- Associated Press - Sunday, October 5, 2014

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Featuring single-story ranch houses with carports and green lawns spread out along streets that wind in confusing arcs, Kensington Park seems a world removed from the oak-shaded squares of downtown Savannah and its mansions and row houses built between the Colonial period and the Civil War.

Yet the 1950s suburban enclave tucked away amid strip malls and shopping centers on Savannah’s less glamorous south side now has something in common with the city’s oldest, most picturesque neighborhoods. Kensington Park recently earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of America’s historic treasures.

The Savannah most outsiders and tourists know is a full two centuries older than Kensington Park. But the younger neighborhood’s nearly 400 homes still pack a certain time-warp factor, having changed little in the decades since young professionals began seeking out places to raise families away from the core city.

“June Cleaver lived here. That’s pretty much it,” said Pam Miller, president of the Kensington Park Community Association, when asked to sum up what makes the neighborhood unique. “The houses were big, ranch-style homes with a lot of emphasis on living space for families. Things now pretty much look the same as they did back then.”

How do ranch houses from the 1950s end up on the same list of America’s most significant historic places in a city as old as Savannah, where Georgia was founded in 1733 as the 13th British colony? For starters, it meeting the minimum age requirement. The National Park Service, which oversees the National Register, mandates that eligible places and properties must be at least 50 years old.

Of course, not everything that’s old makes the cut. Kensington Park and the neighboring Groveland subdivision, which was a part of its historic designation, stand out because their streetscapes and architecture were such a radical departure from Savannah’s older communities. The uniform lot sizes and strict north-south, east-west grid pattern that Savannah’s streets had followed since its founding were shattered by Kensington Park, where homes were set back from the street to make room for larger front yards, sidewalks were eliminated and streets curved along U-shaped paths and ended in cul-de-sacs.

“This type of planning was totally new in Savannah neighborhoods at the time,” said Stephanie Cherry-Farmer, who manages the National Register program for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “You can still get a sense of what it must have been like for people who were looking for homes in Savannah at the time seeing this new style of development.”

In its early years, Kensington Park attracted a number of upper-middle class homeowners including insurance and oil company executives as well as military officers from nearby Hunter Field, where the Air Force established a permanent base after World War II that’s now operated by the Army.

Real-estate ads from the Savannah Morning News at the time emphasized homes with plenty of space for families and modern amenities such as linoleum floors and Formica countertops.

“Any young mother would be delighted with the step-saving design of these wonderful bungalows,” said one newspaper ad from 1954. “Everything from the ingenious floor plan to the many handy closets saves steps and labor, yet there is abundant room for carefree and joyous living for Mom, Pop, and all of the kids.”

Some things have changed for Kensington Park since the 1950s. Homes that originally sold for $18,000 are now listed for $250,000 or more.

Miller said her community association pursued historic status on the National Register to help protect the neighborhood from encroachment by commercial properties like the drug stores and fast food chains at its perimeter, or to the potential loss of homes along busy DeRenne Avenue that Savannah city officials have long talked of expanding.

“We recognized that not all history is ancient history,” Miller said, “and our homes, in order to get some level of protection, should have some sort of status.”

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