Mid 20th-Century Eclectic Historicism in Laurel

We’ve had several posts on what later mid-century modern buildings (defined here on MissPres by W. White as c.1965-c.1978) were considered in their time as the best Mississippi had to offer.  Let’s not forget that there were plenty of buildings that instead took on the time-honored tradition of interpreting a style based on a historical precedent.  While I’ve yet to find many of these traditional style buildings that have won design awards, they were certainly a significant portion, if not the majority, of new construction at the time.

Take for example the building below, Laurel’s Franklin Building.  Designed by architect John Wiggins Hunt Sr. (1920-1979), it is likely composed of two older buildings that received a new, unifying facade in 1967.  This work was representative of an effort to invest in downtown Laurel, after two decades of suburban-style outer-ring growth or suburban-style projects such as Laurel’s Gardiner Center Shopping Center.

Franklin Bldg Laurel Leader Call June 23, 1967

New Franklin Building Planned for North Central Avenue

North Central Avenue will have one of the most modern and up-to-date buildings in Laurel upon the completion of the new Franklin Building to be located where the Woodmen of the World and Easy Pay Tire Store buildings now stand.  The above is a drawing by Architect John W. Hunt showing the French colonial design of the building planned by V. A. Liberto regional manager of Franklin Life Insurance Company.  Construction of the office building, which will house all of Franklin offices in Laurel, A. G. Edwards and others, is expected to get underway in the near future.

-Laurel Leader-Call, June 23, 1967

Here is what the building looks like today, or rather ten years ago when the Google Street View image was made in 2008.  Not in horrible looking shape, it appears to have aged well.

While the article mentions a “French colonial design”, this mid-century style draws on an eclectic variety of historic styles to make up the facade.  This is a romanticism rooted more in nostalgia than actual French colonial architecture. This structure, like other revivals of period styles before it, is based more on an idea of a period than on scholarly reconstruction.  Earlier “historical” styles from Greek Revival to Colonial Revival, Spanish Colonial, Tudor, and even Gothic, were often just as “butchered” in terms of historical accuracy as this building is.  The work on the Franklin Building took place about ten years prior to Laurel receiving its downtown mall canopy that was part of turning Central Avenue into a pedestrian mall.   In the below image from the Laurel Leader-Call you can see the Franklin Building lurking behind the c. 1977 downtown canopy.

Laurel Leader-Call MALL EDITION, Nov. 12, 1977

Hunt moved to Laurel in 1957, I believe.  He only has one building listed in the MDAH HRI, the former Merchants & Farmers Bank in Winona, Mississippi, built in 1967, the same year as the Franklin Building.  It even looks like similar window units were used for both structures.

former Merchants & Farmers Bank [Renasant Bank] 400 Summit St Winona, Montgomery County. Russell Archer, 2012 from MDAH HRI accessed 5-1-18

So, MissPres folks, what are your thoughts about this building, and its mid-century traditional kin? Are there any other must-see mid-century traditional buildings in Mississippi?


Interested in other Mid-Century traditional designs? Or is late Modern design more your style?


Categories: Banks, Laurel, Recent Past

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9 replies

  1. The Quarter Shopping Center on Lakeland Dr. in Jackson would, I think, fit this bill.

    What was the deal with that canopy?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Now this one is a stumper–nothing comes to mind. I think that might be because I have no appreciation for a style called mid-century traditional!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The mention of John Hunt as the architect of the facade renovations in Laurel, which is my hometown, prompts some memories. As a youth I had already decided to study architecture, and Mr Hunt was the “town architect” and would allow me to visit his office quite often. He was a kind and patient man.

    The first iteration of his firm was” Hunt & Shuffling”. His ouvure, not unlike Mr Risher’s, encompassed a wide array of styles. Much later on I discovered the house where we lived was designed by John Hunt.

    I think this idea of “town architect” is fascinating and important, esp when studying the post-war period. Certainly there are other cities in Mississippi with John Hunts. I wonder if anyone has taken this up?

    Liked by 1 person

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