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.
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.