A New Look For Main Street

This Main Street Rocky Mount blog continues to evolve and enlarge its point of view. (As the garden grows, so does the gardener.) I continue to learn from all of you and the special people who have taken me under their wing, the cheerleaders in my life.  I’m grateful!  With the publication of today’s blog,  I hope you find Main Streets’ new look a further promise of advocacy for preserving, restoring, and repurposing our significant commercial and residential architecture.  

A Bungalow To Love on Sunset

When I write the phrase, Saving Main Street, I think of it as a metaphor for our historic downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. We have been learning the language of Main Street and celebrating the emerging downtown scene where restoration is in progress. We now know that the word ‘incubator’  is where entrepreneurs gather in a shared space, dream their dreams and run new businesses. The word ‘anchor project’  refers to key projects at the edges of the revitalization areas like our restored train & bus station, Imperial Center, Douglas Block, and The Mill.  People want ‘Walkable neighborhoods,’ where they can go out the door and walk to work, to eat, and find entertainment. ‘The third Place’ refers to destinations where you don’t need to know anyone, but are welcomed, feel safe, and have the TV series, Cheers, kind of experience. These are pieces of the revitalization puzzle that are happening on Main Street. 

Main Street Rocky Mount

I write in the spirit of the Peter Varney years of leadership in Rocky Mount. Peter showed a will and passion on many fronts for the preservation of  historical architecture.  We have Peter to thank for the round knobs along the fence next to the tracks at the train station that were commissioned to the exact specifications of the original knobs. Seemingly a small detail, but the heart of preservation.

Let us be thankful for Main Street and those involved in its revitalization. 

The Beauty of Art In The Preservation of Rocky Mount Mills

A sheet of glass that allows you to see a magical staircase beyond

The first time I went to Rocky Mount Mills I met Eddie Belk, a man with a gleam in his eye. I looked the word, gleam, up and found one of the definitions that suited Eddie to a tee: a facial expression that denotes happiness, amusement, or knowledge of a secret. This expression was about Rocky Mount Mills. Eddie is an Architect/Engineer: G. Edwin Belk Architects. (At that time David Cera was the project architect) Eddie is an architect with a passion for preservation, restoration, and repurposing as evidenced throughout the mill. I’m sorry my iPhone camera can’t do justice to the art and beauty that has been recreated. 

Rocky Mount Mills began the process of redevelopment in 2014 when Capitol Broadcasting Company purchased roughly 300,000 square feet of mill factory buildings. The mill itself has been turned into lofts, office, and event space. The approximately 100 historical homes in the mills’ village have been updated and are available to rent. In 2019, the River and Twine hotel opened on the campus, a collection of 20 boutique tiny house hotels. The next phase of development is Goat Island on the Tar River, which will offer public access to hiking trails, sandy beaches, and paddling sports. 

Eddie Belk did know a secret and now we are the beneficiaries of this happy place. “Architecture is a fine art, a social art, placing buildings in the context of the politics, the economics, and the cultural forces that shape them.”                                                                 – Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune Architecture  Critic

Stair treds glowing with the warmth of this beautiful wood
The Telegram Offices
Miles of the refurbished original floors
A glance down a hall with offices
Sunlight through the windows felt like a particular moment of beauty meant for me. I want to share this with you
A kiss can take your breath away and a pause at the tops of these stepss can too
An original brace surrounded by sheet rock-Don’t miss the ceiling
The brace up close – I placed my hand on it to honor the past and marval that it is now part of the future

You know me well enough to know that I expect to find good things and therefore, I do. Meet Ryan Boone, Commercial 1 Construction. Look at the plans on the floor for Prime Smokehouse.  It’s underway and I got a peek in the door where the kitchen will be. Along with Ryan there was Dexter Park, Project Mgr. Just clone these two extroverted, happy, friendly guys and the world will be better for it. They love what they are doing, and the place where they are creating a new space.  Seems to me Ryan and Dexter are cut out of the same architecture world as Eddie Belk; they show their happiness, amusement, and have knowledge of a secret that is coming true soon.

