Dating back to 1771, the land had been granted by the crown of England to wealthy Savannah cotton factor, James Habersham, Sr. He was a loyalist to the Crown who later found out that his sons were Sons of Liberty. This caused a lot of drama in the household and halted construction for over a decade. Habersham Sr. passed away before the house was completed, allowing Habersham Jr. to move in in with his family.
The original structure was only a quarter of what it is today. The entryway and the front grand room on each side as well as the two above them, the basement, and the carriage house were part of the original constructions. At that time, it was a 2-bedroom home sitting at 4,000 square feet. But what actually made it a mansion for its time was the fact that it had a fully indoor kitchen in its basement, which was not common during that time. The house survived the Savannah fire of 1796 that destroyed 229 buildings. The house was called the Habersham House which is where he lived until his death in 1799.
One feature of the house was the white paint slathered over the stucco-plaster exterior. Unfortunately, the hot, humid summers caused the white paint to drip off, exposing the pink stucco underneath. They had to reapply a coat of white paint each year that would subsequently dissipate each year in the summer humidity. After sitting vacant for a number of years, the house was converted in 1812 into what would become Georgia’s first bank, Planter’s Bank. This is when the Greek portico was added over the porch, supported by unfluted Doric columns.
The north side of the house was also extended at this time to include a small backroom next to the grand room which housed one of three vaults added to the house at that time. The room also featured what is called “pocket doors” that come right out from the wall. These were inspired by a set of pocket doors that Thomas Jefferson designed in his own home. At night after the bank closed, they would pull the pocket doors closed to count the money in the small back room with the vault (no pictures, unfortunately).
After the Civil War ended, the house sat vacant for 40 years. No one maintained the property and the house was not being repainted each year. And just as the white paint wore off each year, the Habersham House moniker eventually wore off and it became more commonly referred to as the “Olde Pink House.” Eventually, the house suddenly sprang to life, taking on several identities over a period of decades, from an attorney’s office, to a bookstore, a tearoom, and then a speakeasy. It also served as the Attorney General’s office during World War times.
The house was purchased for $60,000 in 1970 by partners Herschel McCallar, Jr., and Jeffrey Keith who spent a year restoring the house. To upgrade the foundation, the house was going to be lifted, new I-beams installed, and the house set back down. It’s said that when they did this, all the doorways and moldings went back into place like new. While doing this project, they uncovered two giant fireplaces in the basement that had been covered up sometime in the 19th century. These were the original fireplaces used for cooking during the 18th century that are now a highlight of the Planters Tavern downstairs. Also featured in the tavern is a wine cellar that is housed in one of the house’s bank vaults (none pictured) including the original 1812 bank vault door.
On the second floor, Keith had an antiques store and made several purchasing trips to England for 18th-century furniture and paintings. They opened the restaurant in 1971 where many of the items remain today. They sold the building in 1992 to the Balishes who maintained the restoration of the house. Daughter Donna Moeckel is the current owner of The Olde Pink House with its 13 gorgeous dining rooms in total.
The wood-plank floors in the front dining rooms are original to the 1771 structure. The floors in the 1812 addition are also original. The fireplaces, mantles, and crown molding are all original to the house. A grand ballroom the Pink Bar was added on the back of the building as well as the grand ballroom upstairs added in 2008, bringing the structure to 17,000 square feet. The ballroom contains paintings of photos that owner Donna had photographed down in Savannah’s low country. Her vision was to see these photos realized in silver and gold. They were able to find an artist that was able to paint with silver and gold flakes directly onto the wall. Unfortunately, there was a fire in the ballroom in 2018 that damaged these one-of-a-kind paintings. But they contacted the artist who happily returned ten years after first painting them to refinish them a second time once reconstruction was complete.
I had asked around for a few restaurant recommendations for Savannah. Every person who made recommendations named this place, so I knew it had to be a good. With an elegantly rustic menu, most of the dishes we tried were incredibly good. We enjoyed our experience for dinner but it was dark and we knew we had to come back during lunch to see the house in the daytime. It was definitely worth the return trip, especially for some of the best quesadillas I’ve ever had!
Check out my blog about dinner at The Olde Pink House.