MissPres News Roundup 4-10-2010

I have not had the time to sift through newspapers, thanks to end of the semester work, merely search online. Since there is a lot of important preservation news in the major communities, I have been able to pull together a fairly long post.

And here is the news.

In Bay St. Louis, the Scafidi House is being renovated to house the Bay St. Louis Little Theater as the to be rechristened John F. Homes Playhouse. This excerpt from the March 31 edition of The Sea Coast Echo should explain some of this commercial building’s history.

“Much of the building’s history now is shrouded by the mysteries of time, but it is said to have been built by Andreas Scafidi, an Italian immigrant, farmer, and merchant. He and his workers hand-crafted the stout exterior blocks for the building. He and his family lived upstairs and Scafidi operated a retail business on the first floor.

Some say it was a grocery. Others say it was something else. At any rate, “he had some sort of store there,” said Scafidi’s grandson, retired Bay St. Louis attorney John Scafidi.

Estimates vary on the exact year of original construction. Scafidi believes the structure was built around 1920. Grace believes it was built in 1929, and the Hancock County Historical Society pegs the construction year at 1916.

The building no doubt served varied purposes since its beginning, but those, too, seem lost to time. “I can’t remember anybody doing much of anything in that building,” said John Scafidi.

It is known that at one point, the place became a bottling plant for a popular soft drink called “Dr. Nut,” produced by the ambitiously-named World Bottling Co., of New Orleans.

The concoction, which faded from production many years ago, had an almond flavor not unlike the liquor, Amaretto. Bottles of Dr. Nut were decorated with a label showing a squirrel nibbling on a nut.

But the Scafidi Building’s larger fame came in 1966, when exterior shots of the building center-pieced “This Property Is Condemned,” a movie starring Robert Redford, Natalie Wood, Charles Bronson, and others. Francis Ford Coppola and two other screen writers adapted their movie version from a one-act play by Tennessee Williams.”

I had no idea about Bay St. Louis’s piece of cinematic glory. I might have to track down a copy of This Property is Condemned to view a pre-Katrina, pre-Camille Bay St. Louis.

The Sun-Herald published the article “Grass Lawn on hold” on Wednesday, April 7. Grasslawn was a historic Gulfport mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and constructed in 1836, that Hurricane Katrina destroyed. The City of Gulfport maintains a page, though outdated, on Grasslawn. The subtitle of this article should convey the gist of the story, “Flaws discovered in reconstruction of landmark.” I will let you, the informed reading public, decide but upon reading the article I can only say that someone F***ed up.

A small article in The Sun-Herald entitled “Historical designation for Oldsfield tabled” states that “The City Council tabled a request by Leonard Fuller, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, to designate Oldsfield [sic] as a historic landmark.”­ Not to nitpick the article’s author but the house is correctly known as Oldfields, also as the Lewis House. It was constructed in 1845, occupied by Union forces in 1864, and was Walter Anderson’s home during the 1940s. Some places wish they possessed half as much history as Gautier, where Oldfields is located, designate it.

The Oxford Eagle reports that a gospel concert will be held April 23 at the Gertrude Ford Performing Arts Center in Oxford to benefit the Burns-Belfry Heritage Cultural Center. The article reports that the Burns-Belfry Center is the oldest African American structure in Oxford. According to information found elsewhere online, the Burns-Belfry Heritage Cultural Center was constructed in 1910 as the Burns United Methodist Church. The church building on Jackson Avenue stopped functioning as a church in 1974, later becoming a law office. It was at some point later that John Grisham purchased the structure from another local attorney, using the former church as his law office. He renamed it the Belfry but had no use for the structure after he moved to Virginia. Thankfully, Grisham donated the church building to the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation for its preservation.

The Oxford Eagle reported on April 7 that Cedar Oaks Plantation officially became city property on Tuesday, April 6. Also of note is that The Oxford Eagle is now a subscription website. I will do a more thorough write-up when I have access to a physical paper. The Cedar Oaks issue has been floating around for several months. I will include the back story on Cedar Oaks in the next News Roundup.

