A Sad Loss For Mendenhall

imageIn an inexplicable decision, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Board of Trustees today voted 5-2 to allow the Simpson County School District to demolish the 1938 Mendenhall High School Auditorium. Mayor Steve Womack of Mendenhall set the tone for the meeting by threatening to lobby to revoke the Mississippi Antiquities Act if the school district was not allowed the demolish the historic structure. After very little discussion, the members of the board took their vote, and the fate of this charming Art Deco building was sealed. It is always difficult to lose a historic building, but this decision is particularly hard to understand. Listed as a Mississippi Landmark in 2012, the auditorium has been documented to be in good condition. There is strong local support for the restoration of the building for use by the school and community. Thanks to the Mississippi State Legislature, funding for projects like the restoration of the Mendenhall High School Auditorium is currently available through the Community Heritage Grant Program. The school district’s contention that there was no other location for a new cafeteria and multipurpose building seems unlikely at best and was left unchallenged by the Board of Trustees. A sad loss for the citizens of Mendenhall, present and future. And a sad day for the future of preservation efforts in Mississippi.

The center section of the building is the auditorium, with entrances to the two main hallways to either side.

The center section of the building is the auditorium, with entrances to the two main hallways to either side.



Categories: Historic Preservation

38 replies

  1. Once again, petty bureaucrats with an interest in empire-buiding get their way. It’s so sad that our heritage is being steadily demolished. Do you think the replacement building will still be functional in 70 years?

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  2. School district boards are notoriously bad citizens when it comes to preservation. They are the ones who need to be reigned in contrary to the opinion of Womack who is clearly acting in the role of donkey eared jackass in this scenario.

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  3. P.S. MDAH should not have cowered before this guy’s threats. Bring it on. MDAH is there to protect our heritage. People are sick of short-sighted goons demolishing our history. The next question is will Womack’s brother-in-law get the contract for the replacement building?

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  4. Damn sad. Follow the $$$$$s.

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  5. Someone needs to go thru the entire building and document (videotape & photograph) every nook and cranny of the everything. Make the video and place the names of those who voted to destroy it at the end & beginning so the future generations will remember who they have to blame for keeping them from experiencing this wonderful landmark. Being on the Mississippi Landmarks was supposed to prevent this from happening! Fine example of total stupidity!!!
    So proud that I went to Bailey Jr. Hi (now magnet Hi. School). It is the same era and has been kept up for my children & grands to enjoy. Took my boyfriend to see it, he love it; I married him. :-)

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  6. jerks – stupidty — I agree with Mark Clinton Davis & Photogram…

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  7. Seems counter-intuitive. Listed as a MS landmark in 2012. Voted to be demolished in 2013.

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  8. There seem to be a number (a majority vote) of Neville Chamberlains now on the MDAH board of trustees, who apparently believe that appeasing two-bit operators like the mayor of Mendenhall or (as with Ceres) the Warren County Port Commission is the way to do preservation. I understand that a variety of approaches can accomplish preservation, from the quiet one-on-one discussions with local officials to more public confrontations, but pulling the rug out from organized local groups of citizens who are trying to save their history to give to future generations is not preservation. When I moved to Mississippi in the 1990s, the MDAH board was widely regarded as a firm supporter of such local groups. What has changed?

    Thanks for this report, Lolly, however discouraging. The MDAH website has never carried much news about the Board’s proceedings, much less the full-fledged minutes of the meetings, which many local commissions post online, so it’s always hard to get a solid report of what happened in any particular case.

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  9. This is the beginning of the Mississippi Antiquities Act, which the MDAH Board of Trustees is charged with upholding. How does this Mendenhall decision fit into this? Epic fail?

    It is hereby declared to be the public policy and in the public interest of the State of Mississippi to locate, protect, and preserve all sites, objects, buildings, shipwrecks, and locations of historical, archaeological, or architectural significance, including, but not limited to historically or architecturally significant buildings, structures relating to significant engineering accomplishments, prehistoric and historical American Indian or aboriginal campsites, dwellings, and habitation sites, archaeological sites of every character, treasure imbedded in the earth, sunken or abandoned ships and wrecks of the sea or any part or the contents thereof, maps, records, documents, books, artifacts, and implements of culture in any way related to the inhabitants, prehistory, history, natural history, government, or culture in, on or under any of the lands, tidelands, submerged lands, and bed of the sea within the jurisdiction of the State of Mississippi.

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  10. Ya reckon some Good Ol’ Boy political “manure-vering” went on with this decision? Lots of $$$ to demolish, haul away, prepare site for new building then – OH, let the purchase orders begin. Pitiful!!!

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  11. sad day when any historic building are torn down

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  12. Womack and the port commission are revealing the MDAH board as toothless sock puppets. They should be ashamed. Capitulating to petty bullies only encourages even more tiresome destructive behavior and causes the public to lose faith in the preservation entities. How long did someone work to get this school listed as a landmark only to receive this giant slap in the face?

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  13. Proud to have cast one of two votes against demolition. Sad day for the state, sadder day for Mendenhall. This former school board member understands the issues, but also sees the value in repurposing this wonderful building – one the community of Mendenhall could have been extremely proud of had the vision been there for its reuse and significant architecture being incorporated into the new. Unfortunately it wasn’t. No doubt future generations will ask “why?”. Those who tried are to be commended. Don’t give up.

