining in.

House of Strut owner/operator Erica Cobb Jarman on the importance of First Fridays for the district

Cassette tapes, records and stuffed wildlife are displayed at Graveface Records on Oct. 17. [Will Peebles/Savannahnow.com]

Most recently, the last section of undeveloped area within the block of the old Starland Dairy (Creamery) was being used to host events. The dilapidated, roofless space, which is expected to be completely renovated by the current owners, hosted live music and other social events. However, events were shut down recently due to a lack of permits and safety issues.

(Some context on this page was provided by Savannah Morning News reporter Eric Curl.)

The Future

Gentrification has entered the national lexicon as a pejorative definition of the transformation of urban areas from derelict to middle-class and high income. It's signaled typically by the departure of an area's current residents as the cost of living rises, and a shift from local development to more influence from outside development.

A number of Starland's locally owned businesses have simply repurposed old or vacant buildings for new use. Two Tides Brewing and House of Strut transformed old houses into a brewery/bar and vintage clothing store, respectively. The Vault created a vibrant Asian-fusion restaurant from an old bank. 

The Atlantic resurrected an old gas station, transforming it into a brand new neighborhood eatery. Foxy Loxy Cafe reimagined an old two-story row house into one of the city’s most popular coffee shops. Most recently, Lone Wolf Lounge renovated an old house into a pub that has quickly become the toast of the neighborhood. The new businesses join stalwarts like The Wormhole Bar, Say Hey's & Mary, Tricks BBQ, and Boyz II Men Barbershop.

Current residents and business owners are divided about the future of the area. Some think a mix between repurposing and building new would be good for the area, while others think any outside development and new construction sets a dangerous precedent.

Regardless of its future direction, the initial concept of the Starland District has taken hold. The area has become a focus point for events and an arts and culture hub for locals.

Savannah Second District Alderman Bill Durrence on the debate about whether to repurpose old houses in the district or build new structures.