Yes, it is our last News Roundup of January. Just because The X-Files was on TV last night, do not forget that it is January 2016, not January 1996.
Once again, the News Roundup is beginning in the southwest part of the state, in Brookhaven. The Lincoln County Library is finishing renovations of its building according to the Brookhaven Daily Leader “LC library finishing renovations.” The building is not particularly old or noteworthy architecturally or historically but a quote in the article about the library from Lincoln-Lawrence-Franklin Regional Library Director Henry Ledet caught my attention:
“One thing we are doing is trying to bring it back to its mid-century period look.”
It is rare for a New Formalist library constructed in 1966 (according to the MDAH Historic Resources Inventory) or 1969 (according to the Daily Leader) to have anyone championing its period look, much less the person responsible for the building. Most people in that position want a new look, preferably one so new that they have to put a new plaque on it with their name in big letters, so congratulations to Mr. Ledet for his foresight.
The Natchez Democrat reports that “Eola presentation to planning commission rescheduled.” Because this is Mississippi, snow is a good excuse to postpone just about everything, including Natchez planning commission meetings, even if that snow is in other states. Current owner, Virginia lawyer Robert Lubin of the firm Lubin, Salvetti & Associates, (PLLC), purchased the historic Eola Hotel in late 2014 and closed it shortly afterwards. His announced plans when he purchased the hotel were to turn it into a senior living complex, citing its lack of spacious rooms and bathrooms as precluding its use as a luxury hotel. However, the fact that Lubin specializes in the EB-5 immigrant investor program likely had a substantial bearing on the stated business plan as, according to the Mercan Group, the “projects best-suited for this type of funding involve the construction or renovation of senior living facilities, mid-tiered hotels and resorts, and some residential properties.” However, approximately a year-and-a-half after Lubin’s purchase of the Eola, there are no old people nor anyone else in it. The planning commission is currently concerned that the plans Lubin has filed do not show that very much of the first floor will be accessible to the public, a concern given the Eola’s prominent downtown location. A closed-off first floor of the Eola could create a commercial and pedestrian dead zone, negatively impacting the surrounding area. That, of course, is in addition to the fact that a senior living complex does not bring the same commercial benefits to a downtown that a historic hotel does.
Another very interesting article from the Natchez Democrat, “From chinaberries to crape myrtles: Trees play important role in Natchez,” provides a short history of arboriculture in the city. Rosecraft Garden Club member Karen Dardick wrote the article, which as its title implies, focuses on two historically popular Natchez trees, the perennially ubiquitous crepe myrtle and current landscape pariah, the chinaberry.
There are updates to two stories in last week’s News Roundup.
The Enterprise United Methodist Church fire has been ruled accidental. The Clarke County Tribune article “Enterprise church fire ruled accidental” is behind a paywall but the article preview indicates that demolition of the church’s remains will begin soon.
The Picayune Item reports in “Aldermen hear update on termite damage, proposal for recycling program” that the Poplarville Board of Aldermen has received good news about the current Poplarville Historical Preservation Society Museum at 101 N. Main, a building that has had many municipal uses in its nearly seventy-year history. There is no structural damage to the building that would prevent its repair. One item of damage that the article noted was that the soffits and fascia, which had been covered by vinyl siding, were damaged beyond repair and need replacing. As I tell people all the time, that is why you never put vinyl siding on any historic building; it hides all sorts of damage: rot, mold, termites, you name it (I would actually say never put vinyl siding on any building, period, but new buildings are built out of particleboard anyway, so what does it matter).
The Picayune Item also reported on some more distressing news out of Picayune. “East Side school sitting idle” shows an uncertain future for the historic East Side Elementary School. Also known as Bertie Rouse Elementary School, it was designed by Noah Webster Overstreet and constructed in 1928 by A. M. Tisdale. East Side is immediately identifiable as an Overstreet school of that period. Its long banks of windows and hipped roof, along with the ornamentation scheme above the entrances, indicate that it is a late bit of the Prairie School brought south. East Side is also a very intact historic school, having never been “modernized” aesthetically at any point, so it abounds with a plethora of original features such as exterior wood windows, wood flooring, beadboard ceilings, interior transoms, and built-in cabinetry. Much of that seems to be lost on Picayune School District assistant superintendent Brent Harrell, who states in the article that it is not only “too small to operate as an elementary school,” but also that it is beyond repair due to its age and damage from Hurricane Katrina. East Side was closed as a school in the 1980s and has only been intermittently used for storage since that time. Should Picayune require more classroom space for elementary or other students, East Side will not figure into the plans. A new building would probably be constructed due to the cost of renovating East Side, according to Harrell, though whether East Side would be demolished in that scenario is not stated. East Side was designated a Mississippi Landmark in 2001, which should give me some confidence as to its future but the word “Mendenhall” keeps popping up in my head to make me think that confidence is misplaced.
