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City of Savannah, Partners To Save Historic Kiah House
SAVANNAH (Aug. 24, 2023) – Galvan Foundation, a mission-driven organization with several Savannah-based initiatives, and the City of Savannah, have agreed to purchase the Kiah House property, located at 505 W. 36th St., from the Historic Savannah Foundation (HSF) and restore it as a cultural and civic institution. The City’s portion of the funding for this initiative will be subject to approval of the Savannah City Council.
Using its revolving fund that has helped save more than 420 historic buildings in Savannah over the years, Historic Savannah Foundation (HSF) purchased the home, requested community proposals, and selected these partners to restore the historic Kiah House and put it to use for the community.
In their proposal to HSF, the Galvan Foundation and the City of Savannah outlined plans to partner with the African Diaspora Museology Institute and “to restore the former Kiah House Museum building to the ‘Kiah Period,’ establish a Kiah-inspired creative arts program that embraces the community and its future, and thus reinstate its status as an important community asset.”
Further details about plans for the building’s future will be available once the sale of the property closes.
HSF purchased the deteriorating property in the Cuyler-Brownsville Community in April 2022. With the purchase price of $100,000 paid by the Galvan Foundation and the City of Savannah, that investment will go back into HSF’s revolving fund to use in rescuing other historic structures. Galvan and the City estimate a total project cost of $1.2 million.
The Kiah House initiative builds on significant recent commitments to community development in Cuyler-Brownsville. In November 2022, Galvan collaborated with the City of Savannah to commit $1 million to provide local homeowners with low-interest loans for home repairs, and a $5 million investment to build and renovate 25 properties.
“Kiah House Museum once stood as a bold lesson in fortitude and a beacon for all of Savannah,” said T. Eric Galloway, Galvan President. “We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Historic Savannah Foundation, the City of Savannah, and the African Diaspora Museology Institute to invest in Cuyler-Brownsville by rebuilding this historic institution.”
“Historic Savannah Foundation is so proud to have saved this building, and now to be involved in the partnership which will see this become a significant community asset,” said Austin Hill, who chairs HSF’s board.
“Saving this important asset in our community is a cause we view as essential to the continued work of restoring and improving Historic Cuyler-Brownsville for all who call the neighborhood home,” said Mayor Van R. Johnson, II. “I am excited about this partnership that will result in the return of this iconic African American landmark, the Kiah House Museum, to its rightful place of distinction in our community. Drs. Calvin and Virginia Kiah must be smiling from Heaven.”
“We are excited to partner with the Galvan Foundation to deliver this important, historic amenity back to a place of prominence in our community,” said City Manager Jay Melder. “We are thankful for the work of the Historic Savannah Foundation and the opportunity to restore this historic structure. The City is also committed to providing programming when the facility restoration is complete.”
The late Victorian/Queen Anne style structure, with elements of the late 19th and early 20th century American Craftsman movement, was built in 1913. It was significantly altered in 1959 when artist Virginia Kiah remodeled her long-time residence to include a museum. The home had fallen into disrepair following Mrs. Kiah’s death in 2001.
"I am grateful and delighted to know that the proposal presented by the Galvan Foundation and the City of Savannah has been successful. If there was such a thing as "My Wildest Dreams " coming true this might be the closest thing to that happening for me,” said Dr. Deborah Johnson-Simon of the African Diaspora Museology Institute. “So, in all honesty I'm being reserved and awaiting as Zora Neale Huston pined in "Their Eyes Were Watching God" for the promised miracle. I totally support and respect the decision of HSF of the Galvan Foundation and the City of Savannah as the best candidate for the world to see a Kiah House Museum to be a “Treasure of America” again."
“We are immensely pleased with the acquisition of the Kiah House by the Galvan Foundation and the City of Savannah,” said Gloria Williams, President of the Cuyler-Brownville Neighborhood Association. “This once stately home and museum located in the Cuyler Brownville Neighborhood has been in decline for over twenty years. We look forward to its restoration and usage by the residents of the neighborhood, City of Savannah, and surrounding areas in keeping with the work of the Kiahs.”