Dear Baptist Hospital: Please Save This Building!

A concerned reader passed along the discouraging news that the old Patterson-Bradford Rexall Drug Store on N. State Street in Jackson may soon fall victim to yet more Baptist Hospital expansion. I hope Baptist will re-consider: this building’s architecturally significance has been noted for at least the last 15 years and it could continue to brighten its little corner of the world if given half a chance.

This little Modernist gem of a building shouldn’t be unfamiliar to anyone interested in Mississippi architecture, as it was first recognized in 1993 when the Mississippi Museum of Art put on an exhibit called Overstreet & Overstreet: A legacy in architecture. As far as I know, you can still buy the excellent little exhibit catalog at the MMA bookstore.

Then, when Robert Overstreet died in 2009, soon after the beginning of this blog, I wrote a post about the two known extant Jackson buildings he had designed, the Patterson-Bradford Rexall Drug Store and Fondren’s Kolb’s Cleaners.

For those who aren’t familiar with Robert Overstreet, you probably know his dad, N.W. Overstreet, whose firm designed hundreds of landmark buildings around the state from the 1910s through the 1960s. His son, Robert, was equally as talented as a designer, perhaps more so, but unfortunately he moved out to California after he graduated from architecture school, leaving only a few works that he had designed while working for his father’s firm during the summers. The Overstreet firm has close ties to both the Baptist denomination and Baptist Hospital, as N.W. Overstreet was a long-time deacon at First Baptist in Jackson, and his firm was the architect for several additions to the old Baptist hospital, none of which still stand.

You can see from both of Robert Overstreet’s Jackson buildings that he was a Modernist through and through, but perhaps with a lighter touch than his father. The scale of the Rexall drugstore is not overwhelming, designed perhaps to become part of a commercial strip serving its surrounding residential neighborhood, Belhaven. Yet with its super-human cantilevered concrete awning jagging out over the sidewalk, its zig-zag patterned side windows, and its turquoise paneled front, the building exceeds the standards of a regular ol’ commercial building, giving passersby much to look at and hopefully drawing them into the store to shop. According to the description of the building when it first opened, the long steel beams stretching off the north facade were meant to serve as a trellis for some sort of vine such as jasmine or the like, both shading the parking area and being visually interesting. I’m not sure that feature ever reached its potential, but wouldn’t it be cool to see how it would work now that “green” roofs and walls are all the rage (i.e, that parking garage with vines growing up it next to the Phelps Dunbar office building in Ridgeland)?

Unfortunately, Baptist, which has owned the building since 2007, has allowed it to go mostly vacant, other than long-time original tenant and barber Bob White. I always thought this would be a great place to put a restaurant or even a small clinic or some other use that could serve the Baptist community, but it sounds as if Baptist now plans to tear the building down to prepare the entire block for a new large-scale development similar to what they’ve got underway in the block that used to contain Keifer’s Restaurant.

Two things may work in favor of saving the building:

  • The building is at the edge of whatever development will occur, as it stands just next door to McDonalds, which isn’t going away. To me, it seems like the new development can go around the building and even connect to it from the rear, allowing it to serve a separate function but still be part of the block project.
  • Currently at least, hearsay indicates that the developer hasn’t been formally brought on board yet, so why couldn’t this building stay in the development plan but as a historic preservation tax credit project?

As I understand it, Mr. White has until the end of March to vacate, so maybe there’s still time to convince Baptist to take another look at this building and its architectural significance. While it’s not listed on the National Register, I think it’s clearly eligible to be. I’ve been all over the state looking at buildings and I’ve never seen anything like it. Its rarity as a design of Robert Overstreet, its association with the Overstreet firm, and scholarly recognition in the form of the Mississippi Museum of Art exhibit should make it a shoo-in. It could be listed on the National Register and its renovation could get not one but two tax credits: a 20% federal tax credit and a 25% state tax credit, which is pretty hefty when you add it up.

Maybe I’m being naive, but is there anyone out there who can talk with Baptist about the opportunities with this building? With a little extra effort, it could be a win-win project and keep this architectural treasure in the Belhaven neighborhood, which has made such progress in preserving its architecture, while still giving Baptist its larger development.

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Categories: Cool Old Places, Demolition/Abandonment, Jackson

25 replies

  1. Would be a loss if it goes. I first noticed this remarkable building (in my mind an ensemble with the Primos restaurant) in the 1980’s while spending a year on Congress Street.

