So many qualities combine to celebrate the work of Richard Longstreth. Beautifully composed pictures taken in 1965 share pages with others taken just a year or so ago. Secondary references encyclopedically chart the rise of movements in diverse fields, and are well balanced by primary research into archives and the field. Perhaps most notable, the issues addressed are invariably compelling, and often controversial. However, while the architecture or landscapes under discussion are clearly important to colleagues of Longstreth, they are often off the radar or plainly forgettable to many erstwhile preservationists. This is the rub.
The essay, “The Continuous Transformation of Savannah’s Broughton Street,” published in Longstreth’s edited volume Looking Beyond the Icons: Midcentury Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism tells a history that most Savannians for all their great pride of place, did not even know existed. Just as his apt section headings read “Extraordinary and Unknown,” and “Commonplace and Taken for Granted,” Broughton Street’s real heritage is as remarkable to some as it is invisible or forgettable to others. Most important, what Longstreth helps us understand is that Broughton Street’s story is not just another iteration of Savannah’s traditional historic district with its classic plan and fine Georgian and Federal design. Broughton Street reflects the dynamism of commercial architecture responding to shifts in business and technology and consumption in the late nineteenth and through the twentieth century. Thus Broughton Street is not just another pretty oak-lined allé dripping with Spanish moss, but rather is a well-preserved variant of Main Street U.S.A., an important architectural and urban element in its own right–and this is a main street that we owe no small debt to Richard Longstreth for helping us realize even exists.