Who would’ve thunk it? A Greyhound station on the National Register of Historic Places.
It could happen in Savannah. The nomination was announced last week for the ducky old building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard that is now home to The Grey, one of the South’s hottest restaurants.
New York City Italian John O. Morisano invested seven figures to revive a rundown place that was Savannah’s grand central from 1938 to 1965.
And driving the bus in the old building that had segregated waiting rooms, restrooms and water fountains is Mashama Bailey, executive chef and partner. The New York Times featured her in a story earlier this year headlined: “Beyond labels: New generation of African-American chefs is fusing history and innovation.”
Only in the South.
So much is different today. But the building that looks like a cross between an Airstream trailer and an Edward Hopper painting still has the same destination. It’s a place called hope, and it’s driven by dreams.
When the historic building was the Atlantic Greyhound Terminal, it buzzed with more than 75 arrivals and departures a day. What a dizzying spin of the globe for the mossy old city where thick heat keeps the dial on slow. Think how much wilder that scene had to be for the Gullah of the sea islands who came to the city by sailboat from their land of goat carts and marsh tackies.
Think how many folks stood on that same pink terrazzo floor in their appointed waiting room to take the one-way trip out of the Jim Crow South. Food for the trip was carefully packed in shoe boxes. They’d live with an aunt in Brooklyn till they could get a job and place of their own. York Glover of St. Helena Island, who was just elected to Beaufort County Council, calls that great exodus the “Babylonian exile.”
Greyhounds weaved their way through my life growing up, too. I think they’re still waiting at the wanderlust gate in my heart.
Daddy called them “the Hound.”
All you had to do was mention the name of a city, any city, and he would instantly scheme of a need to be there. He’d get the Hound on the horn and we’d make the mad dash to the center of Atlanta for another departure. The Greyhound station should have dedicated a parking spot out front to the Lauderdales.
One special trip to the bus station was to pick up Ilma and Nilda. They had escaped Castro’s Cuba. They had been wealthy people, but one of the few possessions in their hand on this day was a slip of paper with “Brother George” written on it. That was Daddy, the missionary who loved to help the Hound live up to its motto of “a million miles a day.” Ilma and Nilda lived with us for more than a year. Their new life started when they rolled into the station clinging to hope.
As children, Mama would put us on the Hound and seat us right behind the driver with his gray cap and steady eye, and we’d ride to Grandmother’s farm in the country through Madison, Greensboro, Union Point, Crawfordville, Warrenton and points east.
The bus stations in the bigger cities had the flare of a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, with pay toilets and tiny black-and-white televisions that would play if you filled them with change.
I could see these places someday being nominated for the national register of police reports, but not history.
Weary travelers were scrunched together in back-to-back benches in the waiting rooms. One day a woman abruptly said to my brother: “Sonny, if you don’t stop chomping that ice, I’m going to call the police.”
Savannah’s historic station has a “Streamline Moderne” style by Greyhound Lines architect George D. Brown. With its curved windows and tall vertical sign, it must have looked like a UFO when it landed in Savannah during the Great Depression.
Brown’s dashing work still graces a lot of cities, including the old station in Columbia, which is still there and has long been on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2009, it was converted into an office for a plastic surgeon.
And in Beaufort, the Greyhound Flats at the Beaufort Inn was fashioned from the old Greyhound station at 210 Scott St. by Kevin and Rosemary Cuppia. The two-suite property pays homage to the site’s history and has garnered a statewide award.
It all kind of shows where we are in the long ride through history. The old bus stations have new names, new menus, new purposes. But they’re still boarding for a place called hope.