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  2. Perhaps you mean the Butler Snow building in Ridgeland? Phelps Dunbar is in the Meadowbrook Office Park in Jackson.

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  3. This building was featured in the “showcase stair” architectural intype article by Cornell University. I think this helps show that the building is not only important to Mississippi architectural history but also to the architectural history of America.

    http://intypes.cornell.edu/expanded.cfm?erID=96

    One would think that a pharmacy building would be easy for a hospital to reuse. It would be a terrible loss if it were demolished.

    On a lighter note happy mardi gras y’all!

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    • Good eye, Thomas! I’ll have to sit down with that article when I get a chance later today.

      I should have also noted, as I did in the original Robert Overstreet post that the building was originally featured in the October 1952 issue of Architectural Record, which is quite a feat for a small commercial building in Jackson, Mississippi–they don’t feature Mississippi often!

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  4. I would like to believe that there is hope for this brave and worthy little building. As Malvaney says, why couldn’t it be incorporated into a new strip development? I can see that in its present state it won’t win many friends as its appeal is one that probably won’t be immediately evident to the casual viewer. This is indeed how we lose landmarks, so it’s especially important that people might make an effort to save this one.

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  5. What can we do to help save it? Who, where to call or write to?

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  6. OK, I refrained from commenting yesterday after I read about this wonderful building and then kept thinking about it a lot throughout the day. I believe the Baptists own 1st Christain Church too (GRRRRR & BOO !) – the other story that drives me crazy. There are 186 readers of the wonderful web site. Surely someone has friends in high places at The Clarion-Ledger? A color photo and article would bring positive attention to the fact it is worth saving.

    MissPressers UNITE! We need an email address for Mr. Michael Stevens, VP of Development and someone to CC. If no email address turns up, let’s all write him a real letter. Either way, we need an important person to CC. (Double coverage to be sure he can’t say he never got it :)

    Probably most people riding by this little building every day don’t notice it and if they do, they probably think it is an eye sore. Maybe Michael Stevens, VP, and associates do not know its history and significance. I am not on Facebook, but I know it is a great way to call attention to something. The Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation might be able to help too. I live in Northeast MS and don’t know anyone in TGBF.

    Will be delighted to write letter or send an email on its behalf. Just need to know where to send it.

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  7. This is a wonderful and zoomy building. Especially considering its age. Personally, I do not know of anyone with influence, but surely the local AIA chapter (if such exists) could help. Historic Preservation Trust? Archives and History? I believe they have an architecture department. There quite a few interesting bldgs in and around Jackson that need protection.

    RW Naef worked at Overstreet then had his own firm. Many of the designs are his. Don’t know about this one but would not be suprised if he didn’t have a hand in it.

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  8. Somehow i ended up being Bob’s last customer on the last day of his run it that building. He moved to a new location the next day. When I asked why he was moving when he had until the end of March to do so, he told me Baptist had caught wind of some effort to save the building and wanted him out early. Sounds like the beginning of another midnight-Sunday demo carried out before anyone can organise an attempt at preservation.

    Adding to the building’s history, I was told this was the structure that supposedly prompted Overstreet senior to suggest Overstreet junior move away from Jackson because his work was “too modern” for the city and would find a more appreciative audience elsewhere. Jackson’s loss.

    One more bit of info. The “rigging” over the parking lot is comprised of two overlapping systems:a trellis-like system that, whatever the intent, never carried any climbing vegetation, and a wonderful, wacko drainage system for, I believe, the slender cantilevered concrete roof that covers the walk along the building’s side.

    Referencing the photo above, the pipes appear between each rigging along the underside of the roof then shoot out perpendicular to the building.

    What is not visible it what happens next: each pipe then turns vertically for a few feet and disappears into the top of a continuous concrete retaining wall opposite the building, runs through the height of the (poured-in-place!) wall then reappears as a hole at grade level. From there water drains onto the sloped parking area and flows down to a city drain at the rear of the parcel.

    It sounds like a solution looking for a problem…certainly water can be drained in a much simpler manner. But its outside-the-box expressionism is what made O junior’s work unique and important.

    I dare anyone to find a down pipe system any finer than this!

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    • It makes me sick to think that upon hearing that the building is worthy of preservation that Baptist would step up their efforts toward demolition. It doesn’t seem very neighborly, but it also doesn’t seem like anything new for them.

