Happy Monday! Here’s the latest preservation news from around the state:
We’ll start on the Coast where 33rd Avenue School in Gulfport is back in the news. If you remember from a couple of posts last summer (here and here), the conflict surrounding the school is that the Department of Labor wants to demolish the school complex to make way for new buildings to house their Job Corps program. Alumni of the school – as well as preservationists – want to see a plan that retains the existing buildings. The Sun Herald ran two stories this week – one announcing the latest public meeting and one follow-up. Department of Labor told the paper that there is a March 15 deadline to get going on the project before the funds for the project are lost. The alumni have no issues with the site being used for a Job Corps center – as it has been since 1979 – they would just like to see their school preserved at the same time. The feds got an “earful” from the community at the meeting, but hopefully we’ll see a good compromise come out of it.
Up in Tupelo, the local Historic Preservation Commission is working to slow the number of demolitions in the heart of the city. This is in response to last month’s stories about the latest requests from a church to demolish historic buildings. The plan is to create a Conservation District where permits for demolitions that would adversely affect the area would go through an additional review period. According to the article, if the city permitting office determines that the application for demolition would negatively impact the district, they can delay the permit for 90 days. It does not lead to outright denial of the demolition permit, but does give the community more time to find another solution for the property. While not as strong as a traditional local historic district ordinance, this proposed Conservation District could still help Tupelo’s HPC in their efforts to save historic resources in their community.
One more conflict story going on – this time in Natchez. Ongoing plans for the Roth Hill casino development project keep raising questions about its effects on the historic community. The latest issue is over changes to the plan for the parking area – which includes a retaining wall. One of the issues raised about that retaining wall is that the developers have not submitted the landscaping plans. It’s not only issues with the HPC that has Roth Hill in the news – lease agreements with the city are also in the news. The Roth Hill development is not quite as contentious as the issues in Gulfport and Tupelo, but I have a feeling it’ll keep churning for the folks in Natchez for a while.
An interesting story in Biloxi where the demolition of the Melvin Plumbing building has led to the discovery of bomb shelter that once was there. It would have been neat to know that it was there before they demolished the building.
In Jackson, the city has plans to apply for a grant to help get the Medgar Evers Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Clarion Ledger report has plenty of errors – which hopfully will be corrected as the city’s efforts move forward – but it is nice to see that after this year’s efforts to get Belhaven surveyed and listed on the National Register, Jackson officials are looking at their other historic neighborhoods as well. The Medgar Evers district is locally designated, according to MDAH’s database, and I suspect that, assuming the nomination is done well, it will make a nice addition to the capitol city’s National Register listings.
North of Jackson, the town of Durant is looking at restoring their historic depot. The community has established a local preservation commission and is seeking CLG status through MDAH and the National Park Service to open up grant opportunities to assist with their efforts, but it is clear that starting with restoring the Mississippi Landmark property is their first priority for preservation in their town. They have already started working on ways to raise funds – including selling some of the scrap metal found in the building. Before everyone panics, it does not sound like they took anything that was part of the structure or details of the building. The funds raised so far will go toward some stabilization to prevent further damage while they continue to look at what is needed for a larger, long term project.
Speaking of buildings getting some work done – the Northside Sun ran an interesting piece on Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson and the $9 million improvement project planned. The article, titled “Saving Thalia Mara” does not going into as much detail as someone like me would like about what is planned for the building itself (new stage, some updated lighting and curtains) but does talk a lot about it needing “considerable upgrading to reflect its status as an international arts destination.” Preservationists need to watch this one – while the building is not quite 50 years old yet, I think most of us can agree that it is an architectural gem of the “recent past.” Built 1966-68, the building’s New Formalist style is the work of designer William L. Addkinson and the firm of Overstreet, Ware & Ware in Jackson, according to the MDAH Database.
Finally, congratulations to Natchez are in order for their Natchez Trails Project winning a Community Economic Development Award from the Mississippi Economic Development Council. The trails wind through downtown and wrap along the river with interpretive signs scattered along the route. Sounds like something to check out the next time you’re in Natchez.
Categories: Biloxi, Cool Old Places, Demolition/Abandonment, Gulf Coast, Gulfport, Heritage Tourism, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Natchez, News Roundups, Preservation Law/Local Commissions, Recent Past, Renovation Projects, Tupelo
Kudos to the mindful private citizens of Natchez who are not only epitomizing democracy at its informed best in insisting on knowing the substance of deals made by the City regarding the new casino, but are also investing their personal time and money insuring that arrangements that are made are above-board and transparent, and are in the best interest of the city with regards to preservation of its unique character.
On a sadder note, I awoke early Sunday morning to the sound of fire trucks responding to a house fire that engulfed one little wooden Victorian and significantly burned the attic of its next-door neighbor just across and slightly up State Street from me here in Natchez. Fortunately there were no human fatalities, though at last check one puppy was still unaccounted for. Please everyone check your smoke alarm batteries and be careful with heaters now that real winter weather has arrived. You know you shouldn’t be smoking in the house anyway.
Jackson had several house fires this weekend too–you’re right, it’s that time of year, although much later than it normally is.
By the way, JR, I like your new section divider picture!