The DeSoto

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Discover The DeSoto, beloved landmark which has been the center of Savannah's social scene since the 19th century.

The DeSoto, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2017, dates back to 1890.

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The DeSoto by Sotherly

Located in the heart of Savannah's Historic District, The DeSoto is Savannah’s most historic destination. Please watch why Southerly Hotels is incredibly proud to help manage this fantastic destination.

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A member of Historic Hotels of America since 2017, The DeSoto was constructed at a time when the United States was defined by great economic prosperity, industrial expansion, and significant social reform. Its first iteration debuted in 1834, upon the site of the original Oglethorpe Barracks. Named after James Oglethorpe—the founder of Georgia—the Oglethorpe Barracks had only opened some two decades prior and never actually housed U.S. troops. Then, in 1879, the Savannah Hotel Corporation acquired the site with the hopes of redeveloping the structure as a cutting-edge boutique hotel. Witnessing the rapid transformation of neighboring Florida into a popular vacation hotspot, the company believed that their destination would allure tourists headed further south. As such, the business would make Savannah a holiday destination in its own right. The new, stunning hotel—opened on New Year’s Day in 1890—quickly became the talk of the town. Called “The DeSoto,” it opened with 300 magnificently equipped guestrooms, as well as a swimming pool, a solarium, a barber, and a soda shop. The hotel even had a lighted miniature golf course! Architect William G. Preston oversaw its design, which featured a wonderful blend of Richardson Romanesque and Queen Anne-style architecture. Regarded as the pinnacle of his work, Preston’s unique design for The DeSoto made it one of the area’s most recognizable landmarks. Soon enough, many throughout the city began to refer to the building as the “Dowager Empress of the South” and became the center of all social life in Savannah.

In order to accommodate the influx of new people, its ownership decided to expand several years later, altering the hotel’s appearance somewhat in the process. Nevertheless, The DeSoto remained a cultural icon for the City of Savannah. It only continued to grow in popularity throughout the early 20th century, hosting all kinds of upscale clientele. Many illustrious guests began to arrive at The DeSoto, too, including Hollywood superstars, renowned musical entertainers, and powerful political leaders. Names like Katherine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, B.B. King, and Elvis Presley soon became synonymous with The DeSoto for the people of Savannah. Even U.S. Presidents—such as William McKinley, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson—stayed at the hotel at one point or another. Unfortunately, this initial era of prosperity was not destined to last, as The DeSoto closed its doors in 1965. The hotel commemorated the event with a 75-year anniversary celebration called the “New Year’s Eve Diamond Jubilee Ball,” which was hosted by the Savannah Symphony Women’s Guild. Its owners at the time desired to start an extensive series of renovations that would replace much of Preston’s original design with a more modern aesthetic. The owners believed that such a construction project was the only way to maintain interest with the business among contemporary travelers. Yet, the remodeling was done in such a way that the outstanding history of The DeSoto was brilliantly preserved. For instance, a number of details from the original Hotel DeSoto were saved, such as pieces of terra cotta, wrought iron details, crystal chandelier, and a fountain featuring the head of a lion with water flowing out its mouth.

Designed by Richard L. Aeck of Atlanta, the reborn hotel debuted as a wonderful monument to Mid-Century Modern architecture some three years later. It stood 15 stories tall and offered 264 beautifully furnished accommodations, as well as a bank, an office park, and even underground parking. For the next several decades, the business operated as the “Hilton Savannah DeSoto.” But in 2004, Sotherly Hotels, Inc., acquired the location. The company then invested some $12 million into completely renovating the entire structure, intending to recapture much of the prestige that originally defined the building when it first opened at the height of the Gilded Age. Taking nearly four years to complete, the construction touched every aspect of the building, doing much to both preserve and enhance its fantastic character. Determined to relaunch the business as Savannah’s top luxurious boutique hotel, Sotherly spent yet another $9.4 million on further restoration efforts. Finally, on August 1, 2017, the beautiful building reopened “The DeSoto” once again to great acclaim. Still the center of Savannah’s social life and ideally located in the center of historic Savannah, guests can enjoy all that the city has to offer from this spectacular historic hotel.

