Kiah House

What is needed to Save the Kiah House?

The Kiah House is at a tipping point. Somewhat literally. While the structure is still absolutely salvageable, the damage is extensive. The roof, crumbling and peeling back at the edges, is the most immediate concern. The picture below, taken in mid-December 2020, shows how the metal roof has rusted and is no longer protecting the walls in some places. We need your donations to stabilize the building, including a completely new roof.

In addition to the obvious damage to the house, such as wood decay and water intrusion, a concrete block wall separating the Kiah’s property from their neighbors has fallen. Fortunately, the damage to the Bijoux Theater Fountain seems minimal so far.

The cinder block wall delineating the property line has fallen towards the Kiah House.

Bijoux Theater Fountain, saved by Mrs. Kiah, surrounded by cinder blocks from the fallen wall.

An even greater problem is that people without homes have been camping on the property. This is both a threat to the house and a human tragedy that some of our fellow citizens do not have life’s basics of food and shelter. A cigarette lighter was found on site this week, showing the potential for fire to get out of control, consume the house, and harm any people nearby.

Volunteers have repeatedly boarded up the Kiah’s Carriage House where the wood siding has decayed.

The sooner we can start repairing the house and carriage house, the more we can save. We need your help and donations to make it happen. Restoring the house only solves one side of this problem; it is not a solution that will help the people currently living on the property, but allowing the current situation to continue is not healthy for anyone.

Go Fund Me Details: Any amount is welcome and appreciated. Thank you! (If you are not comfortable giving online, checks can be mailed to the African Diaspora Museology Institute Inc., PO Box 5261, Savannah, GA 31414.) Donations to the Go Fund Me will be used for:

  • 50% – Emergency repairs to structure, property security measures including fencing, boarding up windows and doors, Preservation Assessment and Stabilization of Structures (Main Building and Carriage House), landscaping so the property isn’t taxed for blight
  • 50% – Historic preservation research of house and neighborhood, genealogy research on heirs, phase 2 archaeology survey, local architectural research to support application for Savannah’s official landmark designation
Sign discarded at the Kiah House.
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Stop Moving Historic Structures

A fantastic new website, Savannah Agenda, is helping citizens understand our local government, businesses, and most importantly, the relationship between the two. Several recent posts have Savannahians pretty ticked. First, there is City Council’s vote to move the Waving Girl Statue down River Street to a new hotel development. (More on the Waving Girl here and the council vote here.) Second is a proposal to move a historic building two blocks so yet another new hotel can be built. The 119-year-old building, located at the corner of Lincoln and East Bryan streets, houses local favorite Abe’s on Lincoln. It’s a bar. Don’t judge, it’s important to us.

This proposal, combined with several other social media posts I’ve seen recently has inspired this rant: STOP moving old structures. There are good reasons that relocated structures are rarely eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

  1. Most importantly, when you move a historic structure you divorce the structure from its archaeological site.
  2. Relocation is almost always done so a property can be freed up for development, and the archaeological site is destroyed.
  3. Poorly done relocation destroys the larger landscape and viewshed.
  4. Finally, the idea that history should just shove over for new development is deeply arrogant and myopic. Only saving a historic structure while sacrificing an archaeological site is poor preservation at best and short-sighted arrogance at worst.

There are extremely rare circumstances when moving a historic structure is warranted. For example, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet away from the coast in 1999. Climate change and erosion had undermined the lighthouse to the point it was in danger of toppling. Clearly, a case where moving a structure was necessary for both preservation and safety reasons.

The relocation option needs to be taken off the table except in extreme circumstances. Planning commissions need to stop allowing it, and historic preservationists need to stop condoning it.

“sometimes ownership isn’t just a matter of who holds a mortgage with a bank, or whose name is on a property deed. A community can feel a sense of ownership for a historic site or a natural wonder in its midst.”

SOURCE: Altamont Enterprise Opinion page
Kiah House

What’s Next for the Kiah House?

Massive thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate Virginia Kiah’s birthday this weekend. It was wonderful meeting new people, especially those who had known Mrs. Kiah.

So what’s next in preserving the memory and legacy of this remarkable couple, Dr. and Mrs. Kiah? We are writing a grant to pay for a historic preservationist to evaluate the house. We can’t begin any preservation efforts without first knowing where the problems are (and there are many). The grant pays for 60% of consultant’s fees, so we need to raise approximately $4,000 to make our match. To donate, click here and press the little up arrow to donate in $10 increments ($10, $20, $50, $1,000…). A PayPal pop-up window will appear when you click the button. We appreciate every dime!

The Kiah House in April 2019. We’re very concerned about the roof, which is crumbling at the edges. Also note how the top of the chimney is missing bricks, which fall occasionally and create a serious hazard.

You can also support the cause by buying a t-shirt. The t-shirts are a limited time offer, so get your orders in before June 17.