Overstreet is also in the news for another group of public officials abusing one of his buildings, then blaming the building. The Clarion-Ledger (yes, it actually reported a story on the Jackson area all by itself without any help from the AP wire) starts off the article “Judges echo courthouse concerns to Rankin supervisors” with the sentence, “The deplorable conditions of the Rankin County Justice Courthouse are undeniable,” with a few more nails in the coffin from the statement “the building contains asbestos and visible mold, does not have hot water and is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Well whose fault is that! The Rankin County Courthouse, constructed in 1924, is similar to East Side Elementary School in that it suffers from deferred maintenance. However, it is not like East Side in that the courthouse is a working building that has suffered from numerous “modernizations” such as acoustical tile drop ceilings, carpeting, and a rabbit’s warren of partitions. Apparently, no one thought to actually repair the leaking roof as visible water damage and mold shown are indicative of long-term leaks. The article is mostly a litany of justified complaints by anyone who works in the courthouse over the fact that the Rankin County Board of Supervisors, who work out of a newer building next door, have halted the planned construction of a new Justice Center to replace the Rankin County Courthouse. Admittedly, I would complain about those conditions as well, probably more loudly, but hopefully these complaints will lead to a sympathetic restoration of the Rankin County Courthouse, not its replacement, abandonment, and/or demolition.
There is more courthouse news hidden behind The Columbian-Progress‘s paywall in the article, “Courthouse gets local spotlight.” The MDAH rejected the Marion County Board of Supervisors’ renovation plans in December. The Board of Supervisors likely wanted to either add something unsympathetic to or remove something historic from the courthouse. Hopefully, we can find out more details about this project from the MDAH.
Also from The Columbian-Progress is “Restoration continues on waterworks building.” The Columbia Waterworks is being restored by the City of Columbia thanks to a 2013 MDAH Community Heritage Preservation Grant (CHPG). There have been over 1,800 published posts on Preservation in Mississippi, and I cannot believe that the Columbia Waterworks has not been the subject of one. It did not even get on the preliminary 101 Places List. I, honestly, had never heard of it, but would now have to say that it ranks very highly among the greatest Art Moderne buildings in Mississippi and is one of my new favorites of that style in the state. Columbia Waterworks was designed by William E. Mallett & Associates, as the first documented project for the Jackson-based engineering/architecture firm and was constructed from 1947 to 1949. The firm’s most well known building is the mostly demolished and completely maligned Naval Reserve Center in Jackson. The Waterworks and Naval Reserve Center are the only documented Art Moderne buildings by Mallett & Associates, which is a shame since the firm excelled at those projects in a way they failed to do in their post-1950 Mid-Century Modern boxes (with the exception of the Just Hall of Science at Jackson State University, which has been substantially altered). Thankfully, the heritage tourism blog Blueprints and Backpacks profiled Columbia Waterworks for its inaugural post, so there is something online about the building. I still think there should be a Preservation in Mississippi post on it (preferably by someone who is not busy writing voluminous News Roundups).
In Fondren, the Mississippi Business Journal reports, “Developers of The Fondren ready for spring start on hotel tower” that Kolb’s Cleaners will soon be getting that nine-story carbuncle it always needed. Construction will begin this spring on The Fondren, which along with the Hampton Inn included in the News Roundup from two weeks ago, will anchor Whitney Place. Yes, apparently Whitney Place has crawled out of whatever dark place it has hidden the past few years and gotten the Jackson City Council to give it tax-increment-financing, as reported by the Jackson Free Press, “‘Whitney Place’ Plans Back on the Table for Fondren” in late December (a story that fell through the normally tight cracks of my News Roundups, sorry). Malvaney wrote a nice post, “On Developers, Modernism, and Fondren,” back during the initial fight against Whitney Place. After six years, it is depressingly relevant once again.
In Meridian, initial site work is beginning for the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience, to be located on Front Street in downtown. The Meridian Star’s blurb about the work, “Getting Started,” regurgitates the projections that 125,000 to 150,000 visitors will annually visit the two-story, 58,500 square foot facility. Hmm, I wonder what used to be there. I cannot seem to remember. Oh well, it could not have been very historically prominent or architecturally important or it would not have been demolished. Just kidding, of course, I doubt I will ever forget that the Meridian Hotel was located there, nor will I likely ever quit being angry that it was needlessly, myopically, thoughtlessly, tragically demolished.
The Conservative in Carrollton reported that the historic Springhill Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in rural Carroll County burned at the beginning of the month. The article, “Historic Church Burns,” is completely behind a paywall and no other news outlets picked up on the story (surprisingly, for some reason the AP did not put on their front page that an old church at the dead end of a dirt road in rural Mississippi burned), so I literally cannot give you any other details about the church. I cannot even tell you how historic it was, though the congregation was founded in 1871, as it is not in the MDAH Historic Resources Inventory nor is there other available information about it; Google Streetview does not come within miles of where the church was located. Hopefully, some Preservation in Mississippi reader is familiar with this church.
Speaking of historic churches at the end of a dirt road, here is an update on the Baptist Church in Rodney in the recent flood.
In Vicksburg, the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation (SCHF) is holding its first Raise the Roof Talent Search and Competition according to The Vicksburg Post, “Talent show back on track; set for February.” While the winner of the talent show will win $1,000, the real goal of the show is to raise funds for new roofs for some of the SCHF’s buildings, specifically the gymnasium and convent. The SCHF is housed in the former St. Francis Xavier Convent and Academy, which is an architectural history lesson comprising the Greek Revival Cobb House from 1835, the Gothic Revival Convent from 1868, the William Stanton-designed Romanesque Auditorium/Academy building from 1885, the R. W. Naef-designed Stripped Classicist Elementary School from 1936, and the Jack Canizaro-designed Modernist O’Beirne Gymnasium from 1955. All this on one city block that is still half-surrounded by brick streets. Of course, with so many historic buildings, funding is a perpetual issue for the SCHF. Funds from the Raise the Roof Talent Search and Competition will be used to match a CHPG applied for in October and awarded in December.
And that was the news.