                    Commercial 1 Construction – 919-977-4570 –   www,c1cnc.com

Majority Vote and City Manager Strike Again

Once again, we are presented with a fait accompli. I often imagine Mr. Knight, Mr. Blackwell, and the City Manager, staying up all night to come up with things like a revised development agency. You see, we need this. Never mind the plan in the drawer, bought and paid for, forget the kicked to the curb Main Street Program that requires accountability and record-keeping. Who needs the input from the hard-working and dedicated Downtown Merchants Association or the Central City Revitalization?   It’s too  sensible to bring the downtown investors and business owners into the mix.

For years, the “My Will Be Done Agenda” has gotten away with bending the regulatory role of government to line their pockets and to take care of their cronies. In their wisdom, they let roofs fall to the floor, ignored the broken glass windows, and the peeling paint on the boarded-up facades. This new agency has been birthed in greed to maintain control over Main Street. These same people with a new scheme left the historic downtown’s significant commercial architecture to disintegrate. Now they require a new agency and hire to do their bidding. 

The only plans they ever have are the ones that cost the taxpayers, involve grants they finagle, or a project they believe will benefit them personally.  We had plans that didn’t suit the “My Will Be Done” agenda. The typical treatment Chris Miller received in voicing her objections before the 4-3 vote comes from those who have conflict of interest and have lost their right to make decsions on behalf of the community.

Believe me, this new agency doesn’t care about the collective buildings on Main Street, that bear witness to the past and are the future. “It connects us in time and space to those who went before us even as it represents our legacy to those who come after.” Blair Kamin – Chicago Tribune Architecture Critic

The ‘My Will Be Done’ plan hasn’t a clue or passion for a holistic approach to preservation, restoration, and repurposing historic downtown. I don’t underestimate the ideas of the marketplace that are positive and have gained a foothold that we must support.  We cannot contemplate the thought that once again we will be bemoaning the results after the fact.  I ask that at least, Preservation Rocky Mount, Historic Preservation Commission, Merchants Association, and Central City Revitalization discuss the responsibility we have to do what is best for Main Street despite these new efforts to control how the emerging scene continues.  

Thinking Of Elvis Presley While Waiting For The Results

Lewis Grizzard wrote a book titled – – Elvis Is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.

Two days after the presidential election and waiting, the title expresses how I’m feeling. Grizzard makes me laugh, which is good medicine for the patience needed to  get to the final counts. Grizzard was facing a changing world. I’ve never minded change, but the today’s scene has me taking deep breaths. I thought you might need a laugh too, hense,  Elvis Presley in Novenber 2020.

The Blurb for the book: The 1950s were simple times to grow up. For Lewis Grizzard and his buddies, gallivanting meant hanging out at the local store, eating Zagnut candy bars and drinking “Big Orange bellywashers.” About the worst thing a kid ever did was smoke rabbit tobacco rolled in paper torn from a brown grocery sack, or maybe slick back his hair into a ducktail and try gyrating his hips like Elvis. But then assassinations, war, civil rights, free love, and drugs rocked the old order. And as they did, Grizzard frequently felt lost and confused. In place of Elvis, the Pied Piper of his generation, Grizzard now found wormy-looking, long-haired English kids who performed either half-naked or dressed like Zasu Pitts. Elvis Is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself is the witty, satiric, nostalgic account of Grizzard’s efforts to survive in a changing world. Sex, music, clothes, entertainment, and life itself receive the Grizzard treatment. In this, his sixth book, Grizzard was never funnier or more in tune with his readers. He might not have felt so good himself, but his social commentary and humor can still make the rest of us feel just fine.

You’ll enjoy this video while waitng    – Grizzard, The Last confeterate Soldier

The Presidential Election Has Me Homesick

A few days before the election, I find myself homesick. The home where my parents remain in the dust mots that float in the light from the window.  Where I’ll find my 3-speed Schwinn bicycle is ready to ride. Where the last fall leaves have blown from the large elms leaving a bare-branched canopy overhead.

The election on Tuesday has me remembering years of watching the 4th of July Fireworks at Northwestern’s Dyke Stadium. Years of sitting on the curb waving an American flag as the parade passed by.

