I took this photograph from the fantastic roof deck that Troy Davis created on top of the Davis Lofts. Looking out and across the track you see typical commercial architecture found across Eastern North Carolina. These commercial buildings are like the garden after the gardener is finally gone: the spirit of the garden changes. This historic architecture, still standing, is changed too. But with eyes to see you have inescapable art.
“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, architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune
If you see only a bunch of old, ugly buildings, I doubt you have little interest in saving them. I’m counting on those who read this blog, looking at the leading photograph, see the Main Street life of yesterday. Those of you with memories of going downtown with your grandmother or buying school clothes, going to May & Gorham after school for ice cream, the movie theaters, Christmas parades, special occasions at the Carlton House, I now think of these things as sacred ground. We are the stewards left to preserve the architectural heritage downtown.
(New awnings on Washington Street)
I often look at things through an emotional blur, and through that lens, I have come to love Main Street; a place that has become a passion. I think this is because I remember growing up in Evanston, IL. and relate those years to those living in Rocky Mount at the same age.
Evanston, a different location, but surely holds the same kind of memories for you. In my case, Cooley’s Cubbard, where high school friends met for a cherry coke and fries. Where the large public library stands on Orrington Avenue across from the landmark Orrington Hotel. There were two Five and Dimes, two movie theaters, the Varsity and Valencia, and Marshall Fields Department store, an iconic name that changed how department stores came to displayed their wears. There was Chandler Book Store for school books and in the 7th grade, I learned how to sneak into Dyke Stadium for a Northwestern football game. I remember the handsome quarter back on the ETHS football team one cold, gusty night. We had a goodnight kiss standing in the shadows across from the YMCA on Grove Street. Afterward, to make my curfew, I walked home unafraid in the dark.
A kiss is a memory I hope we all share a version of. That you remember as I do, the places where we left the exuberance of our youth. Today downtown Evanston is all but unrecognizable to me but here is Chandlers with Fountain Square as I knew it.
Since I have reached the September of my life, it is the movie theater and the businesses in downtown Evanston, even that teenage kiss on Grove Street that have become holy places. I believe when restoration and repurposing happen, in the mystery of things, sweet memories are preserved too.
Photo on right: Howard Street with a newly painted facade that is great.
This is a long way around to say, I am adamant about the reestablishment of our accreditation with the Main Street Program. This is a proven approach to revitalization and will help us save the memories I’ve mentioned. I’ve gone to Goldsboro, New Bern, Elizabeth City and Tarboro, all accredited programs, all obliged to follow the necessary guidelines. The results make you covet what they have accomplished with the grant money awarded to them through their accreditation.
The next time Downtown Development Manager, Kevin Harris is asked where the plans are for Main Street, maybe he will acknowledge the ones already paid for and shoved in a drawer. (The Ratio plans) Plans like the Main Street Program recommends. We shoot ourselves in the foot to let those who make bad decisions, who scuttled our participation in the Main Street Program, continue to sabotage the benefits that are available beyond affiliation, which is our statues now.
Click on the blog post I wrote some time ago championing the Main Street Program. It is still pertinent to the discussion.
Stepheny Forgue Houghtlin grew up in Evanston, IL. and is a graduate of the University of Kentucky. She is an author of two novels: The Greening of a Heart and Facing East. She lives, writes and gardens in NC. Visit her: Stephenyhoughtlin.com
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