MissPres News Roundup 1-13-2014

Last week I started the News Roundup on the Coast. This week I am changing things up by starting with the Delta, a difficult prospect since the Delta Democrat Times, The Greenwood Commonwealth, and The Vicksburg Post are all behind strong paywall systems. If anyone wishes to donate subscriptions to various Mississippi newspapers to Preservation in Mississippi, it would make for much more complete News Roundups.

And here is the news.

Main Street Greenwood is one of the strongest Main Street programs in Mississippi and possibly the nation. One of their ongoing programs is the awarding of grants for façade renovation. They are currently partially funding the replacement of the second story windows in the Dahmer Block, currently Perry’s Furniture, in the 400 block of Carrollton Avenue. As the photograph “Façade Work” from the January 10 edition of The Greenwood Commonwealth shows, the second story windows for that building have been long covered. While it is great that the second story of this building will be made more presentable and possibly put to a productive use, the likely replacement of original, historic wood windows with vinyl replacements is not great. But, there is little detailed information on the Main Street Greenwood website and longer articles on The Greenwood Commonwealth (such as “Grants helping improve look of downtown”) are hidden behind a paywall so there could be some extenuating circumstances about this project of which I am not aware.

The Bolivar Commercial reported on January 8 that there is conflict over design guidelines in Cleveland’s Crosstie Historic District, “City looks at changing construction guidelines.” The Cleveland Heritage Commission consulted the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and the Crosstie Historic District Guidelines and found that businessman Raymond Huerta’s plans to enclose a patio with a large (41’ by 61’), open, pavilion-like, metal structure were not appropriate for the historic district. Huerta unsuccessfully appealed that decision to the Cleveland Planning Commission before finding a board that agrees with him, the Cleveland Board of Aldermen. Huerta generally spouted the usual anti-preservation rhetoric common among developers irked by what they perceive to be onerous guidelines, “Change is good and you have to go project by project. I’m not knocking anyone but what are the guidelines for having someone on heritage? Why isn’t there a developer on heritage or a realtor on heritage?” The Cleveland Board of Alderman was receptive to Huerta’s message and provisionally approved his project if disregarding the Cleveland Heritage Commission’s decision does not cost the city any future grant money. I am not going to editorialize the article too much, but this is the daily business of preservation all over this state and this nation: preventing inappropriate alterations to historic areas. There are thousands of preservation commissions and tens of thousands of preservationists on those commissions who work hard to prevent things like demolitions, inappropriate alterations, and the construction of metal buildings in historic districts. Those preservationists do not need to be undermined by elected officials as well as developers.

The Bolivar Commercial did report more positive news in the article, “LOOKING AT 2014: Mayor has plans to cultivate city.” Mound Bayou Mayor Darryl Johnson realizes that the town has “rich historical attributes” and “plans to use those characteristics to promote growth” in his term as mayor. Readers who have followed Preservation in Mississippi are well aware of Mound Bayou’s uniqueness as an African American community in the Delta. They are also aware of long-term disinvestment that is beginning to be rectified with the restoration of Taborian Hospital and preservation efforts on the Isaiah T. Montgomery House.

The Panolian shows a photograph, “Historical marker,” of one of the four new historic markers the City of Batesville received from the MDAH. St. Stephens Episcopal Church (also known as the Little Church on Panola Avenue), Jim Bates House on Country Club Road, Batesville Public Square, and Mt. Zion Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke during the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, are all receiving those familiar green, magnolia topped markers.

The Cleveland Current reported “Handy to receive new marker” on December 4. A Mississippi Blues Trail marker commemorating W. C. Handy’s “discovery” of blues music in Cleveland has been placed at the Cleveland courthouse. According to Luther Brown, executive director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning, this blues marker is different than others previously unveiled.

“This particular marker is unique among Mississippi Blues Trail markers because it makes a major contribution to new scholarship on the blues. When researchers Jim O’Neal and Scott Barretta began their research, they thought it would involve simply retelling the story of how W. C. Handy first learned that the Blues could make money. But in the process, they uncovered an early draft of what eventually was published as Handy’s own recollection of the events of that day, and in that early manuscript draft, Handy identified the name of the bluesman who performed, Prince McCoy. Jim O’Neal was ecstatic, and wrote: ‘Prince McCoy is at present a virtual unknown but I hope we will remedy that, because I think he is the most important previously undocumented musician we have discovered in our research on the blues trail.’”