I think of the boys in their blue letter jackets with leather sleeves and orange letters sown upon them. (The school colors.) I remember the ugly gym suit I wore to play field hockey and took home on Friday to wash.  There was the thrill of dancing cheek to cheek in the high school gym to a slow song. I have friends that are apart of my life today, whose parents I remember. How surprised we are to find ourselves looking as they once did. 

I am seeking the comfort of others of a certain age who also rode their bikes around town, and nobody worried. I need the company of those taught right from wrong.  Those who stand for the American flag, and put their hand over their hearts when saying the Pledge of Allegiance.  The election has caused this flush of nostalgia about growing up in mid-America.

My reading life has taught me that we survive elections. Great men step forward to save us from ourselves.  Yet, this year my eyes fill with tears when I listen to those who want to turn America into the countries their families fled. I grieve when I see thugs on the street looting and tearing down our statues, disgracing the America that has raised them at her knee.  

We believe in Rocky Mount. Nothing is going to take that away from us. Not the outcome of this election, nor the virus, nor knaves amongst us. I am homesick for the things I’ve mentioned that were a firm foundation to build a life upon; patriotism, honor, and respect. I wish you would sit with me on a Main Street bench. Tell me about those you danced cheek to cheek with. Tell me about your 4th of July celebrations. This will help me to the other side of this homesickness. Thank You!

 

Main Street – Marked With An X And A Bottle Of Rum

Some places speak distinctly. Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain coasts are set apart for shipwrecks.               ~Robert Louis Stevenson

I’m sure you remember Treasure Island, an adventure novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson.  The book influenced our perceptions of pirates, including treasure maps marked with an “X,” and one-legged seamen with a parrot on their shoulder. It was first published on 14 November 1883 by Cassell & Co.  A lovely read audio link to Chapter One. will make your heart smile.

Jim Hawkins is a young boy who lives at his parents’ Inn, Admiral Benbow, near Bristol, England, in the eighteenth century. An old sea captain named Billy Bones dies in the inn after being presented with a black spot, an official pirate verdict of guilt or judgment. When Jim and his mother unlock Billy’s sea chest, they find a logbook and a map for a treasure that the infamous pirate Captain Flint has buried on a distant island. 

When I came across the Stevenson quote above, “Some places speak distinctly…” I thought of Rocky Mount’s treasure map which has drawn upon it, Main Street and beyond. It has a distinct sense of place and story that is being preserved. The following Stevenson quote identifies those who are preserving, restoring, and repurposing significant commercial and residential architecture. It refers to the business people downtown who are apart of the new emerging scene and to the investors who have come aboard to help save our treasures.  

“We got together in a few days a company of the toughest old salts imaginable–not pretty to look at, but fellows, by their faces, of the most indomitable spirit.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

In 2020, we are contending with our own plundering pirates.  Stevenson writes in Treasure Island about the ‘pirates who sail on laden with crimes and riches.’ Those who continue to plunder the taxpayers shall have the black spot, their own verdict of guilt and judgment, turned back upon them. The decisions that continue to be made by people who pay no price for being wrong, must stop so we can get on with all the exciting possibilities drawn on our map. Seats on the City Council, city management, have their own map. It is the MY WILL BE DONE agenda that continues to steer us into turbulent seas.   For all the tough old salts uncovering our buried treasure,

“We must go on because we can’t turn back.”  Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

We Have To sing together, Ho, Ho, Ho and a bottle of rum.

Waiting For Justice To Arrive While Riding The Rocky Mount Bus

I have reached the last stages of editing my third novel.  As background information, the main character, Sarah Collins, is accepted into the highly competitive  Architectural History Program at The University of Texas in Austin. Sarah’s career is the touchstone for the story. 

