This week we are beginning the News Roundup in the non-Natchez Southwestern part of this state, specifically in Brookhaven, which has a few articles of interest.
The first Brookhaven Daily Leader article is from January 7, “No longer on the back burner” published for the unveiling of a historic marker at the Coffee Pot Inn. The Coffee Pot Inn is one of the few examples of programmatic or mimetic architecture in Mississippi. The most famous, of course, is Mammy’s Cupboard in Natchez. The Coffee Pot Inn is not as mimetic as the United States most famous coffee pot building, the Bedford, Pennsylvania Coffee Pot but is more similar to the Roanoke, Virginia Coffee Pot. Like the latter building, the Coffee Pot Inn is not an entire coffee pot shaped building but is instead a normal building with a coffee pot added onto it. The Coffee Pot Inn was constructed by James J. Carruth in 1931, during the golden age of programmatic architecture, and fulfilled a multi-purpose role as diner, Greyhound Bus station, and Carruth family residence. The Coffee Pot Inn is small stucco-covered, one-story building with a sheet metal coffee pot on top of the hipped roof in place of a more traditional cupola. A historic photograph of the building shows that a majority of the building has been demolished over the years. Today, only a building paper sheathed rear ell extends from the front, coffee pot portion of the building, whereas previously there was a much larger two story rear section. That section contained the Carruth’s residence. This loss is likely why the Coffee Pot Inn has not been conferred any landmark status, either Mississippi or National, though the front portion is remarkably intact. The historic marker unveiling was a good opportunity for Brookhaven residents to reminisce about the Coffee Pot Inn, recalling old menu items, including one that caught my eye: “a goose liver toasted sandwich for 15 cents.” Imagine! Now where can I even get a fois gras sandwich in Mississippi today, much less one for $2.34?
“No injuries reported in Tuesday fire” discusses a fire at 129 North Second Street in Brookhaven, which burned January 5. The article indicates the address is 226 East Court Street but the photograph shows the house at the corner of East Court and North Second. It is 085-BRK-0782B on the MDAH Historic Resources Inventory Database, which indicates that it was constructed circa 1890. The historic house, which has been divided into multiple apartments, sustained damage to the interior, but firefighters prevented damage to the exterior. Old houses, especially Victorians, that have been divided into apartments are rarely maintained and preserved as they should be; let us hope that this fire does not cause any inappropriate alterations, abandonment, neglect, or demolition to be undertaken.
Lincoln County now has an entry in the Images of America Series from Arcadia Publishing. “New book chronicles history of county” states that members of the Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society worked to compile the roughly 250 photographs for the book. A portion of the profits will fund a “special project” by the society (based upon Arcadia Publishing author royalties contract I have seen, they will need to sell more than a few books to fund any project, special or otherwise).
“MSA receives final grant for Elizabeth Cottage” talks about the third grant awarded to the Mississippi School of the Arts (MSA) for the restoration of Elizabeth Cottage. The building was constructed in 1913 as the Whitworth College President’s Home and was named for longtime college president (and first resident) Dr. Inman William Cooper’s wife. This third grant awarded through the MDAH’s Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program will finish a restoration program begun in 2009. Preservation in Mississippi has kept up with this restoration from the first year of this blog through today, illustrating the positive difference the CHPG program continues to make.
It is always good to read about public officials and residents appreciating the MDAH’s Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program. And then there is always Meridian.
The Meridian City Council unanimously voted not to accept the $300,000 CHPG for repairing the (former) Meridian Police Station’s roof. The WTOK story “City Council Votes ‘No’ To Grant Funding For Old Police Station” and The Meridian Star article “Council nixes grant to preserve old police station” both cover the meeting. It is interesting to see the coverage of this meeting from two different news sources and their differences. The council, led by 31-year Ward 1 Councilman Dr. George Thomas, indicated their displeasure on the City of Meridian spending any money on restoring the building, declining to allocate the $75,000 in matching funds. The group’s attitude was summed up by Councilman Thomas, “To me it was just a waste of money.” However, Councilman Thomas did not seem content to merely reject funding the restoration of the Chris Risher-designed building. WTOK aired another story, “Old Meridian Police Station: ‘Historic Designation’, Questions Raised,” with several worrying quotes from Councilman Thomas:
“How can you put a building on a historical preservation list, without the property owner even being concerned, or considered about it?”…
“Then they [MDAH] said once it’s on the list, you must repair it, and that’s not true,” says Thomas.
He says what happened with the old Matty Hersee Hospital in Meridian is a perfect example about why this is not true…
“The Matty Hersee Building that Meridian Community College inherited was put on the historic preservation list,” says Councilman Thomas, “and since they had no use for it, and with the excessive cost that it would take to repair it was such that the community college some way received permission to remove the building. That improved that corner tremendously. Now the community college can use that property. The same thing can happen with the old police station.”
