Savannah Renaissance man restoring historic Forsyth mansion

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - In 1917, George F. Armstrong commissioned a world-renowned architect to build the home of his dreams. Now, more than more than 100 years later, a modern-day Renaissance man is restoring this home to its original glory.

Richard Kessler owns several successful hotels, including the Bohemian and the Mansion on Forsyth Park in Savannah.

"I was leaving the hotel one day, and I  came up on Bull Street and came up on the property, this beautiful place, and said 'I have the sense it can be purchased, someone needs to buy it and put it back into its original condition.'

And so it began. Richard Kessler, a man who built a name for himself restoring historic properties and transforming them into grand hotels, knew he wanted to take on the Armstrong House.

"She called me back the next day and said 'oh my gosh, Richard, yes they will sell it.'

After some planning with Bouhan-Falligant, the law firm that occupied the building for decades, Kessler began arranging his team. Choate Construction took on the contract and esteemed architect Christian Sottile also got on board.

"I looked around and said Christian Sotille is the obvious choice."

"Having the opportunity to really work on this building in a comprehensive way, to do a comprehensive restoration, is an honor and it is a challenge to say the least."

His in-depth research makes him a true expert on the history of this home, and its builder, famous Swedish Architect Henrik Wallin.

"He constructed it for George Armstrong who was a shipping magnate in Savannah, and the home was set to be like no other home in Savannah.

That is the understatement of the century. At 25,000 square feet, the Armstrong House is the largest home ever built in Savannah. The details, still intact, are magnificent.

"When the home was built originally, it had the best technology of the time. The windows are steel windows with solid bronzed hardware. We actually had central vacuums."

In 1935, Armstrong's wife, Lucy May Camp Armstrong donated the mansion to the city of Savannah to be used as Armstrong Junior College, a place that, like many Savannians, Mr. Kessler has memories of during his college years.

"This is an important building to so many people and particularly those that did graduate from Armstrong. I was a GA Tech graduate but I came here during the summer of 1968."

And now, after many different owners, the Armstrong House will go back to serving its original purpose.

"I'm gonna live here! First of all, I'm going to live here so we bring it back as a home," Mr. Kessler explained.

To make this back into a home, he enlisted a man with an interior design portfolio that spans the globe. Designer Chuck Chewning says this job will truly be unique.

"Here we have an advantage because Mr. Kessler has an extensive collection of arts and antiques. One of the advantages we have are the original watercolors Wallin produced when he did the house."

A nod to Wallin will be seen all over the home once the final project is complete.

"Taking the historic and the old and marrying that with modern life and living and making that house livable today."

Sottile says that marriage will pay respects to the old and the new

"We're looking to incorporate the best of what's possible today, 100 years later, with what was the very best when it was built in 1919."

Which ultimately will preserve the home for generations to come.

"I think everyone has some theme to their life or some goal, I want to leave everything better than I found it."

If all goes to plan, on Jan. 1, 2019, the gates will open for a grand party to celebrate a new era for the Armstrong House. Mr. Kessler is also behind the massive Plant Riverside Project, and he's hoping any celebrity entertainers who perform there, will be guests at the Armstrong House. He also plans to host a few, high-end private events at the home each year.

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