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!   

“Ain’t Nothing Gonna Change – You Is Wastin’ Your Time”

900 Block of Gay Street

“Until you get the drugs out of here.”  That’s what I was told Saturday afternoon standing on Gay Street while talking with two older women that were out for a short walk. I was taking photographs in the 800-900 block on Gay between Tillery, Vyne, and Pine. I  parked my car and walked towards these old friends, one who’d lived in the neighborhood since the 70s. “It was nice back then, a good place until drugs came here.” She gestured with her hand towards several houses we were standing near to indicate their condition. Restored housing builds safe neighborhoods, fosters pride and homeownership, is an economic win, is vital for the community that is cultivating revitalization.

The little woman who did most of the talking told me she was paying $400.00 a month rent. “I’m not gonna pay that ‘sorry-ass’ man no more. I’m leaving.” The expression on her friend’s face told me this wasn’t the first time she’d heard this declaration.” I don’t use the ‘sorry ass’ expression myself but 15 minutes later I had taken quite a shine to it. If I wrote lyrics for songs instead of this blog, I would definitely use the phrase in a James Brown-like song, singing about these houses that have stood guard all these years over good people and are feeling the effects of old age and neglect, going down! going down!

When I asked who their councilman was, they didn’t know. You and I know these houses didn’t get like this since yesterday but over a long time of neglect. As far as I’m concerned, the blame is knocking on the Ward’s Councilman’s door who has influenced nada, nothing. How could they not have championed these people they supposedly care for and not be the driving force to use their position to stay the course with the police to clear the drug dealers out and keep them out! so investment will continue and these wonderful neighborhoods can be saved. Thank goodness for these angels in disguise that see the worth of these houses and are doing something about it. I was told that some of the residents on the street are working on their own homes. Look at these photographs with eyes to see how perfect they are for what we need. The women told me how nice some of the houses are inside. I imagine that’s in comparison to a less demanding standard than mine.

When we finished talking, the women told me, “You get on home before dark.” Several cautions to “Be careful!” I was leaving but they were staying. I drove away with, “Ain’t nothin’ gonna change until we get the drugs out of here,” ringing in my ears. I don’t know where the police station is that the Chief of Police resides. Having to stay at home, I can find a phone number, however, to plea my case after I figure out what to say. I’d rather walk through this area leading him by hand to see again with new eyes what it once was and has become and can be again. I learned a lot in those fifteen minutes. It upset me but still, I’m grateful. I blew them both a kiss and drove away. Though I’d said my name and that I write a blog, you know these two older ladies are still shaking their heads, “who in the hell was she?”

HGTV Proves We Can Save Our Vital Rocky Mount Housing, But Rigging The System Has To Stop

Restoring neighborhoods in and around downtown Indianapolis

I love the HGTV shows that are about saving, restoring, and preserving houses. Two programs, in particular, bring hope and inspiration when thinking about our Rocky Mount neighborhoods near downtown. Good Bones concentrates on old neighborhoods in Indianapolis that are coming back because of their proximity to downtown. The second show is called Home Town filmed in Laurel Mississippi. Their architectural inventory is similar to ours. The process and results are fascinating.

A small Mississippi town with architectural inventory like Rocky Mount

I know there are investors and contractors working in our neighborhoods who deserve recognition and applause for what they contribute: saving neglected and abandoned homes, some houses where no one should be living in the first place. Our shotgun, bungalow, and four-square homes are ideal for smaller families, singles, retired people, and the big need, workforce housing.  When you rebuild neighborhoods and make them safe again, when you add pride of ownership and neighbors who will look out for one another, you have a winning strategy for lowering crime. This benefits the downtown core areas as well.

I want to remind you that those who rig the system for grant application money, need low income, low homeownership and high unemployment statistics to qualify. Just how incentivized does that make them to enforce ordiances, improve housing in their Wards, or welcome new investors/businesses, who offer employment?

HGTV programs demonstrate how a neglected house that seems unredeemable can be saved. When the time comes that we see our bedraggled properties consistently being turned into homes to be loved and enjoyed once again, we’ll know three things. 1) Those who rely on keeping our statistics suppressed have been voted off the Council and others who get special treatment no longer have direct access.  2) The housing we already have has become a priority and will be a blessing to us.  3) The word gentrification is no longer used as an excuse for inaction but defines decent housing, safe neighborhoods, and pride in what has been improved.

