Investor, Jesse Gerstl – I’ve Seen the Super Man Cape He Wears

May Gorham Building on the corner of Tarboro and Washington St. A Jesse Gerstl project

I often leave comments on the Concerned Citizens Facebook Page. Like all of us, the page has its good days and bad. Some comments have more clarity than others. I have no trouble making room for diverse opinions as long as they are well stated, no swearing or name-calling. I will admit that my reaction can vary if that line is crossed in this public forum. You could find me talking to myself, saying, “Give me a break!” or “What???” or in plain speak — “Man, you gotta get a life.”

I have an on-going struggle with what it means to be complicit. I’ll read something, weigh its merits, consider my past experience with the writer, and then decide if saying nothing makes me complicit in the matter.  Sometimes it is easy, Stepheny, let it go.  When I determine, this cannot stand, I write.

“What about the May Graham buildings or the Carlton House, or any other structures Jesse Gerstl and gang owns. It was great at first thinking he was going to fix something which turned into 2 years of the buildings getting “worser” as you call it. Jesse  Gerstl was allowed to buy many of these properties knowing he had no money or intention to fix any of it up. The only thing we got out of the hoarding of money in our downtown was a coffee house; had it not been for the owner of the coffee house we wouldn’t have that.”

In this instance, I know, admire and applaud, Jesse Gerstl.  This post is written in appreciation of him and is also my reply to the Concerned Citizen who was good enough to weigh in with the above comment. This blog post is neither written in anger nor denying others their opinions. I, however, have personal knowledge that Jesse wears a Superman’s cloak hidden under a tee shirt, part of his regular attire.

May Gorham Building is an up-coming        Jesse Gerstl project.

Larema Coffee Shop is located on the opposite corner in the Five Points area. A success story of what the revitalization of our historic downtown district will look like. A building Jesse bought and renovated with his heart for preservation and his ability to see things not as they are but could be. I can’t think of a greater place for the community to enjoy. A repurposed First National Bank Building that now welcomes everyone in a setting that only Main Street can provide. People love it, and why not with as fine a young man as you could hope for, Kevin McLaughlin presiding over his dream.

The entrance into the Larema world. Here we have an example of honoring the past while building a future.
This photograph is a magic moment of seeing the future through old windows.
This gathering came to listen to a Preservation Rocky Mount program. Peter Varney shared his knowledge of the Five Points Area.

MACHAVEN, restored, and saved. In acquiring this property, Jesse stopped everything to save this grand architectural gem. Click Here to read an earlier post that includes photographs.  The crown jewel, as they say, in the Villa Place Historic District, Machaven is surrounded by an outstanding inventory of residential homes, a walkable distance to downtown. This is a gift to the community that holds many memories of this historic home. I have lost count of how many shotguns and other small homes he has undertaken.

The rendering of the new interior courtyard.

Saved for last, The Carlton House. I have never heard Jesse moan or groan over the obstacles placed before him by our City Government as it pertains to the Carlton House or any project. That’s because he is a good man. I fail the test in this category. I am appalled at the loss of this opportunity and deliberate dragging of feet to thwart him in these efforts. “Oh, ghee that $14,000 grant money must have gotten lost on my desk.”   I am fortunate to have seen the plans for this significant asset while touring the property with Jesse.

What we have here is a haphazard, arbitrary, unprioritized approach to planning. The latest scheme rather than recognizing a pivotal piece in the Main Street puzzle. We now know why the Carleton House was sabotaged.  Presented as a  fait ac·com·pli., we have a single-source bid again as the results of a trip to Florida by the City Manager. The rationale, we’ve never had a hotel in Edgecombe County. Oh, and a zillion-dollar parking garage while we are at it. There are no substantial statistics to prove need, probable success, necessary occupancy to even hope to make a go of it.  And, of course, how are the usual suspects going to make any money out of The Carlton House.  You wonder how many investors have been run off because there is no attempt to work towards a win-win outcome for the city and the investor. Jesse and others like him, deserve our gratitude and support for the restoration and repurposing of Main Street. We have councilmen serving beyond their usefulness who have done little to protect Main Street except where it suits them and their cronies. It is shameful.

