Gulfport Library Meeting

The second public meeting regarding the future of the Gulfport Library was held yesterday in Gulfport. Apparently the county, which seems to have always been more willing to consider keeping the building than the City of Gulfport has, is asking for the parties who are interested in the preservation of the library to put together proposals for its future.  However, and this is a big however, the county made it clear that they have no intention whatsoever of putting a library back into the building, even if it were a branch library (this building was until Katrina the main library for the whole county-wide system). It doesn’t seem like either the county or the city are willing to actually take part in any of these citizen-initiated proposals–citizens are on their own to raise the money, staff the place, and otherwise keep it a going concern.

Here’s some excerpts from the WLOX report on the meeting:

Despite strong views from several sides, there appears some promise, perhaps of compromise regarding the fate of the landmark building.”The board of supervisors is telling you that we will not put a library back at that building. Not that we’re committed necessarily to demolishing the building. That might be in the future. That remains to be seen based on proposals that we get,” supervisor Marlin Ladner told those gathered for the library meeting.

. . .

Supervisor Ladner was responding in part to comments from Debra Peterson, who said the county seemed intent on tearing down the historic building.

“They have given the public no indication that they are willing to negotiate on any fact whatsoever. And that there is no flexibility,” she said.

The citizens group fighting the save the library building presented a proposal calling for a multi-use auditorium on the ground floor and perhaps a small library on the second floor.

“Even it it’s just a small law library or genealogy library. Then put the Joseph T. Jones memorial multi-use auditorium on the bottom, just like these plans say,” said Rosemary Finley, a descendent of the Jones family and a member of “We the People,” the citizens group pushing to save the building.

It’s a Survivor

There are two ways you could define the damaged Gulfport Library building:

1. “This building has been damaged in not one but two hurricanes in the last 40 years.” This seems to be how FEMA, the City, the County, etc. think of it.

2. “This building, unlike thousands of other buildings, has survived two monster hurricanes that hit it almost dead-on.” This is the position of We the People and, of course, me.

Other, newer buildings of steel construction, such as the First Baptist Church a block over, did not survive even one hurricane and there’s no guarantee that any new building constructed in the place of the Gulfport Library would survive either. Furthermore, I haven’t seen any discussion of why it’s inconceivable to insure the current building but completely reasonable to build and insure a new building. The new building would be in the exact same spot, geographically speaking, as the current building, so wouldn’t it be just as susceptible to hurricanes? It’s not as if a new building would be more solidly built–the library is constructed of steel and masonry which is about as sturdy as you can get, and with its large window walls, the first floor can function as a wash-through space–the trendy thing to do now on new construction on the Coast.

Unless these public officials are officially saying that there’s no use building anything new on the beachfront in Gulfport because the insurance is too high and the threat from hurricanes is too much (in which case, why in the world should private investors build there?), then they shouldn’t selectively make those arguments against this one particular building.

Questions That Need Answering

In my opinion, FEMA’s part in this shouldn’t be overlooked. Why isn’t FEMA willing to bend its funding rules for the National Register-eligible Gulfport Library, when they obviously bent them enough to put millions of dollars into the (beautifully done) restoration of historic Beauvoir a few miles up Beach Blvd.? For the record, Beauvoir has been damaged by who-knows-how-many hurricanes over its 160-year lifespan, and it’s of frame (yes, timber-frame, but still not steel and masonry) construction. Will FEMA be helping with repairs to Beauvoir in future storms? Everything I’ve heard about Gulfport Library indicates that FEMA’s threat not to help with the repair of Gulfport Library in the future is a major contributing factor in the county’s decision to demolish it. Has the city or county asked FEMA to clarify the distinction between these two properties when both are considered “historic” and both are “public”? (I won’t get into the fact that Beauvoir is, in fact, owned by a private non-profit organization.)

I want Gulfport/Harrison County to have a main library safe from the constant threat of storms too, but surely there has to be a way that FEMA will fund both the renovation of the library and the building of a new main library north of town (i.e., Orange Grove)? Why are private citizens being told “you’re on your own” when they want to save a public place in their own city? Is We the People’s proposal so ridiculous? Doesn’t Gulfport need a civic meeting space? What is unworkable about having a small specialized library (or research center, if you want to call it that) on the upper floor? The question isn’t why should this building be repaired, but why shouldn’t it? Why don’t the leaders of Gulfport and Harrison County think that it is important to the revitalization of their community to maintain this one public space overlooking Gulfport’s waterfront that every citizen can enjoy? Has public space become such a bad word? And what about the stimulus bill? Other communities are already getting all their paperwork together for large civic projects, why couldn’t this project be funded through that money?

From where I’m standing, these questions haven’t been answered to date because neither the City nor the County nor FEMA are really interested in getting them answered. They have been forced kicking and screaming by the National Preservation Act into participating in public meetings on a topic that is obviously near and dear to at least a good number (maybe or maybe not a majority–I’m not a pollster) of their constituents; but that doesn’t mean they have to like it or allow it to be a real process of discussion and debate or productive in any way. It takes two to tango, and unfortunately, I think we’re missing a partner at this dance.



