The Drayton Tower was designed in 1949 as a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) project in Savannah, GA to be a large scale residential rental building, partially in response to the Veterans Emergency Housing Act after World War II, and partially from the thesis project of William P. Bergen. The site was selected for its close proximity to public transit and service stations. Drayton Tower is the first Modern building in Savannah, GA and is the first apartment building in Georgia to have air conditioning for its residents.
Drayton Tower is a rectangular tower twelve stories high with a base of tilted concrete walls projecting out towards the sidewalks. The facades emphasize horizontality through a series of alternating bands of white limestone spandrel panels and green glass windows that span across each facade, meeting at the corners with aluminum mullions, that play up the lack of columns at the corners of the building. There is no ornamentation on the building. It is slightly taller than it is wide, giving it a boxy appearance. Its materials and design make it contrast its nineteenth century context.
The structure is made of reinforced concrete with a central concrete core. It has a curtain wall constructed of alternating bands of limestone spandrel panels and green Solex heat-absorbing glass windows with aluminum mullions. Each of the twelve floors is 10,000 square feet. Interiors were constructed with removable doorways, 8" concrete partitions faced with Perlite plaster over metal lath and wool felt, and asphalt tile floors. The walls of the base floor of the building are tilted at a ten degree angle towards the sidewalk. The lobby is enclosed with polished plate glass, has terrazzo floors and is clad with a pink marble veneer around doorways and along the top of the base's facade.
Savannah is well-known for its extensive preservation of the original eighteenth century urban grid and its nineteenth century structures. However, post World War II the city began to experience a higher volume of automobile traffic along with an influx of population that needed housing but was unable to afford purchasing a home. The Drayton Tower was a speculative apartment building, but unlike its neighbor, the De Renne Apartments, Drayton Tower was the first building in the new Modern style to be designed in Savannah, and its downtown location is in the center of the Savannah Historic District in stark contrast to its nineteenth century neighboring structures.
The Drayton Tower is the first apartment building in Georgia to have air conditioning, supplied by a 300 ton turbine compressor. Bathrooms were equipped with an extra faucet to supply cold water as cooled by the air conditioning. The central core of Drayton Tower housed the elevators, incinerator, mailboxes, stairs, storage, and served as a safe haven from hurricanes and storms. Solex heat absorbing plate glass was used for the windows and absorbed enough heat to lower the room temperature by 10 to 20 degrees.
The building was hailed as a success at its opening, but by 1964, as the urban population of Savannah migrated from downtown to the suburbs, the building became almost empty. In the late 1970s, the Savannah College of Art and Design was founded. The college is responsible for rehabilitating many of the structures in downtown Savannah and bringing the population back from the suburbs; many students rented apartments in Drayton Tower. It was about this time that residents began to criticize Drayton Tower for its Modern aesthetic, which is contrary to the Queen Anne style of most other buildings in the area. Rehabilitation efforts beginning in 2006 further fueled the controversy as to whether or not this Modern structure was appropriate in its context. One resident was quoted as saying, "Of the most offensive buildings in Savannah, certainly No. 1 is Drayton Tower."
The design of Drayton Tower reflects the United State's embrace of the Modern Movement. The building is the first modernist design in Savannah. It is also reflective of the need to provide mass housing at a lower cost with more efficiency. Drayton Tower answered the demands growing automobile use with its placement on the main thoroughfares of the downtown area and its close proximity to mass transit.
Drayton Tower was lauded as one of the finest apartment buildings in Savannah and a beacon of Savannah's possible modern future when it opened in 1951. However, public opinion was against it and it continues to be one of the most criticized structures in the city. It is the only example of Modern architecture built in the downtown area and few Modern structures were built elsewhere in the city. Its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 caused much controversy.
Drayton Tower was built to accommodate a growing population with the most efficient means and with a design that utilized the newest technologies while exemplifying the values of society post World War II.
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