Salt of the City: Omar El-Khalidi

Omar El-Khalidi. Photo by Christine Hall

Omar El-Khalidi lives in a 1927 Craftsman Foursquare on an idyllic street in Ardsley Park with his wife Holley, a menagerie of goldfish and wild birds, a leopard tortoise, a desert tortoise, a Kenyan sand boa, and the makings of too many hobbies to count—for starters, a collection of Tiffany-esque lamps crafted from thin-planed wood he encapsulates in glass.

By day, Omar runs Sterling Builders & Restoration, the preservation and conservation company he started in 1986, three years after he relocated from San Francisco. “I was there with my punk band trying to make it big,” he says. “That didn’t work out, so I came to Savannah for about a month to see my brother [Southern Pine Company owner Ramsey Khalidi]. I fell in love with the city, and 35 years later I’m still here.” By now, he counts almost every local house museum and historical site of record among his clients. “Not the Green-Meldrim House,” he’s quick to point out. “I’m still waiting for that one.”

He’s as concerned as anyone about the global impact of tourism, rattling off a list of threatened sites worldwide —Florence, Venice, the Seychelles, the Galápagos Islands, New Orleans … and Savannah. “There’s a tipping point,” he says, “and we have to hold the line. Savannah’s a beautiful city, unique in all the world. We have to protect that.”

The Sterling team is currently updating the auxiliary systems at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. He wondered why he was exhausted, so he got a step-counter. “Three and a half miles a day,” he says, “Up and down those stairs.”

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