World Class

- by

Savannah’s globe has a storied past — and a bright new future

Photography courtesy of SAVANNAH MORNING NEWS

TO GET FROM historic downtown to Southside Savannah via Abercorn Street, you have to cross the world. Located near the corner of White Bluff Road and DeRenne Avenue, a 60-foot diameter steel sphere, painted to look like a topographical planet earth, has been a hallmark of the city since its conception and completion in 1956–57, and it’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, Savannah’s iconic globe was just saved for the next
generation of Savannahians to enjoy. 

The globe, built by the Savannah Gas Company (now Atlanta Gas Company),  is technically a Horton Sphere: a spherical pressure vessel designed to hold bulk liquids and gasses in a wide range of weather and pressure conditions, named for its inventor, Horace Ebenezer Horton. The structure, which once held 600,000 cubic feet of natural gas, is the only Horton Sphere painted to look like earth. It’s empty now — but full of stories.

Savannah’s famous globe was repainted in 1998 to depict the appearance of the earth as seen from space.

Originally, the globe was painted to look like a world atlas, with the countries painted in different colors and only one label: “SAVANNAH” rendered in all capital letters. This original design was painted by James Ellison and Leo Berkemeier of Turner Outdoor Advertising. At Christmastime 1957, Santa and his sleigh were seen perched upon the new globe, headed toward Savannah. In 1963, it received its first paint job, but maintained its look. Then in 1964, a directional sign was placed in front as a tribute to Girl Scouts around the world. It had arrows showing the distance from Savannah (the birthplace of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low and home to the first-ever Girl Scouts troop) to 11 international cities where scouting is practiced: Amsterdam, Tokyo, Oslo, Bombay, Durban, Manila, Rio de Janeiro, Athens, Melbourne, London and Toronto.

Tom Kohler, who calls himself a “born and stayed Savannahian,” moved into the then-newly developed Groveland subdivision at age 5, just as the globe was being constructed nearby. “You could say the globe has literally always been in my consciousness,” he says.

“In the summer times, you were let out in the morning and then let back in for lunch and supper. If you had a bicycle and a quarter in your pocket, you could pretty much spend the day.” Their bicycles and quarters often brought Kohler, his brother, David, and their neighborhood friends to the Globe Shopping Center.

Port City Lions Club President L.H. Shepard heads for the top of the Savannah Gas Company’s giant globe tank to plant the American flag for Independence Day circa 1960s.

“Ted Henkle’s Music Shop was there,” Kohler reminisces, “and the great thing about it was every week he would paste the Billboard 100 list on a board. You could read the list and then sit at a counter, and he had all the 45s up on a wall, and you could ask to listen to a 45 before you bought it.”

Other favorites by the globe were a bowling alley and “a trampoline and Goofy golf amusement park, owned by Herb Traub,” says Kohler — Traub being the early tourism pioneer who created The Pirates’ House. A nearby drive-in restaurant called, unsurprisingly, “The Globe,” offered curb service. “There were hundreds of seagulls who feasted off what was left,” Kohler recalls.

LEFT: Painters perform maintenance to the natural gas storage tank circa October 1963.
RIGHT: Circa 1964 — a new sign post in front of the Savannah Gas Company tank gives directions and distance from Savannah, birthplace of Girl Scouting, to capital cities in other countries where scouting is practiced as a tribute to girl scouting around the world.

The globe ceased storing gas in the 1970s but remained a beloved landmark. In 1998, it was sold to A to Z Coating & Sons, who repainted the globe to appear as the earth does from space. The film Forces of Nature, starring Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck, captured one of the last glimpses of the globe with its original design. Also famously — at least in Savannah — the new design depicted 1999 Hurricane Floyd spinning in the wrong direction; it’s since been fixed.

Now, the globe has been purchased again, this time by Parker’s. Savannahians worried that this would mean the landmark’s demise, but Alderman Nick Palumbo shares how it has instead been incorporated into Parker’s design, which will include the convenience store, kitchen and gas station plus a Chick-fil-A and a Starbucks: “Parker’s chose to make the landmark an accessible feature of the new site by incorporating the structure. It was a monumental engineering challenge that included ensuring the structure would remain secure throughout demolition and reconstruction of the site,” Palumbo explains. The globe is an integral part of the Savannah universe and, says Palumbo, “in the near future, it will be the only place on planet Earth where you’ll be able to drive around the globe to get a cup of coffee.”