If you’re not into “March Madness” (or if the bracket you filled out for the office pool was shot after the first round), don’t forget that MissPres has our own version going on with the latest voting round to whittle our suggestions list down to the final 101 “Must See” Mississippi Places.
There’s a lot of news to get through this roundup – Let’s get the worst of it out of the way first:
The sole headline of “Demolition” in the Cleveland Current caught my eye and made me hear those ominous opening notes to the Jaws theme as I clicked to read the bad news. The Cleveland School District is moving forward with plans to demolish part of the H.M. Nailor Elementary School. This unfortunate project has been over a year in the making – and one that we have followed on MissPres. W. White commented on it in his first News Roundup last year, Malvaney followed up with another roundup (and visit) later that summer and noted at the end of the year that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History considered the school for Mississippi Landmark status, but did not grant the designation.
More news on the ongoing battle over the Fondren Strip in Jackson. The Clarion Ledger ran a story about the online petition in opposition to the proposed “Whitney Place” development by David Watkins. Unfortunately, the headline makes the preservationists the black hats in the conflict by saying “Foes want area saved.” In the article, the supporters of the petition are painted as preventing development when the writer calls the ongoing talks a “clash between the preservationists and the agents of progress.”
Despite the Clarion Ledger setting up preservationists in the (unfortunately) familiar position as the “bad guys” in this debate, both sides appear positive that they can come to an agreeable arrangement. The Watkins’ group claims to be looking to create alternate plans that might be more appealing to the local residents who support saving the strip.
Another story on the strip appeared in the Northside Sun. Although not labeled as such, it reads like an editorial by a local who grew up in the Fondren area. While he remembers the area fondly (at least, those businesses that would have held a young boy’s attention), he closes by very clearly stating his point: “the Capri is truly worth saving for its history and use to the community, but new development has a better chance of bringing my old neighborhood back, as the home of my youth looks real sad.”
What the Clarion Ledger and Northside Sun articles both show is that the “Save Our Strip” group is NOT against some new development in the area – they just don’t want it to come at the expense of the existing character of the neighborhood. Part of this character comes from the Strip. If the preservationists fail and the strip is lost, there will be a lot of people who lament how Whitney Place destroyed what they loved about Fondren. Of course, I’m knocking on all the wood I can find because I really want the grassroots group to succeed.
Down in Hattiesburg, the American asked “Whatever Happened to Officials Plans to Demolish Eaton School?” Eaton School is one of the properties we at MissPress have followed for a while. About a year ago, Malvaney posted a breakdown of the situation, complete with links to previous news stories. There have been a couple of follow-up stories since then – in June and July – but we haven’t heard anything lately. The last stories indicated some interest by the City in demolishing the building because they claim damages were too severe and too costly to repair, but this latest article in the local paper actually said that the city had applied to MDAH for a demolition permit.
I don’t think any of us have to be Carnac the Magnificent to know that Nailor School, the Fondren Strip and Eaton School are all topics that will continue to be on the MissPres radar. As usual, any updates will be here on MissPres.
Shifting into more “neutral” rather than bad news and heading over Meridian way, the Star reports that the city has taken plans to renovate the Sears Building (on 22nd Avenue) off the table. The planned renovations, a proposed joint effort with the county, would have turned the 88,000 square foot into the county sheriff’s department, juvenile detention center, and drug court along with the city police department. According to Mayor Cheri Barry, county supervisors have told her they cannot financially support such a plan. Without the county support, the Mayor does not believe the city can afford to do the renovations just to house the city police station. While they look for alternative solutions for their law enforcement needs, I hope they are also considering what can and should be done for the Sears Building as well.
Some monuments and markers have made the news around this state in recent weeks.
Down in Natchez, there had been some debate in the community about moving the Rhythm Night Club memorial from its current location on the bluff to the club’s original site on St. Catherine Street. From the story, it appears that the concern is that the location of the monument raises too many questions from tourists who see the memorial and wonder where the original site was. If you recall from a November news roundup, there is now a privately run museum on the original site. After some discussion, it was determined that the 70-year-old monument would not survive a move and so it will stay where it is.
A followup editorial on the short-lived discussion offered an interesting suggestion. The author posed the idea of a “footnote” of some sort to the monument. The writer agreed that using city money to move the monument from a public space to a private space would not have been wise, but thinks that some kind of sign near the memorial mapping the original site would help tourists know where the site was in relation to where the monument is. I’d bet that the museum might help cover some of the cost of producing such a sign since it would likely direct more visitors to their collection.
