Main Street – The Man on the Bicycle

Almost a year ago, while I was walking and taking photographs on Main Street, I had a chance meeting with an energetic young man named, Zack Poll. Click Here: for a previous blog post about Zack.  Zack was standing with friends in front of his South Main building that he is renovating. Once a drug store, there is a large space to renovate, the purpose  evolving in his imagination. This chance meeting has lead to friendship. I’m proud of this ‘roll up his sleeves’ electrician, among other talents. Don’t bother to tell him he can’t do something. Having planted his flag on Main street, he is an advocate for preservation, restoration, and repurposing. He is doing his own work but has two sidekicks that are amazing too. 

“My dad retired last year and he plays a critical part in helping. A project may start out as a headache to him, but in looking back, he recognizes the fruit of the efforts and the quality work that will last a hundred years. My mom comes to help outside of her part-time office working hours. I have coated over 1000 sq.ft. of a wall with stucco on the rooftop and she was pivotal in that project handing tools and keeping the new roof coverings clean from wet cement.” When possibleZack and his mother put on some music and stay in a well-planned grove.

 

 

Zack tells me that the red brick walls had severe deterioration from the water entering the porous brick over the years. It freezes in the winter and shears off large pieces in the same way potholes are formed on the roads. Zack’s method allows the brick to remain exposed and the silhouette of the brick shows through the thin stucco surface. If not for this they would be completely covered by rolled roofing and sheet metal, which is common practice in covering a wall. Zack is getting requests for work on other people’s walls. You know where that money will go; into his own renovations.

When you drive down Main Street and see the work going on, you now know some of the nitty-gritty that goes on to preserve and restore a Main Street commercial building. In the next photos, you will see where Zack, in removing extra materials, has exposed the original stepping of the parapet wall. The paint is to be determined. It is looking good from the street. This parapet wall is part of the yellow facade below. 

 

PS: Zack is the man on the bicycle. On breaks, he checks on how things are progressing downtown. Despite the virus’ impact, he sees good things happening.  A Rocky Mount boy, he is another Repairer of the Breach, that will be known by his preservation deeds. To reach him: 252-452-1335

PPS: The post is dedicated to Zack, his mom and dad, and to everyone working hard in the historic Rocky Mount downtown.  SFH 

Mercy, Mercy Me – What’s Going On?

Since Usher is my favorite, we have his rendition of Marvin Gaye’s song, Mercy, Mercy Me.  I know the song is about the environment, but he kept singing in my ear as I considered writing this post on the impact of crime in Rocky Mount. Click on the song link above, and you will agree that the song is a soulful reflection of what we are asking. What is going on?

I wrote about the Carlton House in the last post and talked about Knox White, the mayor of Greenville SC.  If the majority vote on Rocky Mount’s City Counsel would get their priorities straight, the city manager could honestly repeat this Knox White quote. “We implemented a strategy to attract developer interest. By ensuring that downtown was clean and safe with emerging entertainment and dining options, people began to see it as a place to live and not just visit.”

Troy Davis and others creating living spaces downtown, indeed, every business, should be all over the leadership about the crime problem that will impact their ability to sell the quality apartments they are creating.  It will affect other services available in the downtown area. 

My favorite expression when considering the ‘My will Be Done’ agenda is a certainty that it is always bass-ackward. A Hotel, a parking garage, and low-income housing on ECC’s parking lots are the definition of putting the cart before the horse. It is the preservation, restoration, and repurposing of the significant architectural inventory in the historic downtown area that is the prioritity; core assets that have been allowed to deteriorate. The commercial buildings have long needed emergency triage and immediate protection. Is it any wonder there is the outrage over selfish schemes that are served up as necessities and payback?

I think of the older lady I talked to in the middle of Pine St. She said, “Honey, nothin’ gonna change until you get the crime out of here.” That is her reality, and she encouraged me to get along home before dark. The hotel and parking garage takes priority over the people who live with neglect and false promises at election time. I include a video made in 2013, a powerful visual link that has surfaced. It could have been filmed today. The video has Usher’s cry all over it. Mercy, Mercy Me-What’s Goin’ on?

Unless personal gain is your priority, it is not difficult to see how important controlling crime in the neighborhoods and downtown is to a successful outcome. If the ‘My Will Be Done’ folks would commit to zero crime tolerance, the emerging scene downtown will bear fruit. Short of a Damascus Road conversion, it is like the AA premise: you can’t reason with a person who still drinks and you can’t reason with people who have learned how to rig the system and like it. Let us continue to work towards the next election, where four seats are available. Each of these seats must have a commitment to Rocky Mount’s basic needs: significant crime reduction, safe neighborhoods, restored housing, education, and jobs. 