While not strictly preservation news, since W. C. Handy and I were born mere blocks away from each other (115 years apart) in Florence, Alabama, news about him will always make it into News Roundups.

Now to the Coast with a good article from The Mississippi Press, “Maritime museum group has ‘fantastic’ buildings to work with, MSU architects say.” Architects from the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, as well as the oft-praised (on this site) Belinda Stewart talked with Mississippi Maritime and Warship Museum board members about their future, temporary home, the former Pascagoula High School campus on Dupont Avenue. The museum will occupy the former math/science building and band hall. Those buildings were constructed in 1963-1964 and are among the final works designed by Claude Lindsley, a favorite here on Preservation in Mississippi. The following is an excellent passage from the article:

Belinda Stewart, a historical design expert, said the more she learned about the modern styled buildings, the more she appreciated them. In the math/science building, ‘the skylights are a wonderful amenity,’ she said. ‘It has beautiful scale to it. The former classrooms are a wonderful size…and very well lit.’

It is rare to find an article extolling the virtues of Mid-Century Modern architecture, which is not always appreciated by either the public or preservationists (or yours truly). The 1930s Pascagoula High School buildings are now recognized as important historic structures and it is nice to see some respect coming to Lindsley’s later work. Pascagoula High School is only a temporary home for the Maritime Museum with a new museum to be constructed on Lowry Island alongside the future museum centerpiece, the Ingalls-built USS Ticonderoga (CG-47).

The SunHerald ran an article on the history of J.T. Leggett Memorial United Methodist Church in Biloxi, “J.T. Leggett Memorial United Methodists has served the Coast for more than 140 years.” The church has had an interesting history, though hurricanes, time, and changing tastes mean that the congregation no longer possesses a historic church building.

The SunHerald also reports that Salmagundi Gifts on Washington Avenue in Ocean Springs, a fixture since 1963, is going out of business, “Salmagundi Gifts closing doors after 50 years.” The current owner is retiring and closing the store. The article has a short description of the store and some memories from various employees and customers. As has been demonstrated before, most recently with Brumfield’s in Pascagoula, even buildings that housed long-term businesses are susceptible to ending up in a landfill after those businesses close. Hopefully, the Salmagundi Gifts building does not end up on the Auld Lang Syne post in future years.

The final piece of news from the SunHerald concerns a new chapel in Biloxi and some old windows from Maine, “Stained glass windows find a home at Fatima in Biloxi.” Fourteen stained glass windows, produced by the Francis Xavier Zettler Studio and formerly at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lewiston, Maine, are in Our Lady of Fatima’s prayer chapel. St. Joseph Catholic Church dates to 1863, closed in 2009, and has been the subject of a preservation campaign since against a hospital which wishes to “adaptively reuse” the building into parking lot. Despite the fact that the church still exists, the windows have been removed and installed in Our Lady of Fatima’s new prayer chapel. While I hate to make broad assertions about particular groups, this is one of the reasons I really despise architectural salvage firms. In my experience, they only care about their own profit and are completely uninterested in historic preservation with the exception of their interest in making a buck off historic preservationists. Stained glass windows are a very lucrative salvage item for architectural salvage firms and their removal from a historic church often severely hampers historic preservation efforts for the historic church, since the windows are one of the most dramatic features in a church. That is a situation I have dealt with personally and feel strongly about.

The Picayune Item reports that efforts are underway to encourage revitalization of Picayune’s downtown, “Picayune Main Street, city work to revitalize downtown.” It sounds like Picayune’s downtown suffers from a strange situation with high taxes and property insurance on the buildings preventing affordable leases. Unfortunately, one of their efforts involved the demolition of Crosby Memorial Hospital and transforming the area into green space, allowing “the space to be used to bring people downtown.” Because when people come downtown, they want green space, not old buildings.

The Picayune Item also has a small feature on Kelly Wise Memorial Gymnasium, “Kelly Wise Gym a piece of Picayune Memorial High School history.” The gym, like many small town gyms, is a local landmark and one of seemingly few Mid-Century Modern buildings that is viewed with affection by local residents.

