Photographer Joseph Molitor’s 1952 Trip to Mississippi

To follow up on yesterday’s post regarding Architectural Photographer Joseph W. Molitor, this week is the 59th anniversary of Joseph Molitor’s first trip to Mississippi and what better way to celebrate than to share the buildings he photographed? According to the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library at Columbia University, which has an extensive collection of Molitor’s work, five of the thirty commissions Molitor had in 1952 were in Mississippi.  This first trip to the State was in March and April.

Molitor left Columbia, South Carolina, having photographed a residence there on March 11th, 1952.  His first stop in Mississippi was the Town of Stonewall and on March 15th, 1952 he photographed the Stonewall High School (c. 1951) designed by Meridian architect Bill Archer.

Stonewall High School built c. 1951 Bill Archer, Architect. Photograph Courtesy MDAH

He next traveled to Jackson to photograph three buildings for N. W. Overstreet & Associates.  On March 16th, 1952 the Princess Slipper Shop (c. 1947) at 224 E. Capitol Street was photographed.  While a building still stands on this site Robert K. Overstreet remarked in a letter he wrote to MDAH on May 15th, 1999 that the shop was no longer standing.  On March 17th, 1952 the Patterson Drug Store (c. 1950), still standing at (demolished by Baptist Medical Center April, 2012) 1020 N. State Street, was the focus of Molitor’s camera lens.  The Abstract Office Building (c. ?-Demolished, 1969)  was listed as being photographed on March 19th, 1952.  I have yet to find anything on the Abstract Office Building.  Has anyone ever heard of this building?

Patterson-Bradford Rexall Drug Store built c. 1950 N.W. Overstreet & Associates, Architects

He then took a quick trip to photograph a New Orleans weekend residence designed by New Orleans architects Curtis & Davis on March 28th, 1952.

Molitor finalized his trip through the South & Mississippi with a stop in Natchez on April 3, 1952 to photograph the James T. Canizaro-designed Natchez Auditorium.  I am unfamiliar with this building.  In a 1953 AIA Questionnaire Canizaro lists the Cathedral High School of Natchez as a project completed in ’51-’52. I think this building may have been the “Natchez Auditorium” Molitor photographed.  Any MissPres readers out there know about this structure?

It’s likely that viewing the Molitor Collection at Columbia University’s Avery Library would answer some of these questions. As I dig deeper and learn more I’ll be sure to share it. If you have a memory of any of these buildings please share!  If you pass by any of these buildings this week stop and take a photograph as a salute to Joseph Molitor!

Molitor’s next trip to Mississippi was in 1954, primarily for an article about the architecture scene in Jackson that appeared in the September 1954 issue of Architectural Record–more about that in another post.



Categories: Architectural Research, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Modernism, Natchez, Recent Past

22 replies

  1. The “Natchez Auditorium” makes me think of City Auditorium, but I’d thought that that building was much older. Could it have been renovations to the building? Given its neo-classical style, I wouldn’t think they would have been interested in the building, so perhaps the auditorium referenced might have been at one of the schools. I can’t, however, immediately think of a mid-century school in Natchez, or at least of any which survive to day.

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  2. The City Auditorium was really the only “Auditorium” building I could think of also but it was designed in 1937 by Richard Koch and you’re right it doesn’t fit the bill. The other building that I thought of was the McLaurin Elementary School which might have been under construction in early 1952. But that building was designed by E. L. Malvaney and B.W. Martin, not James Carizano

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  3. The City Auditorium is the only building that rings a bell, but I agree doesn’t seem to fit the bill for the modernist works Molitor seemed to be focusing on. I wonder if the Canizaro firm would be able to shed some light on this?

    That Stonewall school building is a favorite of mine and is still in use as the Stonewall City Hall. I believe it’s a Mississippi Landmark.