Categories: Demolition/Abandonment, Gulf Coast, Gulfport, Historic Preservation, Hurricane Katrina, Libraries, National Register, Recent Past

11 replies

  1. That Library is an eyesore and a drain on tax dollars. I was forced to go there many times before the Storm, and noticed in later years that it was used mostly as a place where the homeless could go to get out of the weather. Times are tough and decisions must be made that will make some people unhappy. The cost of keeping that building far outweigh it’s usefulness. I saw a story on TV last night, and every person who was in favor of keeping that run down husk was: 1) affluent, as noted by their manner of dress and speech, and, 2) over 80, which I feel gives them an exaggerated view of the building’s importance and aesthetics. As a life long Coastian, a home owner and tax payer in Gulfport, I say it absolutely has to go, and I will work to make that happen.

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  2. Too bad I can’t wish you well on your demolition mission, but thanks for taking time to offer your perspective. I think it’s a great building–and much sturdier than the flimsy Dryvet-clad structures going up since Katrina–and I am neither 1) affluent, 2) anywhere near 80, or even half of 80, nor 3) homeless.

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  3. Well, like most of the people arguing to keep that unattractive reminder of mid 20th century architecture, you’re arguing apples to oranges. I don’t care what has gone up since Katrina, that property will cost a fortune to insure and maintain. As a taxpayer, my hard earned money can go toward other buildings. Structures of more practical design and surely more aesthetically appealing. Plus, you’re wrong about the new Library building going up in the same spot. The deal is that FEMA is paying for the new building if it is built farther north. If built back in the same spot, FEMA will put a cap on rebuilding and if(when) it ever gets hit again, FEMA will pay nothing. And if, indeed you are less than half of 80 as you claim, you are the first person under 60 whom I’ve seen with a pro-library stance. You must rent. Either that or you don’t understand that those huge sums spoken about with such candor by politicians and the wealthy few who use politics to get what they want, are in fact the taxes that the middle class homeowner pay. Which pays for things like The Stimuls Bill, which in theory will gladly pay for the construction, but it can’t be counted on to continue to pay things like insurance. I love attitudes like this. A truly realistic answer to a fiscal dilemma is proposed, and opponents claim it to be an “attack on public space.” Nothing like buzz words and hot buttons to cloud an issue.

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  4. What do those 30 and younger think of this building? They are the ones who will be using and maintaining and paying for it in the future. They might want a reminder of pre-Camille, pre-Katrina mid-twentieth century architecture…

    And – why would this building cost more to maintain and insure than a new building on the same site?

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  5. And Belinda, monkeys might fly out of my butt. What a useless comment. Unless you have some actual comments from the 30 and under crowd, speculating on what they might say doesn’t pass for an intelligent argument. Or any kind of argument at all. And, again, The new library won’t be in that spot. Maybe you could get acquainted with the actual facts. This business about the city taking the building back is new, less than a week old. Up until then, the city was not making any plans to keep the building. They gave the We The People group a year to find someone else to take it. And again, this new plan to use it came from the Mayor, a 70 year old, affluent man. A man who won’t be paying for it much longer. A man whose closest affiliation with middle class is that some of his staff is middle class. And as a middle class tax payer, again my money is better spent on other things instead of an architectural white elephant that sits in a flood zone. Now if you guys want to buy it and maintain it, be my guest.

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  6. Greg, your debating style seems to rely on personal insult and insinuation instead of anything substantive, and it certainly doesn’t seem designed to win anybody over to your perspective. We get your point that you think the building is crap and that you don’t want the building standing. We also get your point that you don’t intend to engage in any meaningful discussion, much less a respectful one.

    Since you’ve made your point(s) and I’ve made mine and there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to go from here except further insults, I’ve blocked any further comments from you.

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  7. on a more positive note — I ran across nice photos of the library from when it opened.

    http://www.harrison.lib.ms.us/history/history_pics-gmlib_1966.htm

    I suspect that the younger crowd would be appreciative of this building

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  8. It just isn’t the internet without unintelligent, belligerent ranting. Since I am from the under-30 crowd, I cast my vote for preserving the Gulfport Library.

    Belinda, thanks for the great photos. I especially like the spiral stair and the first floor light covers. The light covers seem to borrow from the Organic Architecture of Bruce Goff while the interior columns seem to channel the Textile Block houses of Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles.

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  9. I can’t speak for the under-30 crowd, since I passed that milestone a few years ago, but I know a number of under-40 people, including me, who love the building. The details are what make it interesting to me–the geometrical designs and weaving patterns on various wall surfaces, the spiral stair, the light fixtures–all very cool and sophisticated.

    I do think that this building raises numerous issues, and I know at least a few older preservationists who I respect who don’t really see the point in fighting for it. The group that’s fighting for the building primarily wants to put a library back in the space, and from what I can see, that’s not going to happen. In contrast, while I’d love to see it be a library again, my main concern is the preservation of the building–preferably as a public space of some kind but if not, ok.

    One issue I don’t think the building raises is whether tax dollars should be spent on it. That question should have been asked before Congress appropriated over $4 billion to rebuild the Coast, including rebuilding pretty much the entire length Hwy 90 in Harrison County, which has been destroyed before and will be again, and the two Hwy 90 bridges. If those were worth all that money (my tax dollars) knowing that they will have to be rebuilt again, why not this one building?

    I have heard that some of the public meetings have gotten quite heated, and that some of the We the People folks have let their tempers get the best of them, so that may help put Greg’s comments in context.

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  10. I believe they should tear down this eye-sore and build a brand new library that they call be very proud of. This is like the Pecan Factory in Natchez. No one wanted it, it wasn’t really historical nor did it have any unusual architectual features, but some people were just attached. It doesn’t work for 90% of the other people who aren’t attahced. Get over it!

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