To Preserve and Protect

John Poros with MSU School of Architecture sums it up-the Meridian Police Department matters.

John Poros with MSU School of Architecture sums it up-the Meridian Police Department matters.

 

Designed by eminent Mississippi architect Chris Risher, the Meridian Police Department is a watershed of modernist design worthy of preservation. Reflecting international trends in architecture, the building represents Meridian’s aspirations in the 1970s to become a city of architectural renown.  Currently vacant, the Meridian Police Department was named to the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s list of Mississippi’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2013.

The City of Meridian recently submitted a request to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for a permit to demolish this intriguing building. To my knowledge, there is no proposed future use for the site.  Many cities across our state have taken buildings that are no longer functioning in their original capacity and given them new life as hotels, art centers, office buildings and apartments.  Without investigating possible options for the future use of the Meridian Police Department, a tremendous opportunity could be lost.  In response to this request for demolition, the Mississippi Heritage Trust, along with the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and many prominent architects around the state have requested that the building be listed as a Mississippi Landmark, thereby encouraging the City of Meridian to consider all of its many options for restoration and adaptive reuse of the Meridian Police Department.

Built on a monumental scale and opened to widespread architectural acclaim, the Meridian Police Department was constructed with public funds by the forward-thinking  political leadership of the day. Before allowing this public resource to be demolished, all avenues for its restoration and future productive use should be explored.  Without an effort to save the best buildings from the recent past, what kind of architectural landscape will we bequeath to the next generation?

If you would like to add your voice to the chorus of preservation-minded lovers of modernism clamoring for a second act for the Meridian Police Department, please send your letter of support for the Mississippi Landmark designation to:

Kane Ditto, President
Mississippi Department of Archives and History Board of Trustees
P.O. Box 571
Jackson, MS 39205



Categories: Demolition/Abandonment, Historic Preservation, Meridian

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31 replies

  1. It is a unique building, and I love the angles and lines and planes.

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  2. It’s interesting that there is a footnoted reminder to this post about Holly Springs’s WRECKING BALL this Saturday. Maybe when Holly Springs is finished with the equipment they will send it on down to Meridian. And speaking of word irony, it’s a pity that short-sighted folk like the bureaucrats in Meridian continually make the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s task so daunting, and often show their noble efforts to be such relatively impotent jokes.

    But I will send the letter.

    Ben Ledbetter, Architect
    New Haven, CT (where equally short-sighted bureaucrats also love to demolish important buildings)

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  3. This is devastating newsthat falls under the heading “Stupid, Mississippi”. Is there any interest in aquiring it, perhaps by MSU/Architecture?

    This also underscores the need for a database of Risher works. Has this building been documented photographically? Are there any contemporary images? Where are the Construction Documents? Any documentation of the “widespread architectural acclaim”, (which I certainly don’t doubt)?

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  4. The paucity of comments on this post is truly pathetic. AND, I fear, prophetic.

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    • Agreed. I’ve becomed concerned regarding lack of interest in preservation among GenX and Millenials etc. I hope I’m wrong about this.

      Again: has this building been documented photographically? Has there been any organizing around this issue? If MSU or AIA don’t lend a hand this could become a regular thing.

      MDAH? Any suggestions?

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  5. I’ve taken photos of the building, but there is no “official” documentary photography other than what was taken when the building first opened. This post and MHT’s listing of the building as endangered and request that it be designated as a Mississippi Landmark are the first attempts to organize, and AIA is involved as well as MSU. If MDAH’s Board of Trustees once again shirks its duty to preserve the state’s architectural history, in the face of letters from MHT, MSU’s College of Architecture, and the MS AIA, then I have no doubt that Meridian will demolish the building as fast as it can.

    As a GenXer, I agree about GenX and Millenials. I have talked to many of my peers and just can’t seem to make headway. There’s a sense that standing up for a building might mean being “negative” or being against economic development, and they don’t want to be perceived in those ways. That’s just my generalized experience, and I’m not sure how to combat it. They all say they love old buildings, and some even drool over Modernist buildings like the police station, but many don’t seem willing to take the next step toward advocating for preservation.

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    • Is the lack of willingness to take the next step toward advocating for preservation you are seeing the basic tasks of writing letter or showing up, or is it the step beyond that?

      My experience is that older generations pay no mind to what GenXer and Millennial say or do. I do think GenXers and Millennials pay attention to what others of their generations are doing. But until GenXers and Millennials are able to obtain the positions of authority I doubt younger generations involvement could accomplish much. Current MDAH board members age range is 58-78 (I did have to look that up, those aren’t statistics I’d want to keep in my head.)

      “When I first came here[Mississippi], I thought it should not be just old, white males, like me, who were leading everything, The area suffered a lot because of that and needed to develop a broader leadership, especially with young people.” -Roland Weeks, MDAH Board Member (http://www.sunherald.info/hall_of_fame/weeks.html)

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      • I will say from my perspective, as someone who’s age starts with a “2”, that it is an uphill battle in many circles for preservationists of my age to actually accomplish anything within existing political frameworks. My generation does not have many (if any) of the political or personal connections developed through years and decades of knowing people and being active in a community. We also have started out our employment careers in the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, meaning that even for people who want to get involved, they cannot because they are either always working or not working enough.