The Meridian Police Station apparently will retain its high place atop the Preservation in Mississippi endangered list in 2016.
“New Threefoot owner takes possession of building” chronicles the ceremonial handing of the keys ceremony for the maligned Threefoot Building. Meridian Mayor Percy Bland and Community Development Director Bunky Partridge gave the keys to president of Ascent Hospitality Management, John Tampa, and told him to drive safe, always use his blinker, and be home by 10:00. In all seriousness, they probably told Mr. Tampa “don’t give us any excuse to demolish this building, ‘cause it’s an old building and we just can’t have those ‘round here.” No, they did not say that either. Tampa told the Meridian Star reporter that it will be seven to nine months before construction begins.
The January 5, 2016 Meridian City Council minutes state that the Council appointed David Purvis, Jr. (whom I believe is a downtown businessman) to the Meridian Historical Preservation Commission.
Fondren is once again in the news as yet another hotel, this one a Hampton Inn, is in the works. Find It In Fondren reports in “Whitney Place Developers Announce Hotel Plans” that Whitney Place Development Group and Desai Hotel Group will begin construction on a 111-room “boutique-style” Hampton Inn, located at 3111 North State Street (currently a nondescript building housing Rankin Interiors), this spring. The development is not as egregious as “The Fondren” in that it does not demolish any notable historic buildings (or sprout from their back like some sort of nine-story wart). However, it is still an out-of-scale, character-changing development. Perhaps I am confused about the Fondren neighborhood’s economics, seeing as I am not a Fondren resident, but why is it exactly that Fondren needs 300 hotel rooms? A “recent market study” has been cited by the development groups behind the Hampton Inn and The Fondren. It states that Fondren needs 300 hotel rooms. Why? Fondren, from what I have read and seen, appears to be a generally Mid-Century Modern, primarily one-story, auto-centric commercial district surrounded by primarily by small, post-World War II houses of the Levittown and FHA typology with various other earlier houses scattered around. It looks like a nice neighborhood. It does not look like a neighborhood that needs 300 hotel rooms anymore than my neighborhood or a hundred other interesting, nice neighborhoods I have seen. God help me if my neighborhood ever becomes hip.
Just before New Year’s, construction workers were removing debris and stabilizing buildings in downtown Okolona. “Work begins on damaged Okolona buildings” states that the remainder of the Merchants & Farmers Bank and Sav-On Shoe store buildings are being demolished. Those buildings, comprising a significant presence in downtown Okolona, collapsed November 17 due to storm damage and decades of neglect.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported in “Tupelo fills half of committee slots” that Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton is remaking the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. The newspaper article states that there are five expired terms among the seven-member panel (though I always thought the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission had nine members) that, presumably, need to be filled. Now, it is time for me to stand on my soapbox and rant about Historic Preservation Commissions (HPCs). (Steps on soapbox). HPCs are both the vanguard of historic preservation and the weakest link in historic preservation. It is one thing for a state or federal agency or a preservation consultant to advocate for historic preservation. It is another thing entirely for local HPC members to advocate for historic preservation when a church wants to demolish a house for a new parking lot or the city council votes to urban renewal some neglected Victorians or a real estate developer wants to demolish a landmark to build new condos. HPC members like that, who stand up for something and often get the cold shoulder (or worse) from their neighbors, are simply the greatest. They do it for no money and even less thanks. But, it is often very easy for mayors and city councils to replace those types of people with ones more malleable. Mayor Shelton’s revamping of Tupelo’s HPC could be quite innocuous. I will assume it is. But, readers on Preservation in Mississippi are well aware of what a HPC looks like municipal governments mold it into being more interested in politics than preservation. Meridian is the worst Mississippi example but not the only one in the world; HPCs like that are found from Alabama to Alaska and everywhere in between. When that happens and an HPC will rubber stamp anything presented before them, they become the weakest link. That should never be allowed to occur with any HPC. All historic preservationists and preservation organizations should focus, even if it is just in your own town, on making sure that HPCs are strong agents for preserving historic buildings and that nothing is done by elected officials to dilute that role. (Steps off soapbox).
Of course, for a Historic Preservation Commission full of expired terms, the Tupelo HPC was busy in November and December. “Historical Preservation Commission focuses on Mill Village” discusses the ongoing, difficult efforts by the HPC to preserve Tupelo’s Mill Village.
[HPC board member Doyce] Deas said she’s always been frustrated that Tupelo has not valued historical structure as other communities do, especially after the 1936 tornado that destroyed many structures.
“We’ve just been oblivious to the things that were left,” she said. “In the name of economic development, we’ve been willing to tear them down. More than anything, we’ve torn down beautiful buildings to build parking lots for churches that are used one day a week. It’s like that song: ‘Paved paradise to put up a parking lot.’”
