Summer’s heating up as it always does in Mississippi, and as always, we seem surprised by how hot and muggy it all is. Just think, only three or four more months and it will be in the 80s. The heat hasn’t slowed down the forces of good and evil (i.e, preservation and demolition) around the state, so let’s see what’s going on.
This week the full brunt of online subscriptions to newspapers seems to have hit me. I had heard that the Vicksburg Post had clamped down on its previously wide-open site to the extreme of not having any articles available for non-subscribers, just a sentence or two and then you have to click and subscribe to see the rest. But I was surprised to see that the Oxford Eagle, another previous font of information free to you and me, has also gone a similar route. On the one hand, being a newspaper subscriber myself–the old-fashioned kind who actually goes out and picks up the paper from my front yard every morning–I can see that throwing your product up on the internet for free is probably not a sustainable practice for any business. On the other hand, it ticks me off to not be able to see articles I want to see without subscribing to half the newspapers in the state. And of course it’s all about me. Anyway, we’ll soldier on and try to glean what we can from snippets until we come up with something better.
First off, I was rebuked yet again for a major omission in last week’s roundup, this time of the ongoing Spain House controversy in Tupelo. Long-time MissPres readers will remember that this controversy has been brewing since way back last summer, when Cavalry Baptist Church, which bought the two-story Colonial Revival house in 2006 as part of their expansion plan, applied to the city to demolish the house.
Instead the historic preservation commission voted to designate the house as a local landmark, meaning that demolition would require a special permit. I admit I was surprised that the city council backed them up and placed a 6-month moratorium on the whole thing so that options other than demolition could be pursued. In the meantime, the church produced an estimate of $600,000 to renovate the house–which as W. White noted back in April seems well past absurd when you look at the house, which seems in decent repair.
Anyway, bringing us up to a few weeks ago, the church came back after the 6-month period had ended and requested a permit to demolish the house. And according to the still-free-and-open-to-the-public NE Mississippi Daily Journal (which has done a great job covering this case, and has a nice concise archive of links to help newcomers to the issue read past articles about it), the preservation commission denied the demolition request:
The church offered the house to Tupelo at no cost in hopes the city would find it a new location within two years. But the offer stood only if the church could demolish the structure should the city fail to move the house within that time frame.
Commission members denied the demolition request and, while intrigued by the offer, ultimately declined because it left open the possibility of demolition.
The Daily Journal editorial on the day following the denial urges further negotiations and a philanthropic effort to fund moving the house to another site. It also calls Calvary “one of Tupelo’s deeply involved institutional citizens.” Grant that any group of people the size of Cavalry (1900 members) is a large institutional citizen, and grant that I’ve got the perspective of an outsider–reading the articles and the statements made by various Cavalry leaders, they seem to have a pretty dismissive outlook toward any type of municipal authority, and that $600,000 figure they keep pulling up is so close to untruth it might as well be called a lie. Good institutional citizens, especially Christian churches, would play straight up about their needs and wishes and respect the authority that God has placed over them (Romans 13). If they can’t find a use for the house, then they should just say so plainly, not make up numbers to say that it’s too expensive to renovate the house for their use. And when they don’t get their way, they should move on and try to come up with another solution.
I agree with the Daily Journal that negotiations should continue, but it takes two partners who trust each other to negotiate (anyone see 24′s last season?) and little falsehoods like this don’t inspire a lot of trust.
On a brighter note, down Natchez way, Brandon Hall, a spectacular antebellum plantation home right off the Natchez Trace, has sold in what seems to me in record time. Not only does this mean the house will be maintained and loved and preserved, it also will make possible other preservation efforts since the proceeds from the sale will go entirely to the Natchez Historic Foundation. According to the Natchez Democrat (if it goes subscription, I’ll go into withdrawals over the wacky comments I’m missing):
Brandon Hall was donated to the Historic Natchez Foundation on July 15  by the Brandon Hall Foundation, which is administered by the sons of the house’s former owners, the late Stanley and Elke Diefenthal.
