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Famous Greek Heritage + Greek Fest: Historic Inn Honors Savannah GA USA Mayor John P. Rousakis — Champion, Chef, and Hero

SAVANNAH Georgia – In large measure Savannah’s fame is lifted on the shoulders of titans, as well as the friendly hometown ambassadors who welcome travelers from across the world daily. Cozily nestled in the Savannah historic district on Greene Square, Green Palm Inn honors #theone in Savannah, a city of heroes.

Our focus points to titans of personality, wealth and finesse who have given passionately of themselves and their resources. There are too many, so we choose a few less mentioned who we believe offer us the model for sharing authentic cultural traditions in Savannah, Georgia USA.

Cozy Green Palm Inn‘s guests — the ones also who adore homestyle cooking and their favorite-aunt-like innkeeper as their host — treasure the hometown back stories, especially the ones that dive deep with heritage.

Get away for a 5-day-trip! Diane Crews at this historic bed and breakfast inn (called a private hotel or mini hotel in the UK and Europe) will help to make your week travel in Savannah a dream vacation! Foodies adore Savannah, whether for dining, desserts, or taking in a cooking class.

Honoring Greek heritage we point to Mayor John P. Rousakis, for whom the riverwalk of Rousakis Riverfront Plaza on River Street is named.

Historic Savannah Mayor Rousakis champion of Savannah food, tourism, and historic preservation.

Savannah Mayor John P. Rousakis. Photo Courtesy National League of Cities

With extraordinary hometown charm and political finesse, engaging cross-sections of Savannah’s multi-cultural population, champion of Savannah, Mayor John P. Rousakis is credited with winning hearts in and for Savannah.

As the late Lewis Grizzard once wrote, “Nobody can woo like Johnny Rou. …Credit Johnny Rousakis for turning Savannah into a near “second Hollywood”. When Jimmy Carter was Governor of Georgia, he appointed Rousakis to the first state movie board.” – Source: Legends: Georgians who Lived Impossible Dreams by Gene Asher.

Mayor John Rousakis is the son of Greek immigrant parents. He attended St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, a congregation that sponsors the Savannah Greek Festival each fall in Savannah — October 6-8, 2016 this year. His father ran Paul’s Soda Shop (called “Paul’s Corner” by some) on the corner of Bull Street and Maupas Street, where Rousakis worked in the family business as a soda jerk, swept the floors, and delivered takeout orders.

Among Mayor Rousakis’s broad and deep legacy is the revitalization of the Savannah Riverfront, Savannah City Market Development, and Savannah’s hosting role in 1996 Olympics Yachting (now called Olympics Sailing). Rousakis served five terms, a total of 16 years a Mayor of Savannah during the period of 1970 – 1991. Source: City of Savannah research library and municipal archives.

The Savannah Riverwalk, known formally as Rousakis Riverfront Plaza, is named in honor of Mayor John P. Rousakis (January 14, 1929 – December 10, 2000).  Eric Meyerhoff was one of the architects of the River Street plaza, and he knew Rousakis well, eating lunch with him and a colleague every other day for years. (Source: Savannah Morning News, John Rousakis Remembered)

“Johnny loved good food, good wine, good friends, strong coffee, good conversation, and even bad golf,” Moon Landrieu said. “He left his footprints all over the city of Savannah, the state of Georgia, and across this nation.” Moon Landrieu is the former mayor of New Orleans and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who said he most remembered Rousakis’ zest for life. Sources: Savannah Morning News, Remembering Johnny

John Rousakis’s story is reminiscent of another Greek Savannah native, Stratton Leopold, whose family ran Leopold’s Ice Cream Shop on the corner of Habersham and Gwinnett. A star among Hollywood’s elite producers, the younger Leopold revived his family’s legacy in Savannah by reopening the popular family business, serving super premium, homemade ice cream from original recipes in a new location – Broughton Street near Abercorn Street. The ice cream shop had originally opened in 1919.

[Rousakis’s] “personal life also was full of fun. He was an accomplished chef who would auction himself off in the Savannah Symphony’s fund-raising drive, preparing a full-course meal at the highest bidder’s home. He loved good food, good drinks and good jokes.”