Sarah adopts a Teddy Roosevelt quote for her own purposes when she talks about the first time she stood before a Double Gallery home in the Garden District of New Orleans which was to be her new home. She says, “This is where the romance of my life began.” Would you be surprised to find in the novel that I mention shotgun houses or the mismanagement of local government?  You will find mentioned the significance of historic buildings. The backdrop for the story has these elements, allowing me to create a world for one of my unlived lives. Through a shocking revelation, the second half of the book returns the reader to the Cotswold village of Burford, where #1 is set in Greening of a Heart.

In writing the Main Street Rocky Mount blog and Facebook page, I wish I had the credentials Sarah Collins acquires. If it didn’t require robbing a bank, I would apply to The Savanah School of Art and Design (SCAD), including architecture, urban design, architectural history, and historic preservation. The school is housed in historic buildings that have been repurposed. Image that! What you get is a Stepheny that grew up on the marvels of Chicago architecture. I have become a perpetual happy student who is self-taught. I love the research, the books, both fiction and non-fiction, that relate to the subjects on the blog. Last Spring, because I was researching a post I wanted to write about black architects in America, I reread Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, set in the world of architects. My new novel is partially set in New Orleans when Katrina makes landfall. I read Chris Rose’s book containing his Post-Katrina columns for the Times-Picayune. It was well written and helpful to me as I tried to fictionalize what was real.  I used a Rose quotation in the novel and need it now. 

‘As bad as it is here, it’s better than being somewhere else.’ 

Between the anxiety over the upcoming election and endlessly waiting for justice to descend upon the City Council and government, it hasn’t been easy being “green,” as Kermit says. Even the virus, a patience maker or derangement instigator, has pushed us towards the limits of “being cute.” Here in Rocky Mount, the names of the same people who have done us wrong are repeatedly spoken. We are still standing on one foot or the other while self-serving decisions are made. To say I’m impatient is an understatement, but I continue to believe the net is going to drop!

Standing on Main Street, taking in all the positive work that happens, despite ourselves, the fine people revitalizing the commercial buildings, will prevail. It has been fifteen years since Katrina (August 2005), and the work to preserve their city and culture continues. New Orleans has a Preservation Group that sets the highest bar possible.  In the novel, I tell you about the bus on Magazine Street that starts service again in October of 2005. The empty bus continues to run its route each day.  Stay on the Rocky Mount bus until the destination is reached, regardless of a bumpy ride.

This building on Sunset downtown looks across at Howard Street – Such Possibilities

An architectural gem sits deteriorating that could become the jewel it once was      Rocky Mount, NC – Ward 1

Goldsboro – An Accredited Main Street Program – I Have Things To Show You

Sitting on the corner of Elm and LaSalle Streets in Chicago you will find The Church of the Ascension. It is an Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parish (high church) that is one of the threads in my life tapestry. It is candle-lit and filled with holy music. Facing LaSalle Street, mounted on the front of the church, is a bronze sculpture of Christ on the cross. Written below are the words, “Is It Nothing To You -All Who Pass By?” From the first moment, I saw this piece of art, its beauty, and starkness remains powerful and moving. Today, I am still captured by this image.  I mention this when starting to write about Goldsboro because I want the revitalization of Rocky Mount to mean something to you.   

“You can ignore a piece of sculpture or a painting hung on the walls of the Art Institute, but architecture is the inescapable art.”                                                                                 

Blair Kamain, Why Architecture Matters, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Blair Kamin is the architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, a post he has held since 1992. I’m expecting a used ‘like new’ copy of his book from Amazon any day. I’m hoping to find a new teacher/friend while reading this book. I’ll let you know. 

Welcome to Goldsboro: Note the widened sidewalks, the street lighting, the green space and trees, the pattern brick sidewalks, awnings, the beautiful restoration of each facade. Historically correct upper windows, a unified streetscape.

How this corner building once looked and then…below… the restoration…my photo a few days ago

Once Upon a Time and Today

Don’t miss the sidewalk brick pattern throughout the historic area…everywhere!