Some before and after photographs saving one house at a time

    

HGTV HOME TOWN Video Clip of a Cottage Just Right for Rocky Mount: CLICK HERE

A ‘House of Cards’ – Tarboro Street Housing – Mr. Blackwell’s Rebuttal Has It All Wrong

 

“House of cards” is an expression that dates back to 1645 meaning a structure or argument built on a shaky foundation or one that will collapse if a necessary (but possibly overlooked or unappreciated) element is removed.

 

It is all the more apparent after last night City Council meeting and Mr. Blackwell’s rebuttal to the public comments, that he and I don’t agree on how to solve our affordable housing needs. There is no argument about the necessity to have this housing, but what type and where? If we can agree that no one is against affordable housing, we should be able to discuss how best to provide it. Especially now that I have calmed down. I left the  council chamber disappointed that the doors didn’t slam behind me in some dramatic flourish so people would say, “Stepheny’s ticked!”  Among other unexamined ideas, according to Mr. Blackwell, this housing will bring people who will spend money downtown on what I presume are our restaurant’s, shopping, coffee, and wine shops, et. al. To try and sell the Tarboro Street housing as an economic boon for downtown is quite a reach when this population lives on a limited budget. We must have people living and working downtown. Investors are at work converting some Main Street commercial buildings into apartments to live above the store. I acknowledge how important this is to the success of ‘Main Street’ revitalization. Thanks to the City Council, who voted February 25, 2019, to convey the Tarboro Street property via sale or lease, for the development of affordable housing contingent upon the selection of a qualified developer, we have the wrong solution in the wrong location. So, WAIT JUST A DARN MINUTE.

We already have established neighborhoods calling for preservation and restoration that would welcome new people. It is essential to maintain the quality of neighborhoods and improve those that are stressed. Do the people who have lived in these stressed conditions not deserve the same concern and help? They are low income/workforce people already in place. We have plenty of neighborhoods facing challenges related to general property upkeep and maintenance. Let the City Council and Management start with aggressive code enforcement and put on notice any landlord to pay a fine that is ignoring his or her housing stock. Help our investors with streamlined paperwork who are already buying affordable housing that will offer affordable ownership possibilities. Why aren’t the city councilman, where it pertains, as concerned about their impoverished areas where people are living in terrible conditions yet considered part of our low-income workforce population? Is it because there is no money to be made in considering other measures to improve the overall quality of these areas. No grant administration fees or under the table kickbacks? Does it keep our statistics depressed, which helps when applying for grants?

I am dumbfounded that cluster houses on Tarboro Street are DFI’s final recommendation when research shows across the board that this notion, left over from the ’70s, isn’t successful. Research indicates the high probability of creating another transient neighborhood, which invites crime and plops people into a contrived setting. Do we even have a waiting list for housing with people that qualify? This Tarboro Street project, based on the trend line, is another opportunity for skullduggery. It is not the best solution for this population. The revitalization of our neighborhoods will benefit from the energy new neighbors will bring. We want our singles, couples with or without children, those retired and the elderly living in affordable housing in recovering neighborhoods that are once again safe; everyone looking out for one another as in the days when these neighborhoods were formed. That’s what we need and this is what we shall have! As I said at the information meeting on the Tarboro Street housing,  thank you for all your time on this project, but this is not happening!  

HOPE YOU WILL SCROLL DOWN AND LEAVE A COMMENT

Another Star in Rocky Mount’s Architectural Crown – Paying Tribute to Architect George Matsumoto – A West Haven Gem

If you have been following my Main Street posts, you know that I have recently been pushing for an updated, honest architectural inventory. Here is one of Rocky Mount’s treasures that is a Mid-Century modern home built originally for Thomas and Marian Hicks at 718 Evergreen Road, Rocky Mount NC. I’ve done some research for us. This architecture is closely associated with the period from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s, With a few pieces of information, we will better appreciate this home designed by George Matsumoto.  (Modernism, as a global movement, spanned five decades–from the 1930s to the 1970s.)

