It’s been five years to the day since I asked the MissPres universe to “Show Me the Alligator Gargoyles!” and now that no one has stepped forward with pictures, I felt it was time to take matters into my own hands.
To jog your memory, I had re-read the (three) introductions in the 1976 publication Jackson Landmarks and came across this amazing assertion about the Lamar Life Building (built 1924-25) by Thomas Spengler in his essay, “Time Was . . . When the fun was . . . on Capitol Street.”
When the Lamar Life Building was young (and so was I, for that matter) there were upside-down alligators that decorated the structure as well as those gargoyles. The alligators, though, were at street level, flanking the main entrance and thus very visible to passersby. You didn’t have to look up to see them; you only had to turn your head as you walked by. Why were they removed and the gargoyles spared? The alligators were every bit as Gothic in the mood they created–equally ugly, equally threatening, even more evil than the gargoyles because they were upside down, heads pointed toward nether regions where all sorts of horrors might wait just below Capitol Street’s placid and sun-warmed surface. Oh they were scary to a lad of five or so, who held tightly to a parent’s hand as he walked past the building.
I went on a search for images of the alligators, which I couldn’t believe I had never heard of before, but came up empty-handed, as I noted in my 2012 post:
Why have I never seen pictures of these wonderful alligator gargoyles? How could such amazing creatures have gone unphotographed? Surely they were photographed and I just haven’t seen the images. If you know of pictures of these alligators, let the rest of us know in the comments and we’ll work to get those images here on MissPres. Their removal is very unfortunate, but if we can bring them back to life digitally at least we’ll know what we’re missing.
No one stepped forward with images, and over the next few years, I forgot about it. But recently, I heard tell of a set of Lamar Life blueprints in the collection of the MDAH Historic Preservation Division that might provide me with answers to this persistent question. And sure enough . . .
here in living color is proof that there once were alligators, and this is what they looked like!
As you can see, while the figures with crossed legs are still in place to the sides of the entrance, the alligators are no longer there and have been gone at least since the 1970s. It doesn’t seem like the alligators served a functional purpose such as a downspout; maybe they were damaged and just got removed. Curiously, there appear to be patched holes on one side of the entrance where the alligator might have been, but I don’t see any on the left side.
Categories: Architectural Research, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Lost Mississippi
Am I correct that the plan doesn’t show the alligator directly below the sitting figure? The patched holes though are below? The alligator to me looks to be part of trim work/detail to the inside of the sitting figure? Or are the blue prints simply showing detail drawings?
Yes, you’re right, on closer inspection, this was part of an archway that has been completely removed. Good eye!
There is a beautiful photograph from Archives and History showing the original entrance and the alligators on both sides. I have a copy than I can send you or perhaps you can find it. It’s numbered Z1851-38.tif.
We’ve spent a lot of time working toward getting the building renovated. It is certainly one of Jackson’s treasures.
There’s also a great shot of a young Eudora Welty standing on top of the building.
In this Suzasippi article, there is a newspaper photo in which the original arch can be seen: https://suzassippi.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/lamar-life-building/
How terrible that it was removed. Perhaps it could all be replaced in this renovation?
If they were removed purposely, the originals have to be sitting in the garage of some wrecking company employee, somewhere. These alligators are too cool to have been intentionally destroyed.
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Mattiace Properties had the building last – do we have a rough
date when they were last known to be on the building?
I don’t know. The doors from the remodeling of the Lamar building entrance match those of the remodeled Bank of Georgetown, in Georgetown, Mississippi. That remodeling dates to 1977 so I’d guess it wouldn’t be any later than then.
Sort of like the Louisville Courthouse cornerstone that was in someone’s backyard for years, and then in a man’s shed.
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I remember these well. As a small boy I was fascinated by them. Not sure of the material they were made from. For some reason cement comes to mind. Possibly they were destroyed in the process of removal.
From Eudora Welty’s “One Writer’s Beginnings”:
“The Lamar Life tower is overshadowed now, and you can no longer read the time on its clocktower from all over town, as he’d (Eudora’s father) wanted to be possible always, but the building’s grace and good proportion contrast tellingly with the overpowering, sometimes brutal, character of some of the structures that rise above it. Renovators have sandblasted away the alligators that graced the entrance. But the Company still has its home there, and my father is remembered.”
Great find, Jason. I’ve posted a historic photo of the alligators at the entrance, two of the building and one of Ms. Welty on the roof to our Canizaro Cawthon Davis Facebook page. https://business.facebook.com/canizarocawthondavis