It has been some time since there has been a News Roundup on Preservation in Mississippi (links to select news stories are on the site’s Twitter feed). But, like trees falling in a forest, preservation news happens even if we are not around to round it up. Or does it? (Yes, it does, especially depressing, demolition-y news.)
Now for the news.
The first news is out of Columbus, in a Columbus Dispatch article from June 20, where the Columbus Redevelopment Authority has announced that the Taylor-Burns House, centerpiece of the Factory Hill-Frog Bottom-Burns Bottom Historic District, will be demolished within the next thirty days. The house was marketed for forty-five days at the price of $35,000, $5,000 more than what the CRA paid the William G. Cannon III family for it in 2016. However, the house did not sell; no one made an offer.
The lack of offers validated CRA Board Attorney Jeff Turnage’s opinion that the historic house was in too poor of condition to be worth saving, stating in the article, “I know you couldn’t give it to me for free if I knew how to fix it up.” He added, “It would never be worth on the market what it would cost to fix it up, which is why nobody has made us an offer.” He followed that statement up with the old accusation lobbied at historic preservationists that they should have put their money where their mouth is and bought it if they wanted it saved, “Those people that were (upset) had an opportunity to buy it. I think everybody else is ready to see it cleaned up down there. …Picture a really run down house and triple it. It’s just bad.”
According to the article, the CRA has used funds from a special city ad valorem tax to purchase about 40 of the lots needed for the project. On those lots are eighteen structures slated for demolition, ten of which have already been removed by controlled burn. This is an increase from the eight buildings originally earmarked for demolition in March 2018, as listed in a Columbus Dispatch article from then. A lack of transparency about the project means that the only way to find out about the CRA’s actions is after they happen. For instance, Lowndes County Property Link only shows the CRA owning nine lots, with the county’s property mapping site showing eleven. If any MissPres readers out there want to swing by and see what currently remains of the historic district, please leave a comment as to what you find.
Also from Columbus, the Dispatch reported on June 22 that the City of Columbus has listed the former Gilmer Inn site for sale for $420,000. Unlike the original Gilmer, the replacement Mid-Century Traditional-style Gilmer Inn was never particularly beloved before its 2016 demolition. But, at the same time, its demolition is another of many, many examples of Mississippi city leaders seeing a neglected building in deteriorating condition and deciding that the “magic bullet” of demolition and redevelopment is the only option; yet, after the taxpayer-funded demolition, are left with a vacant lot, generating no tax revenue, which developers are not clamoring to buy.
Speaking of vacant lots: Meridian.
I could just end the story there; I need say no more.
But, the Meridian Star article “FOR SALE: Neighborhood lot program aims to beautify Meridian’s subdivisions” discusses the City of Meridian’s efforts to sell some of the results—unkempt vacant lots—of its prolific demolition programs. Of note is that Meridian’s demolition program is currently out of money, with only enough funding for only one more demolition. Considering how much the city budgets for demolition, that shows that they have been very
Staying in Meridian, the Star also reports that Wechsler Foundation associated on the historic Wechsler School has received a $5,400 special project grant from National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, “to create two mobile panels displaying the history of African-American education and the Civil Rights struggle in Meridian.”
In earlier Meridian news, from May, “Rehabilitation planned for Stevenson Landmark Apartments in Meridian” states that the Multi-County Community Service Agency is planning imminent and extensive renovations to P. J. Krouse-designed Stevenson Primary School, National Register-listed and a designated Mississippi Landmark. The historic school has been vacant since August 2014, when an unauthorized use of the building’s sprinkler system exacerbated the accumulation of nearly twenty years of deferred maintenance and forced the building to close. It served as low-income housing for the elderly until its closure. The article did not state what happened to Stevenson’s former residents.
Also in Meridian, as reported on May 8, “Group plans to restore historic homes on Poplar Springs Drive in Meridian” contains promising information about the Wright House at 2407 Poplar Springs Drive. I featured the house at the beginning of 2017 in the post Preservation in Mississippi Historic Real Estate. The house is one of Mississippi’s most important examples of Mission Revival style architecture, perhaps its best residential example. A Poplar Springs Drive neighborhood collective is determined to change the area’s declining built environment, one house at a time, and have formed 2407 PSD LLC to renovate the house. Tim Hester is one of 2407 PSD LLC’s investors and lives next door in the Grant-Sanders-Hulett House. His vision for the house is, “I have always loved that old house. This is an historical project and a community project. The home has been vacant for about five years…Families throughout the years have lived in the home, but it was left and vagrants started moving in, some sleeping in it, and I just wanted to bring it back to its original grandeur.” His assessment of the house’s condition corroborates comments on the 2017 post, which is that many of the doors have been stolen, as have the stained glass and other architectural features.