Our Main Street Streetscape is beautifully designed as well. Benches, the medium planted with trees all nestled in now. It was a great decision to start implementing our street design. We lag far behind with our commercial buildings, their restoration, and repurposing. When you visit Elizabeth City, Tarboro, New Burn, Goldsboro, all accredited with the NC Main Street Program, you will see that we have paid dearly for having our Main Street affiliation sabotaged. It calls for accountability, record keeping, and citizen participation. The “My Way” agenda is not interested in any of that. Drive over to Goldsboro and see for yourself how economic development within the context of Historic Preservation looks. Wouldn’t you like to see our Historic Downtown back on track with the Main Street Program?

The photos other than mine were featured in a great article. Here is the link.

The Old Neighborhood – 700 Block Arlington Street

By now, the morning sun was just over the horizon and it came at me like a sidearm pitch between the houses of my old neighborhood. I shielded my eyes. This being early October, there were already piles of leaves pushed against the curb—more leaves than I remembered from my autumns here—and less open space in the sky. I think what you notice most when you haven’t been home in a while is how much the trees have grown around your memories.         – Mitch Albom

705 Arlington Street

A block of homes on Arlington Street in Ward #3 provides another look at the heart of Rocky Mount; its neighborhoods. Walking the block with my camera in hand, it was an ‘if only’ moment when I wished I had the money to invest in Rocky Mount’s neighborhoods. I treated myself to some leaf-kicking while sauntering along. I refrained, however, from picking up leaves here and there as I once did on the way to school.  

There is always a favorite find on a block where the trees have grown around it as if protecting a secret jewel only the neighborhood is privileged to see. I must say the house seems mysterious viewed through overgrown “stuff.” (731 Arlington Street will soon be featured on the Main Street Facebook page. Hope you’re following.)

It turned out to be another “Honey, what you doin'” moment. I made a new friend, Keith Graham, who lives and is restoring his home at 727 Arlington St. Mr. Graham is a tight bundle of strength; his energy makes him appear bouncing on his toes as he showed the work he has already accomplished. Lucky for Rocky Mount, he owns some other rental properties that he is working on with the same enthusiasm. Mr. Graham showed me the small tree he has planted in the front yard for a nephew who has died. I listened to several other family stories that I felt privileged to hear. Image what an example this would be if this one block of homes on Arlington Street, a major artery, was restored. The revitalization of neighborhoods for our housing needs is a necessity and the answer to many of our problems.   

Mr. Graham’s House 727 Arlington
711 Arlington Street
715 Arlington Street
719 Arlington Street
723 Arlington Street
727 Arlington Street -A Different View
735 Arlington Street

One of the payoffs of revitalization in Rocky Mount is people being able to say, I am living as a person who is Somewhere and not just Anywhere. I encourage you to drive through downtown and through the Wards, to reconnect with  Somewhere!  I often say, “Wow, look at that…or with dismay, “Oh, my goodness, how can this be?”  Neighborhood after neighborhood, there are homes like these on Arlington Street. With a plan, ingenuity, investment, neighbors helping neighbors to even rehang a shutter, things can change for the better. Community Buy-In is my newest bumper sticker. You have to Believe!   

Monday: A Perfect Few Hours At The Mill

“Oh, to be home again! Under the apple-boughs, down by the mill!”                                  James Thomas Fields

Sitting outside at the Mill today was DE-vine. The sky was Carolina blue and the temperature heavenly. I love Books and Beans, a beautiful restoration of the old Canteen. With a dear friend, an egg and cheese sandwich on GF toast, and sweet tea, you feel that you could live forever. I would like this October weather to last until Spring, wouldn’t you? The once upon a time story of the Mill lingers in the air, the buildings that were on life support now hail and hearty once again. The energy and new purposes of the Mill seem to radiate from the brick, the windows gleaming with sunlight, and renewed energy that looks out upon a preservationist’s delight. Here is a premier example of revitalization that has brought revenue, people, more private investment to Rocky Mount. The immeasurable contribution of how to do things right is a lesson in a win-win attitude, where everyone benefits. Thankful for a few hours at the Mill on a beautiful day spent admiring the scene. Thank you for providing this sense of place that is vital to Rocky Mount’s story; instrumental to creating its future.         

“The sound of water escaping from mill dams, etc., willows, old rotten planks, slimy posts, and brickwork, I love such things.” – John Constable