The Starland District, located within the borders of the Thomas Square Streetcar Historic District, is one of Savannah’s most fashionable emerging neighborhoods. Oriented toward the arts and a local, responsible-consumerism ethic, it is home to a growing cluster of alternative and independent stores, cafés and entertainment venues.
Starland doesn’t like to define itself, and that extends to its location. Although the neighborhood has no established boundaries, it is generally considered to comprise the 35 or so blocks centered around Bull Street north of Victory Drive, bordered by 37th, Barnard and Drayton Streets.
However, many establishments outside of this core consider themselves to be a part of the Starland District in spirit if not, strictly speaking, by address. If you like what Starland has to offer, you will find that many of the streets in the broader, looser neighborhood northwards of 37th along Bull Street and eastwards of Drayton to Price Street provide some more of the same.
The Starland District is easily accessible by public transit, taking either the Route 14 bus service down Abercorn Street or Route 4 down Barnard (with stops a couple of blocks east and west, respectively, of Starland’s Bull Street core). More about Savannah’s public transit
You can alternatively walk to the neighborhood, about a mile straight down Bull Street from Forsyth Park (and another half-to-full mile from the more northerly parts of the Historic District), but if you prefer to drive, there should usually be plenty of free on-street parking available throughout the Starland District.
The Starland District traces its history back over a period of more than a hundred years. Specifically, its origins lie in the founding of the Starland Dairy, a milk processing factory around which the rest of the neighborhood would develop over the course of several decades.
The Starland Dairy was one of several local dairies that supplied city residents with milk, processing the output from the many dairy farms located around the outskirts of Savannah. It originated in a co-operative venture between several farmers in the Pooler area, who set up their own milk processing plant in response to difficulties they had in selling their products to Savannah’s existing dairies.
They established the new business around 1909, its name probably coming from Starland Road, the old name for the road that today goes out to Pooler’s Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
The dairy complex covered two blocks, with the plant itself located inside a distinctive red-starred white building fronting on Bull Street between 40th and 41st Streets, and ancillary structures, including the superintendent’s house and a vehicle repair shop, on the block behind.
The Starland Dairy soon became an anchor for the neighborhood. Other businesses and a thriving residential area developed around the factory, including Savannah’s first self-service supermarket, established opposite the dairy in 1936 by immigrant grocer Abraham Rosenzweig. Later known as David’s Supermarket, the family-owned store was a feature of the Starland District for seven decades, eventually closing in 2008.
For many years, milk from the Starland Dairy was delivered to households across Savannah, the milk carts still pulled by horses into the 1950s. The milk was sold in reusable glass bottles, surviving examples of which – many of them bearing the red Starland logo – are now collector’s pieces.
By mid-century, a commercial strip had developed along the entire stretch of Bull Street between 37th Street and Victory Drive. The Starland Dairy, however, was in trouble.
The dairy’s decline, which arrived alongside of broader forces of suburbanization that pulled many families out to new and more distant parts of Savannah, was disastrous to the surrounding neighborhood. Many nearby residents who worked in the processing factory or were employed as milk-cart drivers lost their jobs.
In the late 1980s, the Starland Dairy closed for good, the old star-marked factory building, once at the heart of a vibrant commercial district, now the vacant and deteriorating centerpiece to one of Savannah’s several failing inner-city neighborhoods. By the end of the 20th century, almost half the properties in the neighborhood were empty or condemned.
Savannah’s Landmark Historic District contains most of the more famous examples of historic preservation in Savannah, but regeneration projects, engineered by local preservation organizations and by private individuals have been in progress across the city for several decades.
The restoration of the Starland District began in 2000, and is still a work in progress. The project originated in 1998, when John Deaderick and Greg Jacobs, graduates of SCAD’s historic preservation program, resolved to purchase and redevelop the former factory site and with it, the rest of the neighborhood.
The plan for Starland aimed to restore both its residential and commercial functions, creating a new art and design district centered around the two blocks formerly home to the Starland Dairy.
The neighborhood’s arty, alternative vibe developed early on in the project. Local artists painted murals and graffiti on the walls of its abandoned buildings and in the interior courtyard of the defunct dairy building itself, which has served as a venue and backdrop to a succession of performances and art installations.
The more northerly part of the former dairy site was developed as retail, studio, restaurant, office and residential space, but financial difficulties prevented the improvement of the rest of the property. This first phase succeeded, however, in attracting several artists and new businesses to Starland.
Not all of these new commercial ventures have survived, and turnover in the district is still comparatively high. Many businesses, however, have become successes. Some have moved north to the Historic District, but others have remained in the Starland District, a vital part of a still-ongoing exercise in community creation that has brought Savannah national recognition.