WTVA reported on Saturday, June 22 that a house in Aberdeen burned in a total loss. The house was at the corner of S. Franklin St. and W. Jefferson St. The article did not indicate that the address places the house in the center of Aberdeen’s local Silk Stocking Row Historic District and in the National Register-listed South Central Aberdeen Historic District. The MDAH HRI page for 212 South Franklin Street indicates that it was a Queen Anne constructed circa 1900 with later Craftsman elements. It is a sad loss for the historic district and the hearts of everyone on Preservation in Mississippi go out the house’s residents (the house appeared to be occupied) for the loss of their home.
In Natchez, the Natchez Democrat article “Park service staff asks ‘What if?’ about future of visitor center” reports that the National Park Service staff at Natchez National Historical Park are working to decide the future of the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, which they will take possession within the next year. Much of the article seems to indicate that initial ideas for the visitor center’s future are to make it more like an Apple Store, with iPads and kiosks, and to emphasize its retail aspects, by making sure that visitors, “Enter through the gift shop and exit through the gift shop. When you walk in the front door, you are already seeing Natchez products.”
In less lucre-grasping ideas, an archaeological field school is being considered as a use for the Stietenroth House on Canal Street, and the 1930s-era Old Fort Rosalie Gift Shop is being considered for children’s programs.
Speaking of French forts, The Vicksburg Post’s June 10 article “Dr. Raymond Baker donates 10.6 acres at Fort St. Pierre site” reports that retired Natchez veterinarian Dr. Raymond Baker donated the Yazoo Bluffs site of Fort St. Pierre to the Archaeological Conservancy. The Archaeological Conservancy’s work at Prospect Hill and elsewhere has been extensively covered and profusely praised on Preservation in Mississippi. They are an excellent historic preservation organization, better than some self-described historic preservation organizations (“Which Preservation Organization?”), despite that not being their exact mission, and will be a great steward of the Fort St. Pierre site, which is one of just forty National Historic Landmarks in Mississippi.
And in National Park Service news not relating to their “iParking” of our nation’s historic sites, the MDAH will preserve a section of the Champion Hill Battlefield through a $109,806 grant received from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Trust. According to The Vicksburg Post article “More battlefield land preserved with NPS grant,” the MDAH will use the funds to buy the 58-acre tract bestowed with the romantic moniker Cal-Maine Foods Tract (which frankly does not have the ring of Little Round Top or Bloody Pond).
“Photo gallery: Getting punkah’d at Natchez National Historical Park” is a Natchez Democrat photo gallery about artist Montana Torrey’s punkah installation at Melrose. Punkahs are a now largely forgotten feature of the grandest Antebellum Southern mansions and were slave-powered, ceiling-mounted fans prominently placed in formal dining rooms. I will admit that I knew little about punkahs until I read Dana E. Byrd’s “Motive Power: Fans, Punkahs, and Fly Brushes in the Antebellum South” in the Spring 2016 issue of Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum. Melrose has an original punkah installed in the dining room, which you can see after they make sure you see the “Natchez products” at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center gift shop.
WDAM reports “Hattiesburg gets MDAH grant to conduct survey of historic neighborhood.” The area of East Hattiesburg bounded by portions of Katie Avenue, Cypress Avenue, Dabbs Street, and around Edwards Street will be surveyed over the next year in the initial process of it being “designated as a historic neighborhood.” Frustratingly, the article does not specify whether that means National Register-listed or a locally designated (and protected) historic district. Any survey of Hattiesburg’s built environment is incomplete without the voluminous knowledge of regular MissPres commenters Thomas Gentry and Ed Polk Douglas, so maybe they can provide some comments on that area’s historic buildings.
The Oxford Eagle reports news of a similar nature, “Avent Acres gets Board approval for nomination.” The Oxford Board of Aldermen approved the National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Avent Acres neighborhood by unanimous vote. Last year’s neighborhood survey of Avent Acres revealed its historical significance is under National Register Criterion A for its place in American history more than under Criterion C for the design of the original houses still standing today. Avent Acres was developed after World War II to house soldiers returning home and facing an acute housing crisis. It would be the first Mississippi neighborhood of its type listed on the National Register. The neighborhood’s next step in the nomination process is to be considered by the Mississippi National Register of Historic Places Review Board at their July 18 meeting, which will be held in Jackson (The Oxford Eagle states that the meeting is on July 18 while the MDAH does not list it on their Upcoming Calendar of Public Meetings page; I would recommend getting some confirmation of the meeting’s time and date if you are planning to attend). Avent Acres could be listed by the fall if the review board approves the recommendation.