  • About the Location +

    In 1733, a group of English colonists led by General James Oglethorpe departed from their ship, the Anne, and came ashore at a landmark called the “Yamacraw Bluff.” (The bluff is currently enclosed by downtown Savannah.) Upon making landfall, the settlers were greeted by the Chief Tomochichi and his fellow Yamacraw Indians. With the natives were John and Mary Musgrove, a couple of traders who often served as interpreters for the Yamacraw. The two camps quickly established friendly relations, and Oglethorpe began constructing a colonial outpost with the blessing of Tomochichi. The new town that Oglethorpe hoped to construct was to be the first official settlement for the new Georgia Colony, which he himself would govern. The general specifically intended for the community—and Georgia as a whole—to serve as a refuge for English subjects imprisoned for debt and other petty crimes. Yet, the British Crown had an ulterior motive for granting Oglethorpe the right to create a colony in the “New World.” Given its location at the southern end of British America, the royal government saw the nascent settlement as a buffer against any potential encroachments by either the Spanish or French against the more prosperous colonies to the north. Nevertheless, Oglethorpe—and his colleague, William Bull—began creating a town grid near the Yamacraw Bluff that loosely resembled London’s layout. Yet, the prospective community differed in that it featured more wards and central squares. Calling the settlement “Savannah,” it functioned as Georgia’s official capital for the next five decades. It also grew as a commercial port, second only to Charleston in its economic importance to those living in the southern colonies. Savannah’s vibrant harbor even made it a strategic target early on during the American Revolutionary War, with the British seizing the city in 1778. Despite the combined efforts of American and French soldiers to recapture Savannah, it remained in British hands for the duration of the conflict.

    After the war in 1786, the Georgia legislature voted to move the capital several dozen miles away to Augusta. But Savannah continued to be one of the most commercially prosperous communities in the state, especially as its harbor continued to expand during the 19th century. Perhaps the epitome of such a transformation came when a steamboat called the “S.S. Savannah sailed from the city to Liverpool in 1819, thus becoming the first steam-powered ship to cross the Atlantic. Most of the merchants who managed shipping operations out of Savannah mainly moved agricultural products, specifically cotton and other staple crops grown on the many plantations scattered throughout the countryside. Even though James Oglethorpe had originally outlawed slavery in Georgia, subsequent generations of Georgians introduced the practice as a means of economically competing with the already-established planters in South Carolina and Virginia. As such, chattel slavery became immersed into the socioeconomic fabric of Savannah during the first half of the century. The institution eventually collapsed, however, when Union soldiers occupied the city and liberated its enslaved population in the American Civil War. Savannah began operating as a major supply depot for the Confederate armies as soon as the conflict erupted, inspiring the U.S. Navy to immediately institute a blockade of its coastline. Soldiers succeeded in taking Fort Pulaski on nearby Cockspur Island in April of 1862, but failed to invade the city outright. Savannah continued to provide men and material defiantly for the next two years, until Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s forces captured the city at the end of his historic “March to the Sea.” Sherman even notified President Abraham Lincoln of his success in a famous telegraph that read: “I get to present to you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

    Unlike the many other towns that Sherman seized during the campaign, he chose not to burn Savannah to the ground. Savannah had still suffered significantly from the conflict, though, with the naval blockade of its ports greatly undermining its economy. Fortunately, the city recovered rather rapidly over the next several years, becoming a booming port once more by the late 1870s. Cotton returned as Savannah’s primary export, as did naval products like rosin, turpentine, and lumber. But when a prolonged boll weevil outbreak devastated the local agricultural industry in the 1920s, the shipping industry suffered greatly. Many Savannahians began looking to other industries, as such, like food processing and paper-pulp manufacturing. Some of the largest corporations active inside the city at the time included Union Bag and the Savannah Sugar Refinery. The port eventually recovered from the earlier blight, emerging as one of the nation’s most prolific shipbuilding locations by the middle of the century. In fact, Savannah produced dozens of liberty ships to support the national war effort in World War II. Savannah also became central to the Civil Rights Movement, with many non-violent protests occurring across the city to challenge its practice of racial segregation. Among the first protests to transpire happened shortly after World War II, when Ralph Mark Gilbert directed a successful campaign to desegregate the local police force. Additional civil rights leaders emerged within city as well, including the likes of Earl T. Shinhoster, Hosea Williams, and W.W. Lane. Today, Savannah is celebrated all over the United States for its immense history. From the story of its colonial origins to its involvement with civil rights, the city’s heritage is among the most fascinating in the nation. The U.S. Department of the Interior has even listed much of downtown Savannah as a National Historic Landmark. Come travel to this amazing city for a wonderful historic vacation.