John Rousakis’s personal life also was full of fun.

He was an accomplished chef who would auction himself off in the Savannah Symphony’s fund-raising drive, preparing a full-course meal at the highest bidder’s home. He loved good food, good drinks and good jokes. The full-of-life mayor participated in the Savannah Chamber of Commerce oyster roast in Atlanta (1987), where we see his “Suddenly Savannah is really cooking” apron.

Filming the segment in Whitfield Square with television celebrity Mike Douglas and movie star Burt Reynolds, Mayor Rousakis prepared “Shrimp and Oyster Pilaf”, featured in Savannah Sampler Cookbook by Margaret Wayt DeBolt.  The Mike Douglas Show segment aired October 29, 1975.

When “Gator” the movie, starring and directed by Burt Reynolds, was released August 25, 1976, audiences were introduced to Savannah’s charismatic mayor who appeared as the Ocean Plaza Motel Manager. Mike Douglas was cast at the Governor.  Filming locations included Savannah, Tybee Island, Lakeland, and Valdosta, Georgia. Source: IMBD.com Mayor Rousakis played in three more movies filmed in Savannah: Pals with George C. Scott; The Lincoln Conspiracy, and Odyssey.  — Source: Legends: Georgians who Lived Impossible Dreams by Gene Asher.

During Mayor Rousakis’s five terms as mayor (1970 -1991), “he sponsored Broughton Street revitalization efforts and oversaw the renovation of the old Central of Georgia railroad station into a visitors center and museum,” reports Savannah Morning News.  “He had all the right chemistry,” his friend William Lee said at his funeral in December 2000, reported by Savannah Morning News. “The charisma. The moxie. The energy.”

“His greatest legacy was trying to bring people together,” said Clifford Hardwick, who served alongside Rousakis on City Council. “John knew how to work with people and build consensus. ‘We’re here for the people,’ he said, ‘Not for the party.”‘

Rousakis is credited with reviving River Street, which was set to become a parking lot when he intervened.

The son of Greek immigrant parents, Rousakis’ life was a classic hometown-boy-makes-good story. His father ran Paul’s Soda Shop on Bull and Maupas streets, where Rousakis worked as a soda jerk. It was “the” place to hang out for high school students, Lee remembered.

Rousakis made the jump to the mayor’s office in City Hall to begin the first of an unprecedented five terms. “He had all the right chemistry,” Lee said. “The charisma. The moxie. The energy.”

During that time, Savannah annexed southside land and increased the city’s population by 30,000. He sponsored Broughton Street revitalization efforts and oversaw the renovation of the old Central of Georgia railroad station into a visitors center and museum.

Eric Meyerhoff was one of the architects of the River Street plaza, and he knew Rousakis well, eating lunch with him and a colleague every other day for years. “I don’t think in today’s world you could have a mayor like Rousakis, who is easy to talk with and everybody’s friend,” Meyerhoff said. “Things are a lot more political today.”

Source: Savannah Now / Savannah Morning News  quoted in this blog post, including Mayor Rousakis funeral report: Savannah’s longest-serving mayor dead at 71. John Rousakis championed the preservation of downtown, development of City Market and River Street.

More “Greek Savannah” —
B&B Inn Highlights Greek in Savannah: Greek Revival Architecture, Greek Food Festival & Heritage

ABOUT GREEN PALM INN
Featured on Wheel of Fortune, Innkeeper/co-owner Diane McCray Crews touts Green Palm Inn (circa 1897) as “The Softer Side of Savannah”. Originally sea captain cottages, the four-room Gingerbread Classic B&B shares cottage-inn comforts in the quiet of Greene Square’s residential neighborhood in the National Landmark Historic District. Fodor’s guide calls Green Palm Inn a “pleasing little discovery” and “a little gem of an inn”. BedandBreakfast.com named the cottage B&B a top pick for a holiday trip – “Top 10 B&Bs for the Holidays, 2011″. For more information: GreenPalmInn.com; Email GreenPalmInn@aol.com, telephone toll free in USA 888/606-9510, local and international 912/447-8901, 548 East President Street, Savannah, GA USA 31401. Twitter @GreenPalmInn, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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