The Daily Corinthian has a profile of Iuka Drive-In, Mississippi’s last remaining drive-in theater. It has been in operation since the early 1950s according to the article (around 1957 according to Cinema Treasures). As theater manager Kathryn “Katie” Adams is quoted, “I encourage anyone to experience it, because it’s a dying piece of Americana. Many of them have shut down and we are doing everything we can to keep this one running.” Long-time Preservation in Mississippi readers will recall the sad, suspiciously arson-y loss of Hattieburg’s Beverly Drive-In Theater in 2010 and will realize that, despite its lack of outstanding architectural features, the Iuka Drive-In is an important and rare historic structure.
That was a selection of recent historic preservation-related news stories. Like trees in a forest, sometimes there are too many stories to notice all of them, so leave a comment about any that I did not hear falling. I am now done with that metaphor.
And that was the news.
Categories: Aberdeen, Columbus, Demolition/Abandonment, Hattiesburg, Historic Preservation, Iuka, MDAH, Meridian, Mississippi Landmarks, Museums, Natchez, National Park Service, National Register, News Roundups, Oxford, Renovation Projects, Schools, Theaters, Vicksburg
About Columbus—-Temple Heights has a shoo-fly in the dining room. I have never heard it called a punkah. Interesting the way so many objects have different names.
The Gilmer Inn that was torn down was a drug den. There was nothing worth preserving about it. It had been allowed to fall into decay—one of those places that if you had cash, you could get a room. There were a substantial number of calls for the police and ambulances there due to fights and overdoses. Before the motel management closed the pool, there was at least one drowning that was not discovered for hours. Picture the seediest motel you’ve ever seen the outside of, then imagine it smack dab in the center of town, and you’d have the Gilmer. I couldn’t imagine what the inside would look like.
And the Burns house….the planners of the development that will be around the soccer complex had no intention of fitting the house into their vision for the area around it. Terms of the sale of the house required the buyer to have a preservation plan worked out and presented for approval by their board. With a 45 day period of listing, that was not adequate time to have a plan in place, and they knew that. From the time they purchased the house, they left it unsecured to anyone or anything that dared to enter it. A “No Trespassing” sign hung outside, but nothing was done to keep anyone from entering it and taking whatever they wanted…if there was anything left. A local antiques and salvage dealer has expressed interest in salvaging some of the wood, but I’m not sure they will entertain that plan, since it will take longer to take the house apart than it would to burn it down. Before it went thru the process to see if it would be declared historic, and would have to be saved, an owner of another antebellum home made an offer on it. He was turned down.
I saw on the Tupelo news where the house fire in Aberdeen is going to be investigated by the fire marshall’s office. I suppose this means it was a suspicious fire and the fire department wants to rule out anything intentional.
Thank you for reminding me about Temple Heights’s punkah. They are rare survivors since most were replaced by chandeliers in the late 1800s. There is a photograph of Temple Heights’s dining room in Sylvia Higginbotham’s Reflections: Homes and History of Columbus, Mississippi; the punkah is a prominent feature.
I am not exactly arguing that the Gilmer Inn was the greatest architectural landmark, more that its demolition was emblematic of a 1960s urban renewal-type mentality that, despite being empirically discredited, is wholeheartedly embraced by many of Mississippi’s local political leaders (and Alabama’s, and Tennessee’s, and Louisiana’s, and many other states). The fact that the Gilmer Inn became a seedy, drug-filled motel had nothing to do with the building’s architectural or historical merit. It had to do with the building’s owner wanting nothing more than a quick buck and city officials and law enforcement being unwilling or unable to do anything to prevent that.
It seems pretty apparent that the CRA has actively worked to prevent the preservation of any of the Burns Bottom Historic District. What we are witnessing is a first in Mississippi’s history, the intentional demolition of an entire National Register-listed history district by a government agency using public funds. This could hardly be a worse precedent-setting action.
Fire marshalls investigate all major building fires. They have to determine what caused the fire, so that the insurance company can figure out exactly how they can weasel their way out of paying for it. I have watched my neighbor deal with the aftermath of a house fire for a year, which has given me a much different perspective.
My most memorable impression of the Beverly Drive-In was the furor it caused in 1953 over the showing of the banned film The Moon Is Blue. The film’s showing was even banned by all the military services.
That was my preadolescence period, so I stepped aside. On weekends at the Beverly, country folk would arrive in pickups and reverse park so as to sit in the truck with rocking chairs, rocked the baby and watched the movie. Shane was my favorite..but a tear-jerker. Come back, Shane!!!
According to Hattiesburg-American‘s Elliott Chaze, the banned film was about a New York City architect.