  • About the Architecture +

    The current iteration of The DeSoto features an amazing blend of Mid-Century Modern architecture. An offshoot of the earlier International and Bauhaus movements, Mid-Century Modern essentially sought to portray a seemingly contemporary, futuristic aesthetic that reflected the popular concepts of civil progress. Professional architects mainly utilized the style from the 1930s to the 1960s, when American society was rapidly undergoing huge transformations—both social and technological. It seemed to many at the time that the country’s way of life was truly on an upward path of mobility. Architects, thus, embraced the design ideals of function, simplicity, and rationality in order to create sleek-looking structures that possessed a communal purpose. As such, Mid-Century Modern designs made explicit use of vertical, flat lines and irregular rectangular shapes so to convey a lack of formality. Overt ornamentation was abandoned, too, as monochromatic brickwork, steel, and concreate served as the essential building blocks for the exterior. Inside, most of the rooms were subdivided into split levels, giving a sense that the structure had undergone as significant change in elevation. Modernist buildings also featured wide, open spaces filled with natural light that represented practicality and comfort. Large widows often served as the primary way in which the architects achieved such a feature. Most of the rooms were also subdivided into split levels, giving a sense that the structure had undergone as significant change in elevation. The introduction of spacious windows even sought to better incorporate nature into the overall design, making the surrounding landscape seem as if it were part of the building itself.

    The earlier versions of the hotel showcased a brilliant array of Romanesque-style design principles. This wonderful architectural style first appeared in North America in the middle of the 19th century, as design principles from both Rome and medieval Europe found a popular audience. Architects interested in specializing in Romanesque Revival-themed architecture specifically studied the works of Norman and Lombard engineers who were active in the 11th and 12th centuries. Structures created with the aesthetic are commonly defined by their pronounced round arches and round towers. Yet, those grand archways and towers were far less ostentatious than their historic counterparts located on the other side of the Atlantic. Romanesque Revival-style architecture also implemented squat columns, decorative wall carvings, and the extensive use of masonry. But architects would sometimes favor wood over bricks or stones due to financial concerns. The first wave of Romanesque Revival-style architecture impacted North America in the 1840s and 1850s. But the general public in both the United States and Canada did not fully embrace the aesthetic, preferring the tastes of Italianate and Gothic Revival architecture at the time. It was not until an American architect named Henry Hobson Richardson started using the form in the late 1800s that Romanesque Revival style finally became popular. A graduate from the renowned École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Richardson developed numerous designs in places like New York City, Boston, and Detroit. His approach to Romanesque Revival style was somewhat different, as it also incorporated elements of medieval Mediterranean design principles. His vision of Romanesque Revival-style architecture was soon embraced by other architects, including those in neighboring Canada. Historians today largely refer to Richardson’s design philosophy as “Richardson Romanesque” architecture.

    Some of the original architecture also featured Queen Anne-style aesthetics. A successor to Eastlake architecture, Queen Anne became a widely popular architectural style at the height of the Gilded Age. Named in honor of 18th-century British monarch, Queen Anne, the architectural form started in England before migrating to the United States. Yet, its name is misleading, as it actually borrowed its design principles from buildings constructed during the Renaissance. While the appearance of Queen Anne-style buildings may differ considerably, they are all united by several common features. For instance, they are typically asymmetrical in nature, and are built with some combination of stone, brick, and wood. Those buildings also feature a large wrap-around porch, as well as a couple polygonal towers. Those towers may also be accompanied by turrets along the corners of a building’s exterior façade. Queen Anne structures also have pitched, gabled roofs made with irregular shapes and patterns. Intricate wood carvings are a common sight throughout their layout, too, and are often designed in such a way to resemble different objects like an illusion. Clapboard paneling and half-timbering are a few other forms of woodworking that are regularly found somewhere within a Queen Anne-style structure.


  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Katherine Hepburn, actress known for her roles in The African Queen and Woman of the Year.

    Gregory Peck, actor known for such roles in Twelve O’Clock High, Gentleman’s Agreement, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

    Ed Sullivan, television personality best remembered for his program, The Ed Sullivan Show.

    Elvis Presley, singer and actor best remembered to history as the “King of Rock and Roll.”

    B.B. King, musician hailed throughout the world as “The King of the Blues.”

    William McKinley, 25th President of the United States (1897 – 1901)

    William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States (1909 – 1913) and 10th Chief Justice of the United States (1921 – 1930)

    Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States (1913 – 1921)

    Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States (1929 – 1932)


  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    Route 66: A Child of the Night (1964)

    Route 66: Is It True There Are Proxies at the Bottom of Landfair Lake (1964)

    Route 66: Like This It Means Father – Like This – Bitter – Like This – Tiger (1964)


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