Salt of the City: Memories on 36th Street

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Photograph by Molly Hayden

In the 1950s, when Savannah’s city limits faded into forests and farmland just a few miles south of the Historic District, the corner of 36th and Abercorn streets was ruled by the Williams kids.

The eldest, Celia, married Larry Dunn and went on to build one of the city’s most prestigious real estate brokerages. One of her brothers, Franklin, works as an agent there, while his twin, Dick, is CEO of Bernard Williams, the insurance company started by their father in 1934, which employs the youngest Williams brother, Alan, as well.

Standing in the sunny foyer of the stately Colonial Revival manse that was their childhood home, the siblings trade memories of an idyllic Savannah childhood: Riding bicycles to Leopold’s soda fountain. Awaking to the clip-clop of a horse-drawn carriage delivering fresh milk from Annette’s Dairy. Sailing past the windows on the rope swing attached to the big backyard magnolia tree and seeing the startled faces of their parents’ cocktail party guests.

With a chuckle, Alan recalls sneaking through his sister’s room on Saturday mornings to access the home’s only television on the upstairs porch. “Watching cartoons was worth getting a shoe or two thrown at your head!”

Always, the house bustled with neighbors and friends. Savannah Morning News editor Herschel V. Jenkins lived a block away and would let the twins sit in the press box for Savannah Redlegs games at Grayson Stadium. Once, Dick wandered downstairs late at night to find a short, gregarious man sharing a nightcap with his dad. “That was the first time I met Johnny Mercer.”

The siblings remember their parents as patient and kind, inspiring good manners and a sense of belonging. All four continue to be proud members of Christ Church Episcopal on Bull Street, and recalling their many milestones reminds everyone of the time their cat, “Mac”nolia, got out, and Celia raced down the street to catch him — in her wedding dress.

Their mother, Celia Williams, lived in the house until her death in 2013, and the Williams family sold the home in 2018 after nearly 80 years of ownership. These days, the walls are washed in white and the rooms are empty, save for the paintings and installations of Cedar House Gallery, an artist showcase and studio space. Even in the midst of their nostalgic reverie, the Williams siblings wholeheartedly approve of the home’s next act.

“We’re just so pleased that the place where we grew up is now a cultural arts center,” Celia says. “People can share in all the good energy.”

Franklin nods in agreement. “You can just feel the spirit of joy here,” he says, “and our family helped bring it.”