Up in Clarksdale, the community unveiled a state historic marker in front of the original synagogue on Delta Avenue. The Press Register story does not indicate when the original Temple Beth Israel was constructed, but did say that in 1929, the congregation moved to a new location in town and that the building was converted into commercials space – which it apparently still is. Someone with better eyes than me might be able to make out the date in the picture of the marker. If you can, or if you happen to know the date of the building’s construction without the aid of the photo, please share it with the rest of us.
Staying up in Clarksdale, the Press Register also reports that officials at the Delta Blues Museum held a groundbreaking ceremony to add a $1.4 million expansion to the existing 5,000 square foot property. This new wing will be named for Muddy Waters and one of the permanent exhibits planned will be “the remains” of the Stovall Farms cabin where the blues legend grew up. The project is scheduled to be completed in October.
Members of the Jackson County Historical and Genealogical Society have eagerly been awaiting reports from archeologists who have been unearthing artifacts around the La Poine-Krebs House down in Pascagoula. A story on gulflive.com announced a public meeting last week where the project lead was to share some the report information and would plan to have some of the artifacts on display at the meeting. The house itself is undergoing restoration with plans to be a functioning museum. Artifacts from the archeological dig will be among the museum’s exhibits.
One more museum story – this time from Columbus. The Dispatch reports that the Tennessee Williams Home Welcome Center and Museum received a gift of furniture from that once belonged to Edwina Dakin Williams, Tennessee Williams’ mother. The donation came from the playwright’s niece. No mention of where in the house the furniture will be placed, but I’m sure that the collection is a welcome addition to the museum – which has been undergoing renovations.
The Columbus Distpatch, the Natchez Democrat and the Laurel Leader-Call all ran Pilgrimage stories since the last round up. The Columbus story is about how the local Air Force families are involved in Pilgrimage events. In Natchez, the report is about the success of the first week. The Leader-Call story focuses on the first Gulf Coast Pilgrimage since Katrina – which is called “Coming Home.” If anyone makes it to one of these (or any of the other Pilgrimages on the MissPress Calendar) take lots of pictures and consider doing a guest spot for the MissPress world to see (and envy) your trip!
While I don’t have any good news from Clarksdale to balance out the bad news I opened with, I do have some good (or potentially good) news for both Jackson and Hattiesburg to close us out this week.
We’ll start in Jackson. A couple of weeks ago, I included a Jackson Free Press article about the capital city’s application for a grant to help fund a survey and National Register nomination for Belhaven. This week, the Northside Sun picked up on the topic as well and ran their own story on the potential project. This latest story not only mentioned the benefits of National Register listing, but talked about some of the history of the neighborhood and actually mentioned which grant the city is hoping to get – a Certified Local Government (CLG) Grant through MDAH. While the article does not say when the grant award will be made, I know that MDAH’s Board of Trustees decides on the awards and that they meet in a couple of weeks and I would assume that CLG Grants will be on the agenda. Once MDAH announces the grant recipients, I’ll include it in a roundup.
Finally, Hattiesburg is exploring ways to revitalize their Mid-Town District. They have some HUD money – which will go toward hiring a consultant to create a plan – and the City is interested in mixed-use space, which combines residential and commercial uses in the same building. The Hattiesburg American article also talked about a visit from a Georgia Tech architecture professor who has seen examples of how such a revitalization works in other areas. The focus is on making Mid-Town a sustainable, walkable (read: Green) community that is ideal for USM and Forrest General Hospital – the city’s two largest employers. I hate that the article never mentions preservation since this is exactly the kind of thing preservationists should be supporting (and doing so helps us throw off the misconception that we only care about turning old buildings into museums). I hope that the results of this project shine more light on adaptive reuse of existing structures to spur revitalization rather than the “razing and rebuilding” method of development.
Categories: Blues Sites, Clarksdale, Cleveland, Columbus, Environment/Green, Grants, Gulf Coast, Hattiesburg, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Meridian, Mississippi Heritage Trust, Mississippi Landmarks, MS Dept. of Archives and History, Museums, Natchez, News Roundups, Pascagoula
The original building was constructed in 1910.