Key Elements in these designs • Flat planes. The geometric lines of the house are regular and rigorous. Flat roofs are common, though modern ranch-style houses had gable roofs. • Large windows. Sliding-glass doors and other expansive panes of glass allow light to enter rooms from multiple angles. • Changes in elevation. Small steps going up and down between rooms creates split-level spaces. A midcentury modern might have partial walls, or cabinets of varying heights to create different depths in the space. • Integration with nature. Rooms have multiple outdoor views, or multiple access points, encouraging an appreciation of healthy living.

We are honoring George Matsumoto (July 16, 1922 – June 28, 2016) a Japanese-American architect and educator who is known for his Modernist designs. Matsumoto houses share common characteristics, including; a flat roof, an unobstructed internal view from one end of the house to the other, terrazzo floors, natural woods for walls and ceilings, mahogany cabinetry, large windows in the rear, and small but functional kitchens. We will skip his considerable education but mention his North Carolina years.

In 1948, Henry Kamphoefner, then head of Oklahoma’s architecture program, was appointed the first dean of the School of Design at North Carolina State University. Matsumoto, along with several other faculty and students, left Oklahoma with Kamphoefner to start what became an epicenter for Modernist architecture education in the US. During Matsumoto’s tenure at the NCSU School of Design between 1948 and 1961, Matsumoto won more than thirty awards for residential work. He designed a Modernist addition to the school.  (Picture on the left) In 1961 he returned with wife Kimi and their children to California to teach at Berkeley until 1967 and then went into private practice. Raleigh, NC has many mid-century modern homes as a result of the NCSU School of Design.

We are fortunate to have these photographs when the Evergreen Road home was being built.                   The original configuration of the rear facing the Tar River.

The original configuration of the front, with the garage, served to make the rest of the residence private.  The features such as press-to-open teak cabinets, black countertops, and pass-throughs from the open-style kitchen to the outside were all revolutionary at the time.

Our architecture is one of the greatest assets Rocky Mount has. We must recognize it and protect it.

Beal Street Square…that ‘wonderful thing’ has happened!

        Beal Street Square is FABULOUS!

Over 60% occupied, it’s a tremendous source of pride not only for Rocky Mount, but for the people who championed the neighborhood, provided untiring leadership, and who came together in partnership to share a dream that has come to fruition, the largest affordable housing project to date. Two men, Vann Joines, and Richard Angino, President of Third Wave Housing, have been the wind beneath the wings of Beal Street Square. At the ground breaking ceremonies, I experienced that wonderful moment when anything can happen. I could hear the voices from the past of children playing and their parents calling them home at night fall. I could “see” neighbors sitting on their front porches, a close knit Happy Hill community, who watched out for one another. That wonderful moment is happening again.

Richard Angino is an animated and happy man today, and rightly so. I took a tour with him to see the end results of thoughtful, endless planning, followed by more thoughtful corrections and tweaking. I know these are not elegant terms to explain the process, but, oh my, what a pay off for the determination to do this project right.

A reminder about Happy Hill, where Beal Street Square is located: Here is a large intact black district. By 1920 the neighborhood was densely populated along Beal, Tillery, and Thomas streets. By 1930 the 20-30 block area northwest of Main street was filled with houses, churches and small businesses for blacks. Investors built rows of the shotgun, saddlebag, and hip-roofed houses next to the tobacco processing plants and warehouses. If you take for granted the architecture in Rocky Mount, you are missing one of the greatest assets we have. It isn’t just about the grand homes throughout the community, but it is also the amazing pockets, like Happy Hill, that provide a sense of place and have a history we honor. If you have time, read the original posts about Welcome to Beal Street Square, Shotgun Houses, The Roses of Beal Street.

 Three of the new great children living at Beal Street Square. 

Photos of two of the individual court yards that will take on the unique character of the surrounding residents. One with the Gazebo and the one below with the picket fence. Trees have been saved. Beal Street Square is a cause for celebration. Congratulations to everyone involved.

 

 

 

 

Here is a look at a model of these energy efficient, shot gun-like floor plans.

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Setting the Scene to Explain The Concept of Walkable Neighborhoods – Part 1

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 People Enjoy The Streetscape in Greenville, SC

We’re on the fast train, as the English call them, called The Learning Curve. Admit it, we’re feeling quite grown up bantering words about like, Anchor Projects, (The Train Station, Imperial Center, The Douglas Block) – Incubators (entrepreneurs co-work space) – The Third Place, (The Smokehouse, Koi Pond & Sweet Taters.) Today we are adding the concept: Walkable Neighborhoods.