According to Tippah360, the Tippah County Jail in Ripley, featured in Malvaney’s “From the Archives: 1940 Overstreet Interview” post, is currently being renovated to house the Tippah County Historical Society’s archives and other early records. The Tippah360 article “Old jail renovations will help protect records, serve public” is riddled with errors as if they are an infectious disease but contains an interesting fact, stating that the jail annex to the 1938 Overstreet structure was part of the previous 1870s jail. The 1870s section, according to Tippah County Development Foundation (TCDF) Director Duane Bullard was “pretty junky” and was demolished in mid-March. The annex was also demolished “in order to keep the format in line with the building’s 1928 [sic] structure.” An article from eight months ago can provide background information on the project. And perhaps it (or something else) can distract me from the fact that one of the oldest jail buildings in Mississippi (even if only a partial section) has been demolished. Perhaps someone will comment on how many 1870s or earlier jails are extant in Mississippi.

Some news out of Tupelo about the Spain House, as according to the April 9 article on NEMS360 (also known as The Daily Journal), the City of Tupelo might take ownership of the Spain House and relocate it to a vacant, municipally-owned lot. It is not ideal for a historic structure to be moved; yet, it is a better solution than demolition. Another thing to consider is that houses moved frequently before power lines and cheap construction methods made it cost prohibitive. Thankfully the City of Tupelo appears to have officials that are not insane yahoos like some of the online article’s commenters. Also, this is the first article on the Spain House to include a photograph, which shows a house that does not look as if it needs $600,000 in renovations.

The Ceres saga continues. Thursday’s (April 8) Vicksburg Post states that the MDAH has taken up the issue of Ceres Plantation. The question now is whether Ceres will be landmarked by the MDAH. This article, unlike previous Vicksburg Post articles, includes several positive views on whether the house should be preserved. As people who have followed the Ceres saga will attest, The Vicksburg Post has straddled the fence at best on whether Ceres should be preserved; at worst, they have suggested Ceres unworthy of preservation.

The Vicksburg Post reported on Saturday, March 27 and Wednesday, March 31 about the removal of 707-713 Clay St. in Vicksburg. These buildings collapsed in 2006, since that time, various parties have wrangled over whether to reconstruct the 140-year-old commercial structures or demolish the substantial remnants. The buildings are currently being deconstructed; the site will likely be left vacant. The news articles deal with the deconstruction of the party wall between 707 Clay St. and 1221 Washington St., which is the former First Federal Savings and Loan Building. I will let the photographs of 1221 Washington illustrate why the owner might be enraged at the party wall’s deconstruction.

707-713 Clay St. in Vicksburg.



Categories: African American History, Bay St. Louis, Churches, Demolition/Abandonment, Gautier, Gulf Coast, Gulfport, Hurricane Katrina, Jails, News Roundups, Oxford, Ripley, Tupelo, Vicksburg

4 replies

  1. I personally enjoyed Grasslawn’s website that states that it is listed on the “National Registry of Historical Structures,” and spells the name of the home two different ways on their own website.

    Where do you sign up to work for the “Department of Leisure Services?” Can you really say you work in Leisure?

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  2. W, I missed this the first time, but wanted to agree with you on the Tippah County Jail issue. It was very unfortunate to have that rear section demolished–articles kept calling an addition, when in fact the front part was the “addition.” Very few 19th-century jails remain in the state: Madison County Jail in Canton, Noxubee County in Macon; the tiny Webster County Jail in Walthall; Adams County in Natchez; Carollton’s jail–those are the ones that come to mind.

    I will say that the old Tippah County Jail was not “intact” to its 19th-century appearance–when Overstreet and Town put on the front addition, they tore off the upper story of the two-story jail, made it one story, put on a flat reinforced concrete roof, and rendered the exterior with stucco to make it match the front part. Unfortunately, the roof was not maintained and the reinforcing metal had rusted and caused a pretty major roof problem that could only be addressed by removing the entire roof, which really wasn’t feasible given that the brick walls were themselves cracking. So, I saw all that to say I wish the local people had been more interested in the “original” jail section and not referred to it in such disparaging terms, but I also am not sure that it could have been saved without massive efforts. It’s one of those preservation conundrums.

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  1. Bay St. Louis Theater Receives Award | Preservation in Mississippi

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