 

Troy Davis is a long way down the road from these photographs I took early on. He is creating 32 apartments above street level in two buildings on Main Street that were allowed to deteriorate because ordinances weren’t enforced on cronies who owned the buildings. The renewed concept of living above the store is a great step forward. The accredited cities I mentioned in the last post follow the Main Street program. The apartments I have seen, and written about, made me covet the convenience, and the lifestyle. Without crime reduction, Troy and others will suffer the consequences of potential residents and customers with safety concerns. This must not happen. This financial risk and that of other brave-hearts helping to save Main Street are essential. Those who are planting their flags around town are heroes. We have confidence in the men and women in law enforcement. Let them do the jobs they are trained for. Forget the latest bright idea, a revised development agency and a new hire to further the personal gain skullduggery. What is needed is leadership and a will to declare crime will no longer be tolerated. Clampdown, concentrate within an area with known crime until it is driven out and kept out. Let law enforcement prevail.

The Carlton House – A Second Chance To Get It Right

We spend a lot of time talking about Rockey Mount’s problems. We can name the people on the Council, and those with positions in City Government that are the problem. When another significant piece of the revitalization puzzle is sabotaged, it is of no consequence to the ‘My Will Be Done’ crowd. There is an enormous cost, however, to the community when this happens. With the Carlton House under contract again, we must get this right. 

 The Carlton House is a prime example that the only plan that matters is the ‘My Will Be Done’ agenda. It makes no difference that places like Elizabeth City, Goldsboro, New Bern, Tarboro, and Wilson have proven the point that following a program like Main Street, produces results that are tangible, evident, and impressive. The pace of Main Street is dictated by those who don’t care about proven research that states what works and doesn’t. The admonition in all I’ve read is to follow and stick to a plan that will require hard work, dedication, and vision. The downtown plan, commissioned and paid for, isn’t suitable for those who work the systerm for personal gain. 

I want to tell you a brief story about The Poinsett Hotel in Greenville. SC. Named after Joel R. Poinsett, the Secretary of War under President Fillmore, it was built-in 1925 at a cost of 1.5 million dollars. The Poinsett Hotel was designed by William L. Stoddard, a New York architect, and built by the J.E. Sirrine Company of Greenville. The hotel is a twelve-story skyscraper with a narrow rectangular plan and an L-shaped façade. As the hotel is to Greenville, a seemingly inconsequential place like the Carlton House, is essential to the success of Main Street for the same reasons.  From the opening of the neglected hotel, growth followed in the area. It became an economic driver, a place of importance in the life of downtown Greenville. 

Knox H. White is an attorney in his native Greenville, South Carolina, who has served as his city’s 34th and current mayor since December 11, 1995, a longer tenure than any other mayor of Greenville. Previously, he was an at-large member of the Greenville City Council from 1983 to 1993. He was elected on a platform of protecting neighborhoods, his legacy has become Greenville’s downtown revitalization.  

I hear people say, “Well, a major can’t do much. He cuts ribbons, is a recognizable public face that represents the City, and does what he is told by the City Council. Knox White didn’t get that memo. His strong voice and leadership should have been cloned and sent forth to other Main Streets. “Nothing said downtown Greenville was back more than the reopening of the Poinsett. It spoke to the older people in Greenville  who were the most skeptical about downtown redevelopment.”  The Carlton House is our answer to “Maybe they aren’t going to tear down all our memories, afterall.”

Because of the narrow focus on themselves, with no plan but their own, the value of the Carlton House has been ignored and derailed. Thinking about the money they could divert into their pockets, they sold the newest scheme on the fact that Edgecombe County deserved a hotel, never having had one before. We know now the kind of people the City Manager turned to in order to ensure this scheme paid off.  Never mind the significance of the Carlton House in drawing the local community downtown, and providing guests to the city a sense of place. When complete, this will be a major accomplishment.   

A number of you could write about growing up in Rocky Mount as Knox White writes, “Growing up in Greenville, I often took the bus downtown. Now when I see the Mast General, I think about the old Meyers-Arnold department store. I can see the old movie theaters in my mind. My brother and I climbed the stairs of the old Woodside Building  and did the same at the Daniel Building when it was under construction.”   The Carlton House can do for us what the Poinsett Hotel has done for Greenville.                                       

Leave a comment below about memories of chicken dinners on Sunday at the restaurant: The wedding parties, family celebrations, Mothers Day and graduation occasions. To have the Carlton House restored and vital will bear fruit. The area will be stabilized, it will offer hospitality to visitors, and welcome those who live here.

The so-called leadership that messed this project up with Jesse Gerstl, should keep hands off and let this be a win-win for the new owners and Rocky Mount.  Here on Main Street, I am ecstatic with the thought that the Carlton House will be making memories once again for all who cross their threshold.

A ‘before’ photo to build a dream on

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 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