Hopefully, those are not the words of a former Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission member.
The Lumberton Museum, housed at the former Lumberton City Hall, is in dire straits in its efforts to reopen. “Lumberton Museum at a standstill” states that the 110-year-old building has faced a litany of problems over the past few years. A neglected, rain-damaged roof lead to the building’s closure in early 2012, followed by Hurricane Isaac inflicted roof and wall damage in August 2012 and, now, termite damage. The article indicates that Lumberton Mayor Kent Crider is pessimistic as to whether the building can be saved, despite assistance being provided by MDAH architectural historians William M. Gatlin and Jennifer V.O. Baughn.
The former Elam Arms dormitory site in Hattiesburg is being redeveloped according to the Hattiesburg American: “Plans underway for The District at Midtown.” The Elam Arms was a large Mid-Century Mundane dormitory that was damaged in the February 2013 tornado that tore through several of Hattiesburg’s historic buildings. It was subsequently demolished due to the damage; it had already been subjected to its original dark and light brick color scheme being beiged before the tornado. As a steel and concrete framed structure, the tornado was likely just an excuse to remove a fifty-year-old building. The area will now become The District at Midtown (yes, you know it is important with a capital “The”). Initial development will consist of a boutique hotel, the 100-room Hotel Indigo, at the corner of South 31st Avenue and Chevy Chase Drive. According to Hattiesburg developer Rob Tatum (responsible for the Hub City Lofts and The Claiborne at Hattiesburg), “No Hotel Indigos are the same — they can match their neighborhood themes — so we’ll be able to put Hattiesburg-specific things in there. We’ll be able to tie it in to USM, the hospital, the city, all that.” There will also be 35,000 square feet of retail space on both sides of South 31st Avenue. I give all MissPres-ers the challenge: what Hattiesburg-specific things would you put in a Hotel Indigo (assuming you would actually be building one instead of opening a bed-and-breakfast in an old Victorian)?
The Picayune Item has an article, “Historic post office mural hidden under paint,” about the mural “Lumber Region in Mississippi,” the long painted over WPA mural in the Picayune Post Office lobby. The Picayune Item cites Mark Clinton Davis’s October 2012 history of the mural, originally published in The Historical Reporter, the Pearl River County Historical Society’s newsletter and reprinted here on Preservation in Mississippi.
Natchez just cannot stay out of our News Roundups. There is a Board of Aldermen-Mayoral dustup over renovating and leasing the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Passenger Depot (also known as the Illinois Central Depot), an English Arts & Crafts/Tudor-style structure constructed in 1915 on North Broadway along the bluff. The depot has been an issue that has been in the news off-and-on for several years, occasionally in conjunction with the ill-advised Pecan Factory boondoggle. However, it has gained increasing vitriol and backroom dealing-ness as 2015 progressed. In a nutshell, the problems appear to be that the City of Natchez had difficulties paying for restoring the depot, which has been bid on three separate occasions due to high costs. They evicted two businesses from the building in order to obtain grant funding not available to buildings that house for-profit businesses. The original plans, as stated by Mayor Butch Brown, were to house an Alcorn State University extension service in the building. That fell through as New Orleans Hotel Consultants approached the city to take over some restoration costs in exchange for operating a private visitors center. Now, Natchez is searching for money to pay their portion of the restoration costs so that the depot can house Mississippi River Visitor Depot, a visitors center that half of Natchez’s Board of Aldermen contends will compete with the city-owned Natchez Visitor Reception Center. So in other words, just business and politics as usual. The following articles cover the issue over 2015 and 2016: “Aldermen reject bids for downtown depot renovations,” “Depot idle as new bids accepted,” “Group shows interest in downtown depot,” “Mayor casts deciding vote to lease railroad depot,” “Has depot issue become divisive,” and “Natchez aldermen review grant funding.”
Finally, there is a feel good news article, “Melrose park ranger wins national recognition,” out of Natchez. Natchez National Historical Park Ranger Barney Schoby, Jr. was awarded the Flat Hat Award by the National Park Traveler’s Club. The award is presented to a park ranger who goes above and beyond to be informative and make visiting a National Park enjoyable. The award is made more notable since 2015 was Schoby’s first year as a full-time park ranger. He previously volunteered and interned at the park from 2010 to 2012. Schoby conducts tours at Melrose, which means that there is absolutely no excuse not to tour the plantation on your next visit to Natchez now that it has a national award-winning park ranger conducting tours. You were already on orders to see it before you die.
And that was the news.
Categories: Brookhaven, Depots, Disasters, Grants, Hattiesburg, Historic Preservation, Hotels, Jackson, Meridian, Museums, Natchez, New Deal, News Roundups, Okolona, Picayune, Post Offices, Preservation Law/Local Commissions, Tupelo