What’s going on at the Naval Reserve Center?

Well, I’ve been in denial about the Naval Reserve Center and the tales of partial demolition for an MDAH records center.

  • For one thing, the project made no sense from an economic perspective: why would you spend $4 million to build an elevated metal warehouse in a flood plain when there are plenty of non-elevated metal warehouses sitting around in non-flood plains.
  • An ominous dumpster has appeared at the Naval Reserve Center

    Second, knowing several archivists, I couldn’t imagine any archivist even conceiving of a plan to build an archival facility in a flood plain. After all, even if you elevate the building higher than the last big flood (1979), who’s to say the next flood won’t be a couple feet higher? For a too-close-to-home example of the folly of such planning, see the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library down at Beauvoir, opened to much fanfare in the late 1990s, and built above Hurricane Camille’s surge line–who could imagine any surge being higher than Camille? Katrina took out the first floor of the library, washing straight through to the bayou behind the building and taking with it many invaluable and irreplaceable artifacts. At least in the case of the library, Beauvoir doesn’t exactly have much choice in site locations, so you can hardly fault the planning process. That isn’t the case here.

  • Third, from a preservation standpoint, I just couldn’t imagine the state’s preservation agency making the decision to demolish a very large original section, albeit a rear section, of a National-Register listed property.

Unfortunately, none of the above logic has stopped this project, as I noticed this week, when a large dumpster appeared in front of the building. This after hearing reports about an e-mail circulated to MDAH staff regarding the upcoming project and describing Phase I of the project as involving

the demolition of most of the three wings behind the Naval Reserve building proper (the “boat”), the construction of a large storage building (approx. 16,904 gross sq. ft.) in place of the demolished structures, the construction of associated drives and parking areas, and the restoration of the exterior of the “boat.”

As I understand the project, from sources who have seen the plans, most of the three rear wings (original to the structure, although not of the same architectural quality of the front) will be demolished, except for the drill hall in the center wing. Those of you who attended MHT’s 2003 Ten Most Endangered Unveiling in the building will remember this drill hall space as the center of that event (along with the rain pouring in through the leaky roof).

In place of these rear wings, a large metal building will be attached to and possibly encompass the drill hall (I’m not clear on the exact footprint). This metal building, which will be the actual records center–not the front “boat” section–will have to be elevated to about 6-8 feet above the ground,  meaning that even if the rest of the building were the height of a normal building’s single story, the roof would be roughly level with the front section. Problem is, the part of the building above the elevated section is a warehouse, not a normal-height building, so it will be taller than the front section. How tall? Not sure, but I’ve been told it’s not a few inches but a good number of feet taller.

Depending on how tall this monolithic structure is, it could dwarf the much-beloved front section and diminish the view of the Old Capitol, seen by thousands of commuters and visitors to the city every day as they enter on the Pearl Street exit or drive past on Jefferson Street near the fairgrounds.

I wish I knew who to blame for this project, who to put on my Wall of Shame, but I don’t. I want to blame MDAH, because it’s their record center. Maybe I’m too loathe to blame them. But no one I’ve talked to, even those at pretty high levels at MDAH, claims to like this project. Given that, why is it going forward? Or more accurately, why is it speeding forward when other more deserving and more logical projects, like the old GM&O depot, continue to sit deteriorating even though there is a good use for the building–offices for MDAH’s museum division, homeless since Katrina. Is the Dept. of Finance and Administration/Bureau of Buildings pushing the project? If so, with what motive? Is there some legislative or political maneuvering behind the scenes? Again, what is the motive?

Maybe I should just put all of the above on the Wall.

Or maybe I shouldn’t put any of the above on the Wall. I’ve heard people I have some respect for say that this might be the last chance for the front part of the building–that if this partial demolition project doesn’t move forward, the fate of the building will be complete demolition. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not–I lost my power to tell the future when my spaceship crashed into Earth. There’s no denying that the building, abandoned for almost a decade and not well-maintained by the Navy before that, is in bad shape, leaking like a sieve, pieces of plywood facade popping off, etc. Possibly I could buy the argument a little more easily if the back warehouse section doesn’t turn out as tall as I’ve been led to expect.

But I still go back to the “is it ok for the state’s preservation agency to tear down most of a National Register-listed building in order to save the front section?”–that question will stick in my craw for a long time to come.

What say you, MissPres readers? Wall of Shame-worthy or acceptable compromise?

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Categories: Cool Old Places, Demolition/Abandonment, Historic Preservation, Jackson, National Trust, Renovation Projects

17 replies

  1. As usual, your post left me wanting more information and doing a lot of searching. Edward Albee once said about his plays that he wanted people to leave the theatre thinking about more than where they parked their car. You get the Edward Albee award. I recalled that the NRC in the Texas town where I lived had a similar design to Jackson’s; unfortunately, it has been demolished and even the hill on which it was located has been razed. There are similar designs in NRC’s in other areas and in looking at the uses those communities have made of their old facilities, I ran across something called WPA Moderne (or Modern, depending on who is describing it), describing the style of architecture that emerged from many of the WPA projects. I think a segment on WPA Moderne would be interesting.