      Thank you for describing the drainage system! It is incredibly unique and shows the thorough thought process and creativity of Robert Overstreet.

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    • Thanks for explaining that intricate system, which I had pondered every time I studied the building.

      Like TR, I’m disgusted by the news that Baptist is so cynical as to speed up demolition after hearing inklings of people wanting to save it. Baptist does have a reputation for middle of the night demos, but I naively hoped that this tiny lot on the edge of the development would be open for discussion.

      Baptist has no interest in being neighborly, unless you define “neighborly” as pushing everyone out from around you so you don’t have any neighbors. I think the Belhaven neighborhood had better watch out now that Baptist is gobbling the FIVE BLOCKS all the way to Jefferson Street. After that, it’s a nibble here and a nibble there and pretty soon, the neighborhood is saying, “Well, I guess we might as well let them take up to Kenwood since they’ve already got offices on a few lots.” The old fable about the camel putting his nose in the tent comes to mind.

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  9. Is there a law anywhere in the country that forbids demolition of a building until a replacement development is fully-funded and ready-to-go? There are no plans, no devloper and no program for this site (med offices? retail? parking? hotel? residences?) And, according to Baptist, no money to build anything anyway.

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    • I haven’t heard of a law like that but it is an interesting idea. Sadly it sounds like they’ve found funds to demolish it. I haven’t been by the site but word on the street is it is no more.

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    • Most local preservation commissions or planning commissions in general are supposed to consider such issues before giving a demolition permit. My understanding in this case is that because this building was never designated by the City as a local landmark, it didn’t fall under the purview of the preservation commission, and since I believe they need owner permission to designate an individual building, it was out of their hands.

      Add to that a neighborhood foundation that gets funds from Baptist and a state preservation organization (MS Heritage Trust) that received its historic Lowry-Hull House from Baptist, and you have effectively muzzled any dissent, other than us random crazies online. I haven’t lived in enough other places to know if this is common in every city, but it does seem to me too easy to muzzle opposition in Jackson.

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  10. I drove by this building today and a crew was there tearing it down.

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    • Well, thanks for letting me know so I can avoid driving by there for a while. I genuinely hoped when I wrote this post that Baptist could be reasoned with. But after I heard they asked Mr. White to move out early so that they could get the building down before anyone objected too much, I realized they’re just another arrogant self-serving big business intent on devouring their neighbors while hiding under the cover of a Christian name.

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  11. Ditto! and Amen!!! on your assessment of Six Flags Over Jesus going in downtown Jackson, MS!

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  12. Aother example of Creeping Baptist which, if not addressed, will spread unchecked. Within the same family as Creeping Methodist and Creeping Presbyterian, yet far more robust.

    If you’re serious about saving souls, those souls need a place to park, right?
    That is pretty much their entire arguement.

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  13. It is so sad but y’all are cracking me up.

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  14. I too rode by this week. Its being torn down. Its sad but so.

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  15. MDAH and MHT had the opportunity to go through the building earlier this month and take photos. You can see them here: http://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/Public/prop.aspx?id=39979&x=1760&y=1060&bg=white&view=photos&DateTaken=4-4-2012

    There are almost 100 pictures, because I knew this would our last chance, and also because it’s a very complex building inside, something you don’t appreciate from the outside. Unfortunately the building had already undergone asbestos abatement, so there were no tiles on the floor and the plastic covering the windows and doors made lighting difficult. Some original spaces had also been previously altered, and in ways that made them less impressive. The circular stair, which originally was separated from the drug store at the first floor level by a window wall, had plywood inserted at that level at some point, so the lighting in both the stairwell and the drug store was compromised. Also, the balcony office space was originally quite an amazing place, with a window wall on the west and north sides stretching around for a panoramic view overlooking the drug store retail floor and the north parking lot. Pretty amazing! Unfortunately, that window wall had been partially enclosed, probably to make it into a separate office space, and even the northern windows were painted over, making for a rather dreary space.

    The circular stair was truly amazing. There are no other words for it, and I hope the photos we took can convey at least a bit of their structure. The stairs were honestly hanging from the roof by those steel cables, and a small skylight lit up the space. Stunning!

    Today, a colleague and I went down and picked up one of the turquoise panels from the front wall as the demolition crew was clearing the scene. We will add this to our architectural collection at MDAH, but I wish we had the real building still there.

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  16. When I drove past it yesterday (the 28th), the building had been demolished and was nothing but a pile of rubble.

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