MissPres News Roundup 2-12-2010

Can we hope for a snowy Friday? Or better yet, a snowed-in Friday when I can rise from my bed, take a peek out the window to assess the state of the streets, and decide that the wisest course of action would really be to just go back to bed? We shall see.

We missed last week’s news roundup, caught up as we were in the excitement of the Name This Place contest, so let’s just jump right into the newsy events of the last weeks.

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We’ll start off with a happy article from the Brookhaven Daily-Leader, “Community awaits teen center reopening.” As you may recall from the National Register posts back in December, the Alexander Teen Center was listed on the Register last year, for its significance in the social life of Brookhaven’s African American community. According to the recent Daily-Leader article:

Touch-up work is about all that remains before the first phase of restoration at the teen center is complete. CAFÉ A+ President Steven Keys, who has worked tirelessly on the building for years, said he hopes to have the building available for community functions and after-school programs by spring or early summer.

The more than 60-year-old building was boarded up and abandoned by the Brookhaven School District in 2002, but in the last two years Keys and his organization have replaced the gym floor, front doors and upstairs bathrooms and upgraded fixtures, plumbing and electrical work. So far, around $24,000 has been put into the center, which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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Another item out of Brookhaven is not so happy, involving as it does the continued threats to move the Mississippi School for the Arts from its home at the historic Whitworth College campus to the Mississippi University for Women campus, where the School for the Math and Sciences is located. This is touted as a cost-saving measure, and I’ll let the editorial “Costs make MSA move unjustified” from the Daily-Leader argue against that. As a preservationist, however, I cheered to see this beautiful campus find a new use a decade ago, and one so fitted to the purpose. If I were a young artsy type, I would love to wander around this small campus right on the edge of a vibrant downtown–the architecture on and around the campus is amazing for such a small town. I’m a big fan of fiscal discipline, but I’m rooting for MSA to survive and thrive in its Brookhaven location.

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Lamar County Courthouse renovations underway” announces the Clarion-Ledger (or is it the Hattiesburg American, or are they the same now?):

Step-by-step, the long-term, $4 million project to restore the historic Lamar County Courthouse to its once stately status is moving forward.

Recently, the three-story structure was poked, prodded and probed by a group led by historical architect Robert Parker Adams to divine the building’s roots before asbestos removal and interior demolition begin.

. . . .

“When we originally committed to doing this, we knew that we’d be easing into it because of the cost of it,” District 1 Supervisor Mike Backstrom said. “I have mixed emotions about the whole thing, to be honest.

“There’s a lot of history in that old building, so as a historic site, you want to see that protected and preserved.

“But at the same, you want to be good stewards of your citizens’ tax dollars, and for what this is going to cost, we could probably get a new building twice that size for the same price.”

This poor building has been through the ringer in the last few decades of its existence, with haphazard repairs and indignities such as a Pizza Hut red roof forced upon it, so even though the last sentence by Mr. Backstrom expresses ambivalence, I still see that as progress. Built in 1905 and designed by P.H. Weathers (who was also responsible for the once very similar Marion County Courthouse) the Lamar courthouse was remodeled in 1934 by Gulfport architect Vinson B. Smith after a tornado damaged the building. Smith removed the tower and altered the portico with Art Deco abstracted detailing. My understanding is that the portico and the 1950s additions will be retained, but that a general re-thinking of circulation patterns, removing damaging window units and pipes that have been cut into the brick, and other measures to help the building thrive again will be part of this rehab.

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Here’s a fine mess down in Hattiesburg, where somebody screwed up big-time with the design of the roof at National Register-listed Eaton School, built in 1905 and designed by local architect Robert E. Lee (Hattiesburg is blessed with a number of fine early twentieth-century schools). The school has been abandoned for a while, and the roof had deteriorated so badly that the entire roof structure needed to be rebuilt. MDAH ponied up some money for the project–yay! So . . . according to “Forgotten Repairs,” the contractor takes off the roof and orders the trusses, and when they go up on the building, it’s clear that the trusses are much lower than the original roof slope.

Since then the interior of the derelict building has been vulnerable to Mother Nature sans a roof or any kind of protective covering. And the situation has really gotten under the skin of Councilwoman Deborah Denard Delgado.

. . . .

As for the immediate concerns over the roofing, Delgado added, “Wednesday I want to see them back up there getting the top on the building. It just doesn’t make sense that you continue to let a building take that kind of water damage.”

This is the stuff that makes you want to scream. Also read the follow-up letter to the editor from Sarah Newton of Albert & Associates, Architects (not the architects who made the disastrous mistake), “Resolve issue before more school damage.”

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Ceres Plantation has been in the news recently, so I wandered over there on what seems like the last sunny day to check it out. It’s right on the north side of I-20 before you get to Vicksburg, and it’s easy to just drive up and take pictures. As you recall, the property is owned by the Warren County Port Commission, which has decided that it really needs this particular piece of land, even though I observed a number of large open spaces and actual vacant buildings at the industrial park. The main house is an antebellum galleried cottage with wings added in the 1970s, and there are two nice barns you can see from the interstate, both probably from the early 1900s.

Since there seems to be public sentiment to save the place, the Port Commission has been treading somewhat carefully, stating a few weeks ago that they wanted to have the house moved off the property but leave the barns in place. In today’s version, however, the barns will be demolished, which I–admittedly given to suspicion–suspect was the plan all along. Anyway, according to Wednesday’s Vicksburg Post, the Port Commission has received three proposals in response to its request, and they will review them at their “next meeting.”

I leave you with a few pictures from my recent fact-finding mission, and the thought that Ceres, however altered the main house may or may not be, has an integrity and a sense of place to it that is special regardless of what the National Register might or might not have to say about it. One by one, these kinds of places disappear, and at some point, we’ll look around and wonder what happened.



Categories: African American History, Brookhaven, Cool Old Places, Courthouses, Hattiesburg, News Roundups, Purvis, Renovation Projects, Schools, Universities/Colleges

6 replies

  1. Ceres does seem to have that historical “stuff” that the National Register usually likes. The wings probably have something to do with their opinion, though they fit in with the old house do a degree.

    I know I am about to say what many in the South consider blasphemous but industrial parks do not work; they are boondoggles whose economic unsoundness are determined only by the ambition of local elected officials. The more ambition, the less economically wise the industrial park is. Also keep in mind that while Mississippi is moving towards industry (the secondary sector of the economy), much of the country is moving towards the conceptual (the quaternary sector).

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  2. The wings don’t offend me. They aren’t over-scaled, and the core building is still obvious.

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  3. Any news on Ceres?

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  4. I haven’t heard anything more since the Port Commission voted to table to demolition issue a while back. My own opinion is I think they got an earful from the Vicksburg community last year and are hesitant to proceed. The fact that they have no actual plan for anything on the property, and the even more glaring fact that their “industrial park” is half vacant, makes the issue even more sticky for them. Meanwhile, I see that De Reul, champion of saving Ceres is running for county supervisor. Not sure of the politics of all that, or if she has a chance, but it’s interesting.

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  5. While visiting Vicksburg, an article in the post (April 17, 2012) lists the demolishion bids for Ceres. It seems as if there is no hope. Instead of Vicksburg being the red carpet of the south… it is the land of “if it is a hill bulldoze it – if it’s old, tear it down…” The article states that the commissioners will meet next month to award the job (of tearing down Ceres and all out builings)

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