In late May I went home to the Chicago area; a beautiful and vital city with numerous shops, restaurants, places to work and visit. There are enough residents and visitors to support the rich mix of uses. Portland, New Orleans and Greenville, SC are further exciting examples of places where we find people who walk to stores, work, school and amenities. We recognize the healthy lifestyles these walking cities offer and note the improved real estate values. Across the country, communities like ours that are reimagining themselves, are involved in the monumental task of enticing people into their historic downtown core areas which offer beautiful architecture in silent buildings waiting for a second chance and where businesses may be sparse. Those places with a great story, that can offer a sense of place, like we have here in Rocky Mount, are making progress. I hope you too are  fascinated with the renewal concepts that are in play as the pieces of the puzzle fill in.

I’m not an urban renewal expert. You’ll forgive my simplistic approach to the process, but I hope this analogy is helpful. I think of a 500-piece puzzle scattered across a card table. Some people who work puzzles always start with the edge pieces, others like to work on small sections at a time that eventually fit within the framework. Piece by piece the puzzle comes together.

Main Street
Main Street

You might not always agree with the order in which the puzzle is being put together, but refer back to the box lid to remind yourself of the BIG picture. Amazing people like Peter Varney have worked on the edges of our Rocky Mount puzzle, shepherding anchor projects; the Train Station & The Imperial Center. Ed Riley, at The Prime Smokehouse, offers hospitality, vital in this picture. Evan Chavez, Development Manager – Rocky Mount Mill, is constantly working on the Mill pieces that are particular and essential. Kimberly Thigpen has fit The Bath Place pieces into the Douglas Block refurbishment. I particularly like the pieces that build the fabulous streetscape, with its benches and maturing trees.

With this introduction, join me for Part 2: Adding new meaning to the concept of  ‘walkable neighborhoods.’

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It’s Not Too Late! Plant a Fall Vegetable Garden At The Happy Hill Community Garden – Part 2

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1208 Gay Street 

There is great interest across the country in community gardening. They can be found in public parks, religious centers, schools, backyards, and even on rooftops. Individuals come together to grow food, build relationships, and celebrate their communities. Rocky Mount has a place that is perfect for its community garden. They are as diverse as the people gardening in them. Ann Raver – garden writer, says, “Gardens are the first sign of commitment to a community.  By their connection to the land, they are connected to one another.”

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I enjoyed meeting with Steve Warren, Park Superintendent, and Matt Sledge, Recreation and Parks Department, who are charged with the responsibility of the Happy Hill Community Garden. YOU HAVE GOT TO GO AND SEE THIS PLACE AND THINK ABOUT PLANTING A GARDEN! The City provides a locked storage building, water spigots, compost, hardwood mulch, which people can use to amend their plots before planting. There is not enough man power to have someone on site everyday, but they do a wonderful job with the work it takes to keep things ready for renting a plot and joining the fun of community gardening. This is a place Rocky Mount can be proud of thanks to Steve Warren and others involved. The first time I saw the gardens I was captivated, this serene space, a few blocks off Sunset and near Beal Street Square, is a treasure that falls in the category of under appreciated Rocly Mount assets.

There are guidelines for the Garden which participants sign off on. The Registration Form states the fee is $15.00 for the 1st plot. Additional plots $10.00 and $5.00. It is not too late to rent a plot and create a fall vegetable harvest. To register and lease plots, go to the Parks and Recreation Department on the third floor of the Fredrick E. Turnage Municipal Building at 331 S. Franklin Street in Rocky Mount. For additional information, questions, or concerns, call the Parks and Recreation Department at (252) 972-1151. There are on-line applications.

This spring the City offered the Rocky Mount Garden Club one of the four raised bed with the idea that the membership might take an interest in the mission of the garden. Community outreach is part of the Club’s purpose, and the board hardily agreed to get involved. Perhaps, like L.W. Farmer, over time, the Garden Club can help others learn more about growing vegetables and more.