    Related to WPA, there is a project out of UCLA’s CityLAB project, Working Public Architecture. It was inspired by the historic WPA and the recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. You can see more about the project at http://wpa2.aud.ucla.edu/info/index.php?/about/about/


  2. While I’m relieved that the architecturally significant front portion of the building is being saved, I’m totally with you about the new rear portion being a possible monster which could obliterate the historic significance of that which remains. Obstructing the view of the Old Capitol also doesn’t make much sense. As for building a records warehouse in a flood plain, this is beyond credulity. is there any way to halt the fast-moving process for public input? As with the convention center hotel project, it seems that the decisions have been made behind closed doors and that the opinion of the public at large is simply unwelcome.


    • On the topic of the convention center project, which I don’t necessarily oppose but don’t necessarily support either, did you notice this article in the July 5 Clarion-Ledger? “City backs developer on faith: Little known about firm behind $200M deal


      • Good luck trying to find out anything about the “faith” developer. Three of the projects listed on his website have yet to be built apparently. The only one that has been (an apartment complex) has poor ratings. He is listed as one of 5 other companies on an 2001 office complex in Dallas, though not as either of the two architects. It is not clear what his role was in the building. His business report shows annual revenue of $500,00-$1 million and a staff of 1-4. I can’t seem to turn up anything on him other than his own website and the recent spate of news about him in Jackson.


      • This is very disturbing. Of all the things we should have learned from the recent building bubble, plans that seem to be “too good to be true” probably are. I’m increasingly dubious that this project is a good idea, at least in its current incarnation.


  3. Who has some good 1979 Easter flood photos of this area? Sometimes a picture is worth 1000 words – especially in making an impression on someone who is not following verbal logic.


  4. That’s a great point, Kathleen (although I do believe, Tom, it’s too late to stop this train). Here’s a picture on the City of Jackson’s own webpage that shows the Naval Reserve in the background. It’s hard to tell because the picture can’t be made any larger and because of the reflectivity of the water, but it looks to me like the water is at least halfway up and possibly mostly up the 1st floor: http://www.city.jackson.ms.us/government/publicworks/floodplain.

    This broader picture of the whole fairgrounds area is less detailed about the Naval Reserve, but still gives a good understanding of what was happening: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/images/jan/Weather_Events/1979_04_17/79_flood13.jpg


  5. It seems that this could invite charges of hypocrisy. However, in what fora would they be voiced? My experience has indicated that the primary private organizations for history and preservation in the state–MHS and MHT– are largely designed to placate, motivate, and amuse constituencies–not to provide venues for constructive criticism. Perhaps we can deduce the reason for that.


  6. I think that the largest error in logic here, is assuming that the individuals responsible for this are logical people. I honestly believe that many of the bureaucratic peons responsible for this would erect a marker to hallow the spot where Robert E. Lee dropped his wallet one day; but when it comes to truly artistic things they could care less. The Naval Reserve Center, the National Guard Armory, the GM&O depot, all things that have defined us in spite of, not because of, the Civil War are being ignored until they go away. However, let some anthropology student find a petrified hardtack crumb on on the remains of some brick stoop in a field in Raymond. The next thing you know the whole house has been researched and resurrected right down to the spittoons. Most of the time it appears to me that the official policy is to let state treasures rot until they are so far gone that the excuse becomes, “Well they’re just too far gone.”


  7. I’ll agree with the “too far gone” excuse as I’ve heard it many times. It’s similar to a politician who’s been in office for 12 years complaining about how things need to change–well, why haven’t you changed them in the time you’ve had?

    As for the emphasis on the Civil War and almost-disdain for the 20th-century–also have to agree, but in this case, I think the blame can be shared by both officials and regular citizenry. Yes the officials should be leading people to appreciate the 20th-century history of the state, but on the other hand, those antebellum/Civil War sites are the ones people flock to, both locals and people from out-of-state. My hope is that the few 20th-century sites we do have–Welty House, Medgar Evers House, etc.–will begin to be interpreted as more than just “this famous person’s house” to help people appreciate the non-antebellum architecture and material culture displayed in the houses. So far, I don’t see that appreciation happening at either the official or visitor level.

    btw, where did R.E. Lee drop his wallet? I sense another heritage tourism spot! :-)


  8. I can almost see the marker…”Near this site, General Robert E. Lee dropped his wallet…”


  9. Well you see the facts surrounding the wallet are a lessor known part of a wideley known story. One day a young infantryman approached Lee just before a battle and asked him for his help. When General Lee inquired what he could help with he replied, “Well sir, I’m all out of tobacco. Do you suppose you could lend me a chew?” As everyone knows, Lee neither smoked nor chewed. The story further states that he made sure the young infantryman got a chew, but what they don’t tell you is this. Lee’s aide was out attempting to aquire much needed supplies so Lee ran to the quickie mart to get some Red Man, at that point he dropped his wallet. So, there you have it, and remember, you heard it here first.


  10. Was this a cool Modernist quickie mart or a Greek Revival quickie mart? if the former, let’s tear off chunks of it and put a records center there; if the latter, we need to turn it into a museum ASAP!

    Secondly, this story is much too long to fit on a historic marker. Please cut it down to the bare minimum, eliminating all adverbs, adjectives, pronouns, connecting words, etc.


  11. Now that’s not right; Modernist quickie marts also make great dry cleaner outlets and wing restaurants. And my daughter informs me that one only finds Greek Revival quickie marts in Madison.


  12. Drat!!! Wesley was still logged in; that was me!


  13. Oh, are those classified as Greek Revival? I never knew . . . .

    Drat that Wesley!


  14. Postmodern with Greek Revival ornament? There’s gotta be a better way.


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