. . . .
[Mimi] Miller [Historic Natchez Foundation] said at the top of the list of projects will be maintenance and renovations to the foundation’s headquarters in downtown including renovating an additional meeting room that is available for public use, rewiring computers and telephone systems and general maintenance such as painting and roof repairs.
The new Brandon Hall owners, Ron and Kathy Garber, found the home after their vehicle broke down and caught fire on Hwy 61, just through the woods. When the caretaker came by to see what was wrong, he mentioned that the house was for sale, and things moved along smoothly after that. Congratulations to both the Garbers and the Historic Natchez Foundation!
Speaking of the Historic Natchez Foundation, the Democrat also ran a nice article and editorial about the recent awards received by both the Foundation and long-time Foundation directors Ron and Mimi Miller. At the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s awards ceremony in Natchez back in May, the Foundation received the Organizational Achievement Award in honor of the many successful preservation projects it has completed since its founding in the early 1970s. And the Millers–who I think of as the godfather and godmother of Mississippi preservation, and in a good way, not in a Don Corleone way (unless you tear down a historic building)–won a much-deserved Al and Libby Hollingsworth Lifetime Achievement Award for their many years in the trenches preserving and researching and documenting the rich history of the Natchez region.
Here’s what the Democrat editorial had to say:
The Millers are the faces and brains behind so much of Natchez’s great historic preservation work.
They’re so widely well-known in Natchez that city leaders often know they’d best check with the experts before embarking in a new venture. The Millers, the Historic Natchez Foundation and Natchez’s historic preservation are so intertwined, imagining one without the other is difficult, at best.
Congratulations to everyone involved in preserving and maintaining that wonderful, wacky, richly varied place called Natchez.
Picking back up the Carrollton preservation controversy, where a local alderman, Gary Bankston, began adding a two-story metal building to his property within the local historic district without getting a permit, the Greenwood Commonwealth has done a good job of keeping us updated on this story. On Monday, the preservation commission met to review the alderman’s request and voted to require Bankston to remove what is already constructed of the second story, leaving the first story intact, and erect an 8-foot fence to shield the building and the rest of his wrecker yard from the street. This seems like a reasonable compromise, especially given that work had already begun without a permit and technically the commission had the right to require it all be torn down.
Afterward, Bankston said he would build the fence, but he wouldn’t be taking down his addition. He claims the 2002 ordinance which delegates to the Historic Preservation Committee the authority to regulate major modifications to property within the town is invalid.
. . . .
If he’s right, the town should fix the technical omissions and, while it’s at it, give the Historic Preservation Committee some muscle. One of the problems with the existing ordinance is that the Historic Preservation Committee is powerless to make a non-compliant property owner do anything. It has to rely on the Board of Alderman, which in this case has an obvious conflict-of-interest, for any enforcement power.
You can knock me over with a feather whenever I read an editorial in a Mississippi paper saying thinks like “give the preservation commission some muscle.” Preach it, brother!
In Oxford, according to a little non-subscriber snippet:
Lafayette County supervisors are giving Lloyd Larish, master clockmaker, a few more days to finish the work he started on the Lafayette County Courthouse before searching for someone else to complete the job.
As you may recall from the February 26, 2010 roundup, this clockmaker has been given several deadlines and has missed them all. I think he’s been working on this clock since 2007, if I remember right. Finish up already, guy!
Three builders are expected to bid on work to repair cracks and re-anchor beams above two support structures on the U.S. 80 bridge over the Mississippi River.
Which means that the twin spans at Vicksburg will be standing as landmarks hopefully for a lot longer than the doomed bridge at Greenville.
And last but not least, a nice story out of the Dixie community south of Hattiesburg, where residents have banded together to clean up and maintain an abandoned historic cemetery that contains a number of Confederate graves.