Mississippi’s Best Buildings of 1974

In 1974, the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects held its fourth annual convention, according to a Delta Democrat Times blurb, and presented six honor awards.  The awards were dominated by a Greenville firm that picked up four awards. Below the article, I’ve illustrated the award winners with photos.

G’ville firm wins four awards

A Greenville architectural firm won four of the top six awards presented Saturday at the fourth annual convention of the Mississippi chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The firm is Virden & Roberson, Ltd.  The award-winning restoration projects are the 706 Arnold Ave. home (a former military academy) of architect Matt Virden III, and the guest apartment-office building at 230 Main St. Award-winning new design projects are the Commercial Bank Branch in Greenville Mall and the health-physical education building at Mississippi Valley State University.

The other two top awards went to Jackson firms.  They were to Barlow & Plunkett for the Xerox Building and to John L. Turner & Associates for the Gartin Justice Building.

Of the 27 projects nominated by the chapter’s honor awards committee, 10 of them were by Greenville architects.

Delta Democrat Times  August 18, 1974

I do not believe the two projects referred to as “restorations” would be considered as such today.  They are more along the lines of remodeling.  While 706 Arnold Avenue is still around (the link contains some interior photos), 230 Main Street burned in the early 1990s.  The only picture I could locate of that building was from the National Register nomination for the downtown Greenville historic district, and the photo is of the fire ruins.

The Commercial Bank branch was a bit confusing.  Was this a branch actually located in the mall itself, or is this the handsome bank building that is now a Trustmark situated on an out parcel of the mall?

The health-physical education building at MVSU is possibly the Dr. Robert W. Harrison Health and Recreation Center.  The entry in the MDAH HRI database states the date of construction for this building as 1952, but it isn’t clear where this date derives from.

The two Jackson buildings were easier to identify, somewhat.  The Xerox Building is at 660 North Street, formerly 666 North Street, currently holding state offices. The Gartin Justice Building was demolished in 2008, and its replacement was a topic of discussion in the early days of the MissPres website.

It is interesting to look back and see what architects valued as the best new buildings being designed and built at a certain time.  With two of these buildings not having survived beyond 45 years, is this indicative of America’s fickle obsession with the new, even when it comes to buildings that received recognition?  The national AIA decided against awarding any 25-year awards this year for the first time since the award’s official inception.  The award is conferred on a building that has stood the test of time for 25-35 years and continues to set standards of excellence for its architectural design and significance.  Do you think there is an inference that the buildings from 25-35 years ago, including buildings that received accolades when new, no longer hold merit?

I am curious as to what the other twenty-one nominated projects were, and how they have weathered the test of time and public opinion.



Categories: Banks, Courthouses, Delta, Demolition/Abandonment, Greenville, Historic Preservation, Hospitals/Medical, Jackson, Recent Past, Universities/Colleges

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16 replies

  1. Excellent questions. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a follow-up–the missing 21 and where they are (or are not) today.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love 1970s architecture, so your excellent post was a gladdening way to start the day. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Trustmark bank building on Clinton Blvd in Clinton is pretty cool I think. Massive looking. Google Street View:https://www.google.com/maps/@32.3349011,-90.3135173,3a,40.6y,327.77h,91.98t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sPbnFDFAQ1ACn1AdhbvuDxg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

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  5. It is interesting that these buildings (the ones that were not remuddlings of earlier buildings) will be of National Register age eligibility in less than a decade. Considering how understudied and unloved 1970s architecture is, preservationists will have an interesting time deciding what to pursue preservation efforts on.

    I have to admit, the era does not contain a large amount of architecture that I particularly enjoy. In fact, it contains a large amount of architecture that I really dislike. Mid-Century Modernism went for broke on big, bold, often bad ideas throughout the 1950s and 60s, and by the 1970s they were rolling snake eyes, building squat bunkers of banal sprawl indicative of the fact that ingenuity, optimism, and quality had run out just as quickly as oil.

    That being said, I occasionally see buildings from the 1970s that are so indicative of their construction era that they should be preserved, two of which I will mention here. The first is Allen Hall on the Mississippi State University campus. While there is always the chance that the administration has messed it up since I was there earlier in the decade, when I attended it was like walking into 1970. The furniture and vending machines in the lounge, the bolted-down desks and furniture in the classrooms, the doors, the slit-like windows, the vinyl flooring, the 1970s version of executive “opulence” in the President’s Office, all these things preserved like an insect in amber, encased in a large gray and brown box that no amount of crepe myrtles can hide from view. The building is so boldly, offensively, and unapologetically a product of the 1970s and so bold, offensive, and unapologetic in its hatred for its occupants that it really should merit stringent preservation.