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    • Thank you for your service on the MDAH board and thank you especially for your vote in support of both the mission of MDAH and the preservation of the Mendenhall school. As you say, it’s sad for both the state and the local groups when the state’s designated preservation agency so inexplicably begins to cower beneath unseens political forces. Such public weakness, I’m afraid, will only bring more and more such requests in the future, which I assume is the opposite of what the board leadership wants.

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    • Thank you for voting the right way Betsey! It’s got to be tough to be in the minority when you’re the new vote in the room, but stick to your guns. I’m less inclined than some to think this demolition request is motivated by private financial gain, but rather many school boards view their historic preservation duty as an inconvenient distraction from their core mission. They couldn’t be more wrong.

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  14. Following the wanton destruction of the Ceres Plantation earlier this year, I am not surprised by ANYTHING anymore!!! Where do these imbecilic, moronic toads come from???

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  15. Who chooses the MDAH Board?

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  16. Is the mayor from there? Are any of the board members local people that grew up there? Don’t they have a sense of preserving a heritage for where they live? Or are they like the Texas city where I live that has non-local people that want to tear down every landmark and build a hotel in its place?

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  17. Yes, who chooses the board and how can they be unchosen when they evince that they have clearly abdicated their responsibilities.

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  18. The MDAH Board of Trustees, established in 1902, is self-perpetuating with new members elected by the board itself and ratified by the Senate. Although I didn’t get this information from the MDAH website as you might expect but from a 1912 Annual Report that Google provided. I believe it still functions this way.

    In the past, this method of filling the board was seen as crucial in maintaining the agency’s independence and in ensuring that people really interested in history and preservation would continue the board’s mission, as apart from politics as you can get in state govt. Not sure why the leadership now seems to be throwing its own mission and constituents under the bus to kow-tow to every Tom Dick and Harry.

    I’m not sure there has ever been anyone on the MDAH who has been “unchosen” or what the process would be to do so. It would an interesting exercise, if one were to obtain the Board minutes for the last five years or so, to make a list of which members consistently voted for demolition.

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  19. Methinks the town leaders, the local school board, and the MDAH trustees erred. Richard Hofstadter identified a paranoid and anti-intellectual tendency in the American political life. Here it is in this attractive and quaint Mississippi town where the mayor believes he must destroy something with functionality and history to educate the young scholars.

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  20. Marty Ramage must be turning over in his grave!

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  21. Is this a precedent that is marking the beginning of an awful reign of ‘if its old, tear it down’?

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  22. Is there an appeal procedure or would someone have to file a lawsuit for an injunction or something?

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  23. That’s an excellent question! Unfortunately, I can’t figure out the answer from the Antiquities Act which governs these issues. The closest I can get is this:

    SEC. 39-7-37. Civil action to enjoin violations or threatened violations of chapter; venue.

    In addition to, and without limiting the other powers of the attorney general of the state of Mississippi and without altering or waiving any criminal penalty provision of this chapter, the attorney general shall have the power to bring an action in the name of the State of Mississippi in any court of competent jurisdiction to enjoin violations or threatened violations of this chapter, and for the return of items taken in violations of the provisions hereof, and for the restoration of alterations made in violation of the provisions hereof. The venue of such actions shall lie in the county in which the activity sought to be enjoined is alleged to be taking place, or in the county from which the items were taken. Any citizen in the State of Mississippi shall have the power to bring an action in any court of competent jurisdiction to enjoin violations or threatened violations of this chapter, and for the return of items taken in violation of the provisions hereof. The venue of such actions shall lie in the county in which the activity sought to be enjoined is alleged to be taking place, or in the county from which the items were taken.
    SOURCES: Codes, 1942, Sec. 6192-118; Laws, 1970, ch. 267, Sec. 18; 1983, ch. 458, Sec. 13, eff from and after July 1, 1983.

    Which I take to mean that the citizens could take it to court in Simpson County and get an injunction. Of course, court costs money, unless there’s a local lawyer willing to take it on pro bono. I should note I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not sure this section actually applies in this case. Most of the Antiquities Act is written as if MDAH would always be the agency trying to protect historic properties, which in this case, it is not.

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  24. Which exact building do they want to demolish? Seems to be some discrepancy (according to other sources). Is the pictured building the elementary school and the auditorium is another building? Inquiring minds want to know. Can the art deco exterior be saved and just build something new behind it? Seems like the dispute has been going on for quite sometime without a good solution (from what I’m reading here).

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  25. They call it the auditorium building because the auditorium is its most prominent feature, but it is the same as the elementary building. The MDAH Board of Trustees had previously denied the demolition permit for the front part of the building, the 1938 section that includes the auditorium, but allowed the demolition of a large 1950s addition at the rear. The school board refused to consider that and put in another demolition request, and that’s the one the board just approved, with no real comment about why the about-face. The Simpson County School District seems inordinately determined not to even consider preservation of this building. I won’t say anything more about them for fear of saying something uncharitable.

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  26. You can see a full range of photos taken by MDAH in August 2011 of both the front and back sections of the building in question: https://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/Public/prop.aspx?id=2117043980&x=1600&y=856&bg=white&view=photos&DateTaken=8-4-2011

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  27. alas, I would think an auditorium would easily convert to a very nice cafeteria too!

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Trackbacks

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