Chris Risher’s Meridian Police Station Under Threat

A few years ago, Meridian’s spectacular Beaux Arts city hall reopened after a major renovation that brought it back to its original splendor. Across the side street to the south is a much different building from a different, more recent era, the former Meridian Police Station, designed by Meridian’s own Chris Risher, Sr. in 1975. The building is spectacular in its own right, but because it’s a hard-edged Modernist design, its spectacularness may be less immediately apparent to the average person on first glance. If some of the rumblings out of Meridian recently are correct though, the average person may not have the opportunity to get a second glance at this classic building, which is clearly the work of a master who understood that difficult style called Modernism, manipulating line, volume, solids and voids to create a balanced, functional and beautiful building. The building won an Honor Citation from the Mississippi AIA in 1977, and has been used since by MSU’s School of Architecture for training student architects in the best of Modern design.

I’ve gotten several concerned emails from Mississippi architects since the Meridian Star published “Old Police Department May Be Torn Down” back in July. This is some of what that article said:

Now that the Meridian Police Department has moved to its new location, the question remains of what to do with the old police department building. It will likely be torn down, according to George Thomas, Ward 1 councilman and president of the Meridian City Council.

“We plan to tear it down and build a parking lot there for City Hall,” Thomas said. “We hope to do some type of deal on the other side of City Hall to put something in there.”

. . . .

The council has not taken any official action to tear the building down, but Thomas said he doesn’t see much hope for using the building for anything else.

“From what I’ve been told, there’s really nothing you can covert it to,” Thomas said.

The building was constructed about 40 years ago to house the police department and for its time, it was state-of-the-art, Thomas said.

– See more at: http://meridianstar.com/local/x182749665/Old-police-department-may-be-torn-down#sthash.svOcsL4v.dpuf

A little opening I see in this article is that perhaps Mississippi’s architectural community may be able to come together to help save the building by showing how the building can be converted to a new use, something that has apparently been too-easily dismissed by local officials so far. Another little opening is that perhaps revisiting the legacy of Chris Risher through a tour or some other educational tool would help Meridianites (re)discover the work of this master architect who trained at Auburn with Paul Rudolph and of whom Sambo Mockbee noted, “he was always in league with his Muse and Art.”

Risher was so good, he could have moved to the northeast and become famous like Rudolph, but instead he returned to his Mississippi hometown, set up shop, and proceeded to give Meridian some of the most sophisticated Modern buildings in the state. The list begins with the justly famous Vise Building downtown (which he remodelled in 1947 into an early-for-Mississippi International style), but it goes on through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and the police station shows him at his prime. A few of his Meridian master works are pictures here and we’ll be posting photos of some of Risher’s other designs–some Modernist, some surprisingly Colonial Revival–over the coming months to show how he contributed to our state’s architectural landscape and hopefully to help point out the value of saving the Meridian Police Station.



Categories: Demolition/Abandonment, Meridian

6 replies

  1. We would love join the cause (or lead the fight) to help save this building. Please connect me with the others you’ve mentioned who are interested in doing the same.

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  2. When I returned to my home state of Mississippi in 1976 to practice architecture, I thought of the newly completed Meridian Police Station as a talisman of sorts for the possibility of thinking architecture anew in the state. This beautiful building, and other buildings that the Rishers Sr. and Jr., along with the important architects who were working with them, were offering the state were not just omens of an architecture that celebrated the new while remaining close to the richnesses of tradition in craft and thought, they were metaphors for bringing the state to newfound rectitudes in the wake of Mississippi’s difficult and continuing struggles with civil and human rights. What better place and program for engaging such a struggle than a civic building, and especially a police station?

    That uses change over time, that programmatic need changes, are the inevitable paths of “progress”. But the moral and artistic needs remain, perhaps as much as ever. I encourage the good citizens whose fathers and mothers had the courage to build Risher buildings to have the courage to maintain them through reinvented or new uses. The enormity of those builidings’ and their patrons’ aspirations cannot be lost to dust.

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  3. Adapting this worthy building for a new use should be readily achievable. It was, after all, adapted to become the police station.
    Thirty- to fifty-years-old is a tough time for many of our best buildings. Its sometimes hard to love them in those awkward years – they’re not as fresh and cute as when they were new and young, and not as stately and distinguished as when they mature; they’re obstinate and ornery; they need a lot of care and attention, and they certainly don’t seem to love you back.
    If we treated our adolescent children as we do our adolescent buildings, the human race would die out.

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