    The second is the Copiah County Chancery Complex in Hazlehurst, a building that, with its rounded edges, rounded window corners, diagonal wood paneling, and brown and white color scheme, screams at the top of its lungs at its neighbors – a historic courthouse, a historic church, Victorian houses, etc. – that it is from the 1970s, and it does not care how much they hate it. Walking across the parking lot, you see it across the street and think that aliens plopped it down as part of some sort of invasion, a small-town branch office of the main alien invasion headquarters in some big city far away; it is that out-of-place. One has to admire that and in this case, no matter how grudgingly, has to preserve something so unique, even if it probably uniquely bad.

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    • I too enjoy a building that retains its period appearance, no matter what the period. These are local versions of national trends. Allen Hall will be 50 years old this year, I believe. The Copiah County building is interesting also. Do you have a date for construction? One thing I don’t find interesting is the acres of parking that sit between the building and the courthouse. I think that has done a broader disservice to American towns and cities than any building ever could. Has a parking lot ever been listed on the National Register for Criterion A or C?

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      • The MDAH HRI states that the Copiah County Chancery Complex dates to c. 1980, which I believe is late. I would peg it at c. 1975, but they could have some information about it that they have not posted. Jennifer Baughn did the National Register nomination form for the district, so she could be emailed and asked about it. It is referred to as the W. S. Henley Building in the nomination form and is non-contributing to the district. A cursory search online shows that it has been used for various governmental offices, with the earliest date for the building coming from The Code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America, which states that it was Copiah County’s office for the Voting Rights Program beginning on December 13, 1983. As it is, I do not know the architect, construction date, or much else about the building. But, if it only dates to 1980, it will not be eligible for the National Register for over a decade and will probably not last to reach it’s fiftieth birthday intact, not with such a radical design for the area.

        I agree, the parking lot is not the most attractive feature, though at least it is at the rear of the courthouse.

        Depending on how the nomination was worded, a few parking lots have been listed on the National Register in the form of modern shopping centers. After all, you cannot separate the copious amounts of parking that those shopping centers were designed with from the building itself. The parking was integral to the whole shopping center. That being said, I doubt any stand-alone parking lots have been listed on the National Register; they lack the materiality required for listing since they are meant to be repaved often and have no defining features other than pavement.

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        • If there is a parking lot that is listed for criterion A or C it is probably more than just pavement. Curbs, outdoor furniture, lighting and other landscaping might be a contributing factor. Any planted landscape listed on the NR will change and grow. I wonder if a site meant to be repaved every decade or less frequently would be a disqualifying factor, even if replaced in-kind. The May 4, 1970, Kent State Shootings Site in Ohio –although nominated for a nationally significant event, rather than the design of the parking lot itself– appears to have been paved over more than once since 1970. I’m merely playing devil’s advocate here but in the broadest sense, the register should be reflective of our history. For better or worse(usually worse) parking lots are a pretty significant part of our urban and rural landscapes in the latter part of the 20th century.

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        • The only Mississippi nomination I can think of that explicity includes a parking lot as a contributing feature is the Meadowbrook McRae’s in Jackson, where it is part of the larger discussion of suburban shopping centers and the role of the automobile.
          https://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/nom/prop/2145893264.pdf

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        • The Copiah chancery building is directly adjacent to the sidewalk–the parking lot is across the street and is really the back half of the courthouse “square.” I put that in quotes because the square has never been the centerpiece of Hazlehurst as in some other CH towns. The back half of the square originally had a jail, and although I’ve never seen a picture of the space from that era, I would assume it had a jail yard and was used more functionally than the front half. I think it would nice, though, for the parking lot to be set off with better curbing and landscaping so it’s not just this huge swath of asphalt merging with the streets around it.

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  6. My favorite comment I’ve ever read, “The building is so boldly, offensively, and unapologetically a product of the 1970s and so bold, offensive, and unapologetic in its hatred for its occupants that it really should merit stringent preservation”!… Thank you W.White!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am glad you enjoyed the comment. I, like many other MSU students, spent a great deal of time in Allen Hall classrooms. Having spent so much time there, I can say that the building seems willfully designed to inflict suffering on its occupants. I came to respect that, especially since it had done so for 40 years with seemingly not so much as a single change in paint color.

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