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.