The Culture Within the Southern Pine Company
By Ieva Lukauskaite and Kere Utz
Situated on the corner of E. Broad st. and 35th st. is the Savannah Southern Pine Company. It is an industrial site placed in a residential area. The company recycles wood and produces flooring and furniture. At the beginning our goal was to explore the site in order to understand how it integrates into the neighborhood. We discovered that the area is not only industrial, but also is involved in various cultural and entertainment events. In this article we explore how the culture and entertainment are mixed in the industry by observing the business of the company, the events, the people who work there, and the people who live in the neighborhood.
While walking down E. Broad from Victory Dr., our attention was caught by an industrial building of Savannah Southern Pine Company because it contrasted from residential area surrounding it. Savannah Southern Pine Company is situated on a corner of 35th st. and E. Broad st. as seen in the figures 1 and 2. Just from observing the outside, we expected to find a typical lumberyard, furthermore, we anticipated to find unsatisfied, low-payed employees. However, once we took a closer look through interviews and observations, we found that it was quite an unusual lumberyard. Walking around the building we observed many unusual items such as large pieces of art hanging on the exterior walls of the courtyard (figure 6). Moreover, our attention was caught by a group of people unloading trucks full of antique items (figure 5). After asking the group of people what they were up to, we discovered that they were preparing for an auction. While only observing the outside, we immediately got intrigued by the different, unexpected things happening around the warehouse. By walking around the building, we ran into a man that seemed to be an employee or a customer, however we soon found out that he was actually a next door neighbor Frank.
He seemed very supportive of the work that is done in the Pine Company. He claimed that he is really good friends with the owner and that they watch out for each other; he keeps an eye on the company from burglaries while they keep an eye on his house while he is away. He told us that the company does him favors, such as fixing things, without asking for anything in exchange. Overall, we were immediately surprised by the warm and close relationship between this man and the company. We expected more of a negative reaction on the lumber company being in the middle of residential area. Soon after Frank’s interview we noticed a lady with an enormous personality walking up towards us with curiosity. The second interviewee was an employee of the Pine Company, Evelyn.
She seemed to be very knowledgeable about the company and also very eager to talk to us. As we later entered the place and were looking for more people to meet, everyone was directing us towards Evelyn saying that she has been there the longest and has most things to say. Evelyn seemed to be very passionate about her work, she introduced us to different projects that they do in the company as well as talked about the wood and the history of the company itself. We found out that the company is focused on historical renovations; they take the old lumber and create various products such as furniture and flooring. She seemed to be really proud seeing their products around Savannah in different places. Evelyn informed us that Savannah Southern Pine Company was first in a building on Montgomery st. now taken over by SCAD. She was really enthusiastic about her work and said that she loves working there because of how well the old wood is preserved. Evelyn has been working in the company since around April 1996. She started out in the company as a person who pulls the nails out of the lumber and makes sure that it is ready to be sliced and worked with but now she said, “I am sort of an inventory clerk”, she looks for things that people want to buy. Evelyn said that she likes to please the costumer. When asked about the work environment, she answered, “I can stand my ground and they are very nice to me”. Finally, Evelyn seemed to be very passionate about recycling, which she learned from the company, stating the commonly used phrase, “another man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” After exploring the outside, we went in to the office to see if we could look around the warehouse. The receptionist introduced us to Cynthia, who was supposed to show us around.
Cynthia presented herself as a kind, outgoing person and was really obliging to us. She seemed to love her job no less than Evelyn. Cynthia stated, “I like working here because working around wood gives me ideas.” She talked a lot about recycling and other good things that Pine Company does for the community. Again, we were surprised how inspired and driven the employees are. She told us about all the different types of events and the people who come through them. “We had commercials done here, weddings, we kind of do a little bit of everything”, she said, “ lot of our things go by word of mouth”, such as, “we have 2 halloween parties coming up.” Furthermore, she told us that a lot of films are shot in the warehouse, for example, Magic Mike XXL. After the interview Cynthia was kind enough to show us around the inside of the warehouse and take us to the courtyard which we already discussed. When we got to the courtyard, she excused herself because she had to go back to work, leaving us to explore on our own. We wandered back inside. We observed that the warehouse was packed with wood and had all the typical gear in it (figures 7 and 8). However, there were unusual antique objects lying around, like door knobs, bowling clubs, old box TV, giving away that this was not a typical lumberyard (figures 9 and 10).
We spotted a man, named Eric, taking a break next to his work station; he said that he does all the milling, which involves cutting, shaping, and finishing the wood. As well as the other employees he said that he loves his job. He seemed to be very proud of his work, he stated, “I am the woods craftsman.” Eric told us that he left the company for 10 years to work in a different lumberyard but because of the recession it was shut down, so he came back and got his job back. When asked why he thinks Southern Pine Company was not affected by the recession as much as other companies, he pointed out that the company uses old wood from old houses and buildings which makes the company not only unique but profitable as well.
After talking to the employees we decided to explore some of the events that they mentioned. The first event that we tried to go to was the Savannah Bazaar, however, it was moved and we ended up going to the auction that was happening at the same time. It took place at adjacent warehouse space that we didn’t know was there (figure 11). The auctioneers auctioned off antique furniture and other objects. Some of the more unique items were an old gas pump, antique designer chair that sold for 400 dollars, old tools, and old bricks from buildings. Auction attracted good amount of people. There were many antique collectors who bought multiple items for the stores or for themselves. The bidding got pretty intense at times, but the bidders were overall nice to each other and considerate. Another day we decided to explore the area further and went to the PERC Savannah Coffee Roaster next door (figure 12). It was quite unexpected to find this space next to a lumberyard. Coffee Roaster imports and distributes coffee from other countries. The environment is very laid back with hip music playing and young employees sitting back and enjoying themselves. We talked to a young lady named Kelly.
She said that it is fun working there and she learned a lot about coffee. She also mentioned that not everyone is happy about their presence in the neighborhood because it “putts off a weird smell.” The Coffee Roaster has a good relationship with the lumberyard as a lot of their furniture is actually made by them. Furthermore, she mentioned a shooting across the street. The different perspective of the neighborhood gave us a fuller view of it by showing that even though people working and living around it seem very nice, it is still a rough area that we were anticipating to find in the beginning. The next event that we went to was the Halloween rave “Apocalypse” (figure 13). The tickets were sold for 12 dollars at the gate. Everyone got a wristband that would let you come in and out of the rave. It took place in the courtyard. It had a small dance area, a DJ, rave lights, a slushy table, and an art gallery that sold illustrations, T-shirts, and sodas. Considering the size of the space, the crowd was fairly big. About 2 hours in, the police showed up and shut it down for noise complaints, however in couple of hours the rave continued. It was a different experience to visit the site during off hours and to see how it got transformed from a plain courtyard of a warehouse to a colorful party scene.
Overall, our experience of the Southern Pine Company was different from what we expected when we started our fieldwork. The fieldwork not only informed us about the Pine Company and people within it, but also changed our perspective. We found that the employees were happy and inspired to work there and that the company was overall contributing to the community and environment by endorsing various events and recycling. The site of Savannah Southern Pine Company and PERC Coffee Roaster appears to be a lot more than a simple industrial area, it is a place where business, culture, and entertainment come together.