As I reported in last week’s News Roundup, the Natchez Historic Preservation Commission requested more design information about the Bridge of Sighs before giving their approval. The Natchez Democrat reports that they received more information and has approved the project, “Bridge of Sighs project receives approval.” The bridge design was altered to better blend in and complement the nearby historic structures along the bluff. The Natchez Democrat did not for some reason post the new rendering on their website.

The Monroe Journal reported on January 7 that the kitchen at The Magnolias, a city-owned antebellum mansion in Aberdeen, has been renovated, “Magnolias’ kitchen gets facelift.” To cater to the catering market, which uses the mansion around forty times annually, the city gutted the 1930s kitchen and replaced it with a modern one, complete with stainless steel everything (industrial stove, industrial refrigerator, industrial sink, industrial icemaker) and 18” mottled brown ceramic tiling. I realize that catering events likely make up a significant portion of The Magnolias’s budget, but it is still a historic house, one of the most historic in Aberdeen, and should not have historic components destroyed because the market demands it. Otherwise, why not put Dryvit-covered vinyl siding on The Magnolias and make it a strip mall.

The Webster Progress-Times ran a blatantly anti-preservation article about the burned Webster County Courthouse in Walthall, “Supervisors approve referendum regarding courthouse.” The Webster County Board of Supervisors will leave the decision to restore the burned Webster County Courthouse or construct a new courthouse up to Webster County voters. The article states that the supervisors have mostly concerned themselves with the insurance claim process. However, a large section of the article is an anti-preservation, anti-courthouse restoration diatribe from Perry County supervisor Lanny Mixon. The Perry County Courthouse burned and was restored, so Mixon spoke to the Webster County Board of Supervisors as an expert on burned, restored courthouses. Although he did say that, “We have one of the nicest, most historically significant courthouses in the state of Mississippi,” Mixon, judging by the article, spent much of the time complaining about the Perry County Courthouse, with its “tremendous costs,” “issues with wiring,” and “huge cracks in plaster.” He also took potshots at the MDAH and how the group limits what Perry County can do with their courthouse before concluding with the fact that if he and the rest of the Perry County Board of Supervisors had it to do over again, they “would be 5-0 voting in favor” of building an entirely new courthouse.

Let’s move to Meridian news because it would not be a proper News Roundup without something in Meridian being demolished and someone seeking big piles of money to do it. The Meridian Star reports that the Meridian Housing Authority (MHA) is seeking a $30 million dollar grant to redevelop the East End neighborhood, specifically George Reese Courts, “MHA has high hopes for East End.” The MHA plans to completely demolish the courts and replace them with a mixed-income development equivalent to Carousel Place, which was formerly Victory Village. According to the article, George Reese Courts were constructed in 1939 but look like projects constructed in the 1950s to me, though I am not an expert on public housing. If the buildings were nice examples of 1930s garden city public housing (such as the mostly demolished Techwood Homes in Atlanta), I would argue for their preservation.

Finally, an article in The Meridian Star should pique the interest of every historic preservationist investor in Mississippi, “For Sale: A city block, a real fixer-upper.” The article is also excellent because of the completely blunt, true statements about historic preservation efforts in Meridian. Meridian native Tag Purvis is selling four buildings he owns in the block bounded by Front and 4th Streets and 25th and 26th Avenues, which are the Luther Oliver Paint Building, Newell Paper-Baum Block, 2500 Fourth Street, and the incomparable Baum Block. Purvis purchased these building with the vision of restoring them, especially the Baum Block, but after six years of wrangling with Meridian city government is selling the buildings for…name the price. As the article notes, he has an interesting sales pitch,

“It’s an amazing building and it can be had for a song, but life is short, and this is Meridian…therefore, I could in no way recommend this purchase no matter the price tag.”

Now if you will excuse me, Mr. Purvis is accepting bids until May 1, and I believe I qualify as the type of “dreamer” he mentions as the right owner for the property.

And that was the news.

Categories: Aberdeen, Batesville, Biloxi, Blues Sites, Churches, Cleveland, Greenwood, Historic Preservation, Mound Bayou, Ocean Springs, Pascagoula, Picayune, Preservation Law/Local Commissions, Schools

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