        Also, just from my personal experience, most preservation meetings I have attended rarely have anyone besides myself who is not a retired, 60 or 70 something. That really cuts down on involvement if you are surrounded by people who are not generationally or culturally similar, especially if those older people do not hold positive views of younger generations.

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        • WWhite, those are insightful observations, and I appreciate your sentiments. I also graduated into an earlier recession; it wasn’t nearly as deep and long as this one but did produce feelings instability and and doubt. I empathize with you.

          I live in a neighborhood that has traditionally been a popular place for first-time buyers; singles, couples and young families. Home ownership is crucial because it invests one in the area. That demographic has largely disappeared. It will return.

          Rentals are also crucial, especially now. They attract those not ready to buy, (including students), and they allow tenants to experience living here, which hopefully will produce future buyers.

          Whichever, it’s difficult to feel invested emotionally or monetarily in a neighborhood. Everything’s up in the air. It’s hard to connect with the past when you’re worried about the present.

          It’s up to those already involved with preservation to find ways to involve people like you. The stalwarts are involved because they have weathered bad times and have emerged settled, financially viable, heavily invested and emotionally connected to their home and neighbors.

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          • You are right. For a lot of Millennials property ownership is out of the question caused by student loan or medical expense induced debt to income ratios. Certainly anyone regardless of age that can show up to a meeting with a pocket full of cash willing to put their money where their mouth is, will garner attention.

            It would be wonderful to see a mentor program established by the board. Having board members with connection and influence is obviously important, the thought being that the connections and influence will help the organization they serve. A mentor program would not only expose younger generations to procedures of existing political frameworks but introduce them to the political or personal connections developed through years and decades of knowing people and being active in a community, to use WWhite’s examples. This could be applied to any committee or body, historic district commission, city council, department board are just the first thoughts off the top of my head.

            Who knows the mentor might actually learn something from the mentee? What with the possibility of being exposed to the mentees questions and noticing ways the mentee suggest approaching a problem.

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            • I think mentoring is needed, as you point out, but I would hesitate to want any young person subjected to the mentorship of the current MDAH board, given their lack of backbone. Certainly on the local level, every preservation group and HPC needs to be searching out the young people who are interested in preservation and in need of mentoring.

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            • You are absolutely correct about that down side of mentoring. Hopefully the mentee would still have youthful enthusiasm and a basic enough understanding of preservation to see that what appears to be happening just isn’t right. My wish for a mentor program in this case would be that the mentors would have to explain to the mentee why they would be voting to approve a demolition permit, something they don’t seem to be able to do for anyone else.

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          • Obviously Millennials are not the only ones subject to insurmountable debt but are the only generation to have a propensity to be predisposed to such debt.

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  6. I can’t tell if this conversation is getting way off topic, or closer to the real topic. More to the immediate question. What can be done for the Meridian Police Station, given the arcane, ineffectual structure (so it appears to be) of MDAH in direct confrontation with an unenlightened and recalcitrant City Hall? Presuming that even some empowered individual(s) could clean house at MDAH, it surely would not be in time, per EL’s comments above, to save this building.

    Another way to look at the Police Station– and all of the Rishers’ buildings in this small Mississippi town – is that their presence there is, and was, an anachronism, and that Meridian never deserved them in the first place. Let them have their strip malls and parking lots and focus preservation efforts in more enlightened places?

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    • Punishing ignorance for being ignorant seems a bit not-the-answer. But, that thought has crossed my mind late at night.

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      • Ah, Lulms, our late night musings. Though my thought was not so much to punish philistine behavior as to rescue heads that are mighty sore from beating them against the wall for so long (I’m thinking especially of our noble EL Malvaney), and as alternatives to find causes that potentially have solutions.

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    • Thank you for bringing the conversation back around. I think even in the most enlightened, preservation minded towns there are major uphill battles to save many important buildings. The problems are still the same whether it be an preservation minded place or not.

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      • The problems are the same but certainly easier to solve in a community like Oxford than, apparently, Meridian.

        Meridian was, not so long ago, considered very progressive, with an established, educated core of people whose power was not insignificant.

        I am puzzled by the apparent lack of interest. Is anyone aware of any person or group in that city who could help lead a campaign? Without local involvement I see no future for this building.

        BTW, I am planning a day trip to Meridian sometime next week. My photographic skills have degraded to a slight knowledge of how to use my iPhone camera, I’m going to attempt Agee shots of the MPD building,

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      • OMG the auto-correct replaced “a few” with “Agee”….is that a blessing or omen?

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    • The best thing that can be done for the Meridian Police Station is 1) find a local person or group who is willing to be a local advocate and 2) call every MDAH board member and encourage them to designate the building as a Mississippi Landmark and deny the demolition permit the City has requested. There is no stated purpose for the site, so the City can’t point to any reason the building needs to be demolished, so why not give the building some time for a new use instead of making it just one of scores of downtown Meridian buildings that have met the wrecker’s ball in the last decade or so?

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  7. As someone who spent a not insignificant amount part of their youth in the city, there does seem to be a change regarding the quality of public architecture and planning leadership when I return, but this may be superficial, based on my positive memories of the place.

    Risher’s imprint was a big one on the City, and it will require a lot of effort to remove it, but I have no doubt that Meridian can find a creative way to do it.

    There is an album on Flickr with images of Risher’s Meridian buildings, perhaps someone local could start a Flickr group of his work? https://www.flickr.com/photos/37872410@N00/sets/72157624641433240/

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