Mills Lane, Jr.’s Wonderful World

Anne and Mills Lane, Jr. were passionate about making downtown Savannah a livable place in the 1960s. They put their money where their hearts were. Today’s web post introduces some of the Lane projects including their work with landscape architect Clermont Lee. Lee has been in the news lately as Girl Scout officials decide what to do with the garden she designed at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

Anne and Mills Lane, Jr. and their infant son Mills IV

Anne Waring Lane had the aristocratic family lineage of an old Savannah family. Her husband, Mills Lane, Jr., had the practicality and business influence of a powerful banker and the theatrical ability to emphasize a point.

In 1968 Time magazine wrote about some of his stunts. He brought a herd of sheep into the Citizen and Southern Bank’s Atlanta lobby when he wanted to showcase the new wool industry in Georgia. He wore sports uniforms to bank meetings to emphasize teamwork. To demonstrate that bank executives should aim high at big targets, “he donned a shooting jacket and bounded into a conference room amid a volley of blank .30-cal cartridges.” He also passed out ties that said: “It’s a wonderful world.”

In contrast, the family preferred doing good deeds behind the scenes and rarely accepted public recognition. Former Savannah City Manager Michael Brown said he tried to have the Talmadge Bridge named after Mills Lane, Jr. but his son nixed the plan.

Mills, Jr. and Anne saved some 60 historic houses in downtown Savannah with the best practices and methods of the 1960s. They often used Savannah’s leading restoration architect, John LeBey, who had started in the area in 1936 with the restoration of Fort Pulaski National Monument.

When the Civic Center was built in the late 1960s destroying Elbert Square, Anne and Mills, Jr. saved several houses by moving them to lots on or near East St. Julian Street and Washington, Warren, Columbia, and Troup Squares. Photos document the houses moving on truck beds down the streets.

They also hired landscape architect Clermont Lee to design gardens for several of the houses, including the Eppinger House that they moved to 425 E. Bay St. for their own home. They also hired her to redesign Madison, Troup, Warren and Washington squares.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia her designs conflicted with city plans that allowed lanes through the middle of the squares for emergency crews and buses. To accommodate the buses, the city adopted Lee’s idea that the corners around the squares be curved. “Lee’s strong, simple designs used variations in materials and ground forms to give each square a special character.”

Next: Mills Lane IV brings his preservation expertise to Savannah to build on the family passion.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy. Parts of this essay she first wrote for the Vernacular Architecture Forum Annual Meeting in March 2007.

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