The Historic Board of Review was a lively monthly meeting when Mills Lane IV joined the discussion. As a member of the board he questioned applicants and architects. He lectured. He cajoled and encouraged. He didn’t hide his sense of humor or outrage.
Mills Lane IV took his term seriously on the Historic Review Board, examining every property that came before the board. His service there made for better buildings and sometimes high theater as he encouraged and chastised applicants. His sense of outrage and humor kept the Review Board meetings lively. His directness could be shocking and the audience would sometimes gasp.
His exacting standards drove more than one architect and construction company to distraction, whether they worked for him or came to the board for a project approval. He served on the board during the approval process for the contentious contemporary building for the Telfair Art Museum expansion in the 1990s that became the Jepson Center. He was adamant that the museum could not close a lane and should only build a bridge walkway above the lane of a size that adhered to the city preservation ordinance, based on the work of Christopher Chadbourne. Mills also quoted Chadbourne saying that the historic district is not a place appropriate for glass curtain walls.
As he perceived one after another of the community’s leaders as caving in to pressures to allow the building, designed by Moshe Safdie, to go forward, Mills despaired about Savannah’s future and the integrity of the town plan.
Mills quit the review board in a huff over the board’s approval of what he saw as a careless elevator addition to a historic house near his home on Pulaski Square. He had offered to anonymously pay for an appropriate elevator.
He could be arrogant and was disappointed when people with means did not demonstrate generosity for the public good. A local architect said he wanted to apply for Mills to receive an honorary AIA architect designation. When Mills saw the list of who had received the honor, he said he wanted nothing to do with it.
An elegant host, he could be quietly generous and funny with friends and strangers and could lead an inspired tour through antiques stores. He was devoted to his adopted mongrel dog, Mercury, who had wandered onto his property in Florida.
He also could be a difficult and cranky friend. When he died in 2001 at age 59 from complications of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and other health issues, he had become an intensely private man who put only a dozen people on his final guest list for his graveside service.
Next: Mills IV sometimes would do his architectural homework in cemeteries to make sure his details were accurate, and he could be critical of some of the work of his father and grandfather.
Rexanna first wrote parts of this essay for the Vernacular Architecture Forum Annual Meeting in March 2007.