Thanks to W. White’s meticulous work, many of us were fortunate to get a glimpse of the Art Deco gymnasium-auditorium in the rural community of Carson, featured recently in the Name This Place XIII: Google Street View Edition, only to subsequently learn of its recent March 2019 demise by fire. W. White’s comment about the rarity, and the uniqueness, of the Art Deco styled gymnasium in a rural area indicated to me that it needed a little further exploration. We had already lost a unique building to neglect before its further total destruction by fire.
We already know it was a project funded by the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works Projects Division (PWA). The Jefferson Davis county board of supervisors directed a bond election in 1933 to erect a gymnasium/auditorium for the Carson consolidated school. The bond was passed, but the Mississippi courts found the issue invalid due to procedural errors, and subsequently ruled the board could not proceed. The board rectified those errors eventually, however, the first submission to PWA was rejected with recommendation for disapproval. The Carson school was among 13 projects disapproved because
…the man-year cost was too high. (Clarion-Ledger, Sep. 12, 1935, p. 16)
The application was revised to lower wage costs and other possible expenditures and resubmitted. The board addressed the bond issues and moved further toward the ability to construct the gymnasium/auditorium for Carson school. The request for a two story brick, four classroom, auditorium and gymnasium combined, for a total of $27,272 was approved. The Art Deco structure was completed in summer of 1936 and opened for the school year Sep. 7, 1936. The opening program was held in the newly completed building.
With its additional school rooms as well as its splendid gymnasium and auditorium, it will add much to the efficiency with which the school program can be carried on this year and the years to come. (Carson School slates opening, 1936, p. 9)
Were there other Art Deco schools in Mississippi, particularly in rural areas? Apparently, W. White called it half right (though I am willing to be corrected). I located two references to Art Deco gymnasiums in Mississippi–on Preservation in Mississippi, of course.
On the way, I check in on one of my favorite Art Deco gymnasiums in the state at the rural crossroads of Runnelstown…(E. L. Malvaney, 2010, To Leakesville and Back)
The Runnelstown gymnasium was constructed 1940 according to MDAH. It may have been a New Deal project (no agency named) as the Clarion-Ledger reported January 25, 1940 that Senator Bilbo had wired the newspaper that the president had authorized the construction of the gymnasium, classroom and grounds improvement, but the federal allotment was only $3,061. The gymnasium was reported completed September 4, 1940 (Hattiesburg American).
As was Carson’s gymnasium, the Art Deco gymnasium at Madison-Ridgeland school was completed in 1936. Although not a rural gymnasium as were the other two, this building was also described as
…a rare example of the Art Deco style in Mississippi, particularly as it was applied to schools. (Susan M. Enzweiler, 1986, Historic Sites Survey, Mississippi Department of Archives and History)
A rather diligent search did not turn up any other Mississippi examples that were specifically identified as Art Deco, although as always, we can count on MissPres readers to let us know of any in your neck of the woods, hills, low country, delta…A few details are indicated in 3 school gymnasiums, one of which is identified in the MDAH data base as Art Deco, Art Moderne. Others also carry Art Moderne influences as well. All images below are from the 1513 School Photograph Scrapbooks series, Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Just for fun, I include a couple of photographs of our neighbor states, Louisiana and Tennessee. While the Tennessee school was a planned excursion, I spotted the Ruston Art Deco tower while refueling on a trip home from Texas, and encountered Art Deco heaven.