In a city known for Victorian mansions and antebellum charm, Michael Brown knew it would not be popular to restore a green-glass, high-rise apartment building that was the epitome of 1951 modernism.
"You don't get anybody that is noncommittal about it; either they adore it or they can't stand it," Brown said. "A hundred years from now, somebody's going to look at that and say, 'Oh my God, that's just as beautiful as a 19th-century building.' "
Preservationists have long seen Drayton Tower -- a defiant example of modern architecture marred by cracked windows and decades of grimy buildup -- as an eyesore that should be razed rather than restored.
But the run-down, 12-story box of a building is more than a retro throwback to the ring-a-ding 1950s. After Drayton Tower passed its 50th birthday four years ago, Savannah officials declared it historic.
Brown and a group of investors bought Drayton Tower for $8.35 million in June, envisioning the 360-degree view offered by the building's wraparound windows as ideal for 88 spacious condominiums.
They have opted to sell the second through 11th floors to individual developers at prices ranging from $1.3 million to $2 million. The investment seems to be paying off -- six floors have already sold.
Brown expects it will take three years to take Drayton Tower back to its 1950s glory. He plans to replace 900 of the building's 4,000 windows with glass made by a Hungarian company that managed to match the original green shade. Just cleaning the stains off the exterior limestone, which has been collecting grime for 40 years, could take four months.
"In the lobby, we found the original plaster ceiling with an amoeba-shaped indentation that was all lit with a neon light," Brown said. "The original furniture was really sort of George Jetson stuff."
When Drayton Tower opened, Victorian mansions on the city's oak-shaded squares sagged in shuttered ruin. The high-rise was touted as a beacon to Savannah's future.
Instead, Drayton Tower came to symbolize the enemy of modern architecture to a fledgling preservation movement scrambling to save the historic homes in Georgia's oldest city from neglect and demolition.
"Of the most offensive buildings in Savannah, certainly number one is Drayton Tower," said longtime resident Lib Richardson. "It was the first real aggressive thing that came out against the architectural significance of this city."
Designed to attract upscale renters with modern amenities, Drayton Tower had "heat-absorbing" windows and "running ice water" in its 188 cramped apartments. It also was the first apartment building in Georgia with central air conditioning.
The building's stark exterior -- ribbons of green windows sandwiched between concrete slabs fronted with limestone -- still stands out like a spaceship among the surrounding Victorians.
"In a way, it's put there so you appreciate the older buildings by realizing what could have replaced them," said Dirk Hardison, architectural consultant for the Historic Savannah Foundation. "That shock value still exists. It was supposed to be alien."
Brown is peeling back additions to the interior -- gaudy wallpaper, drop ceilings and checkerboard floor tiles -- before returning the lobby to its original art moderne flair of mahogany walls, terrazzo floors and neon-lit ceiling bubble.
"People in Savannah have never had an opportunity to see it sparkling as when it first opened," said Dicky Mopper, the real-estate broker handling the sales. "I think that's what people don't like: the dirt and the smut."
In the end, Brown hopes to score a victory for historic modernism -- a building that people in addition to architects can love.