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  4. I’m betting that the Abstract Office Building is the Mississippi Valley Title Insurance building behind the police station in downtown Jackson. If it’s not that very same building (which is possibly newer) then it is an older building for that business as abstract in this context likely refers to an abstract of title which “lists all the owners of a piece of land, a house, or a building before it came into possession of the present owner.”

    According to the Downtown Jackson Partners website and a recent article from the Jackson Free Press, this building at 315 Tombigbee Street is currently for sale.

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    • Yes there is a strong possibility it was built for a title company. The building at 315 Tombigbee is a little late (it looks late 60’s early 70’s) and the lot still has occupied houses on it on the 1962 Sanborn maps. Do you know where MS Valley Title Ins was located in the early 1950’s?

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      • According to the Jackson city directories for 1952-53 & 1954, Miss. Valley Title did not yet exist. There were two abstract of title companies, or abstractors:

        Abstract Title & Guaranty Co 349 S Congress
        and
        Lester & Witcher Abstract Co 100 E Pearl R209.

        349 S Congress is now the side of the police station and, if you’ve been to Pearl St. in Jackson lately, you know what it looks like, including 100.

        That’s a great resource at Columbia; thanks for the information!

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  5. Abstract Title & Guaranty Company sounds good!  349 S. Congress did not exist during 1948 according to the Sanborn maps.  But a building is shown there in the 1962 map that might fit the bill.  This building would have come down when the Police Station Addition was built in 1969.
    I’m sure looking at these photos would clear a lot of this up… or open up a whole new level of questions.  I hope someone (maybe MDAH) with more pull than I, could get some high quality scans of Molitor images from Columbia to have archived here in state.

    Glad to share the information!

    here is an image of the rear of the building

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    • As it turns out, Miss. Valley and Abstract Title & Guaranty were one and the same company. I’ve found a tiny rendering of the Overstreet building that I will remit to Malvaney forthwith.

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  6. I found many Molitor photographs in my basement. Who should I speak to about this?

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    • Lucky You! Who to speak with might be dependent on the subject matter of the images. If there are any images that might be Mississippi related I would contact Jennifer Baughn, (jbaughn@mdah.state.ms.us) She is the Chief Architectural Historian for the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History. If the images are of things not associates with Mississippi you might try contacting the Avery Library at Columbia University. The have the large Molitor collection I reference in the article. http://library.columbia.edu/indiv/avery.html

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  7. The Natchez City Auditorium was designed by James T Canizaro and photographed by Molitor. Both the plans and photos will be given to the MSU archives this year.

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    • That is great news to hear about the donation of those plans and the Molitor photograph to MSU! I was unaware that James Canizaro was involved with the Natchez City Auditorium as the MDAH HRI only has been able to document Richard Kochs involvement.

      Do you have any information or insight as to why Joseph Molitor was hired to photograph the Auditorium? In 1952 the 15 year old classical auditorium was drastically different from the brand new modernist structures Molitor had been typically photographing during that trip.

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  8. Tom, speaking for the molitor family we have enjoyed reading about our father/grandfather/husband. Unfortunately we can’t add anything to your post other than to say upon his death all negatives were given to Columbia. He did keep detailed records, which were also given to them. Thank you for the history lesson.

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    • Ms. Molitor, I am very honored you have enjoyed the posts that followed your father/grandfather/husband in his travels through Mississippi. His work must have taken him from home for long periods of time, so I appreciate you all sharing him with us. His work has helped many folks better understand the architecture built in our state during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Do you know if he had a preferred method of travel to get to subject locations, maybe by train or via car?

      I hope to write posts about two more trips that he made and I hope that y’all will check back in with us.

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      • We most definitely will be following your posts, thank you again. As far as preferred travel, I would say car. Occasionally there were train rides, but driving was definitely the preferred mode of transportation. Ironically, when he was younger he enjoyed flying small planes, though I don’t think he ever traveled by plane anywhere.

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  1. Molitor’s Mississippi: February 3, 1954 « Preservation in Mississippi

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