In accepting the offer from the City, a Herb Garden was designed and planted by members of the RMGC. Members have been volunteering throughout the summer, watering and weeding. The herbs are available for harvesting by those who come to the garden. If you would like further information about the Garden Club, I can answer any of your questions. Think about renting a plot and enjoying the experience of community gardening.

Rocky Mount Garden Club Members Preparing To Plant A Herb Garden For The Community

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Go and Snip a Few Herbs for Tonight’s Recipe

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Remembering L. W. Farmer -The Community Garden in the Happy Hill Neighborhood: A Public Treasure – Part 1

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Remembering L.W. Farmer

A Local Patron Saint At The Heart of the Happy Hill Community Garden

There is no point writing about this special place at 1208 Gay Street, built upon the once flooded property close to Sunset Park, without honoring L.W. Farmer. The garden was established in 2007 in Phase 2 of the renovation of the Park.  A medical problem caused L.W. to retire after 29-1/2 years as a fireman. A Master Gardner, he turned his attention to this piece of property. For many years he wrote a check to the city for 54 plots. If a person could afford it, they were asked to pay, but he gave the plots to people in the community who wanted to grow vegetables and couldn’t afford the rent.  L.W, generous with his knowledge, helped others to learn the art of gardening. He brought his equipment to the  shed on the property and gave keys to those who wanted to be involved. His wife, Julia, and their children, were involved in the garden along side this community minded man who wanted to give back to Rocky Mount that he felt had given so much to him. The Garden was never a sophisticated operation when you realize that marketing the availability of the plots was by word of mouth, through the churches and city notices. At times all the plots were take.

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In the photo above former Pastor of Parkwood Baptist Church, Steve Weaver, on the right, with L.W., came each year to dedicate and bless the Community Gardens and participants. On opening day, Julia and her daughters along with friends, served Donkin’ Donuts and coffee. L.W. gave 1st, 2nd, 3rd prizes every year with $100.00 gift certificates. He planted his own garden to serve as a teaching opportunity for the community. When L.W. died October 25th 2012, his friend, Jim Blanchard, in honor os L.W., paid the fees for the garden in the coming year. Julia, has said it best about her husband, “He was a special person.”

This post is to say THANK YOU to The City Park District for all the care it continues to give the gardens. It also honors L.W. who would be pleased the gardens carries on. Don’t miss this opportunity to have your own plot, to plant your own produce; link arms with the community that comes and goes from this special place.

See you tomorrow for Part 2 – Learn more about what is happening now! 

Welcome to Beal Street Square – Happy Hill – Part 4

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Tell me what you see in this rendering of Beal Street Square that you remember from Part 2 of this series – What is a Shotgun House?  Do you recognize the gable roof lines, the narrow roof over the offset front door, porches, and houses set side by side? You’re looking at a project that didn’t happen over night, but began October 9th 2007 when the Happy Hill Neighborhood was authorized for redevelopment. City leadership along with the Rocky Mount Housing Authority, the Rocky Mount-Edgecombe CDC (Community Development Corporation) and the Happy Hill Neighborhood Association all pledged their  leadership, time, and resources, which culminated in the recent ground breaking of Beal Street Square.

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Beal Street Square is housing for working families making between $8 and $20 per hour. 80 units are being built which will cost on average, for a 1 bedroom, $75.00 a month, a two bedroom $95.00 a month. Rocky Mount need jobs, but we need housing for the workforce that new jobs create. Beal Street Square, when built, will be a place to live, work and play in a safe, energy-efficient, and culturally diverse population. Large employers like Pfizer, Cummings, Draka and Honeywell are key in the Rocky Mount economy. We can all stand up, arms thrown over our heads in the Wave for these companies. Providing housing for a workforce the likes of Beal Street Square will encourage new jobs where employees want to live.

IMG_9285 (1)Here is Vann Joines, Master of Ceremonies for the ground breaking celebration. His expertise in the area of “workforce housing” is of incalculable value to the exciting future of Rocky Mount. He helps us understand the far reaching importance of housing for working families. “Large National and Global Companies attract employees from all over the country, and when they are hired for a job in Rocky Mount they now have to make a decision as to where to live. We loose many  employees to places like Raleigh, Greensboro or even Tarboro that have strong neighborhoods walkable to downtown.”
 

 Soon: We Will Add A New Concept to our Learning Curve

Walkable Neighborhoods