You Can Come Home Again – Erwin Wilde Did – Home To Machaven


Erwin Wilde came home to Machaven last night. A house built in 1907-1908 for her grandmother, and James Hines, her grandfather, a leading businessman, civic leader. H.P.S. Keller was the architect for the 2 1/2-story, Classical Revival style brick dwelling with a slate-covered hipped roof. With five interior chimneys, a pedimented portico with Doric columns, and a full-width one-story porch, Machaven stands on a half-acre plot surrounded by a 1930’s Flemish-bond wall. Machaven is to be found at 306 S. Grace Street in the Villa Place Historic District.

You’re familiar with a sleeping pet who suddenly raises his or her head because they hear something, know something. Machaven was sitting quietly last night in the twilight expecting members and the board of Preservation Rocky Mount. In through the door, came a familiar voice, a known footstep. It was a little girl, who claims to be 83 years old who stood smiling. The house was instantly happy. This happiness went beyond its on-going restoration, lights and workman bringing a new purpose to Machaven. This happiness was the recognition of Erwin Wilde, who’s mother had been left the house when Mr. Hines died, who then raised her young children in the house before it became the City Club and important add-ons took place like an elevator.

Erwin is a living testament to what I know is true: age is only a number, an attitude, and can be a cause for celebration. Bright and funny, Erwin shared stories that endeared her to everyone, long time friend or new. She spoke of the 33 step staircase and the wallpaper in the dining room, though painted over, whose roses continue to bloom. They are slightly visible in a certain light, but plain to see in Erwin where ever she is.

I have a big imagination, but it was a privilege to hear about the conversations that took place around the dining room table, the room where we were gathered. Machaven is woven through the story of so many. Weddings, receptions, parties, white table cloth dining, being shooed off the wall by the maids in the house, or trick or treating at Halloween, the magnificent home that remembers it all. Being in Erwin’s company last night, to see her smile and laugh, old friends gathered around her, made me cry, of course. CLICK HERE: Erwin is one of the ‘prisms of light’ I wrote about to begin 2019. I can’t think of a better way to begin 2020!  Scroll down to read comments.

Happy New Year To All


They Call Me – Machaven – Great News – I’m Back!


“The old house had a thousand doors in it.
All old houses do. You can see them if you know how to look: the noontime shadow of a windowpane crawling with intent across a floor; unmeasured angles of wall meeting wall; fireplaces grown chill with unused years. Archways with unseen contours you can trace with a finger in the cracks as brick grinds against brick in settling walls. Some nights and some houses are doorways entire, silhouettes against the evening’s last light black on black like an opening into a darker sky. You just have to look. An eye-corner glance will do if you don’t turn and stare and explain it away.”
Michael Montoure, Slices


I’m still smiling. First of all, I have never ridden in an electric car which felt like riding on a quiet cloud, and second, I was headed to Machaven. Jesse Gerstl was driving. He is an investor helping save Main Street and adjacent areas. Besides the Superman cloak I’ve glimpsed before, I think of him as one of our angels unaware that we now entertain. Jesse and his investment group are the new owners of this historical jewel in Villa Place’s crown. We were off to see the progress that in a few weeks Jesse’s small group of workman have made happen. I managed to stay out of the fresh paint except for a spot on my hand that I was proud to acquire.

The goal is to have Machaven ready this spring. The property is in splendid condition. I hoped to sense some of the family and past caretakers of this gracious home but was too distracted by views out the large double-hung windows, looking at the fireplaces and chandeliers, the stunning staircase, the spacious rooms. There are plastic drop cloths, ladders, and paint cans everywhere, but nonetheless, the resting heart rate of the house is once again elevated. I was smiling with the privilege of being there, Jesse is excited and smiling with this ambitious and important project, and Machaven, well, thrilled to be useful again and ready to begin the next chapter of life.

While waiting for the on-going work to finish, there are many interesting things about Machaven and the people associated with this historical property to honor. My intention is to write MORE.


If you need to book something wonderful after Machaven opens, Jesse is your man! 347-255-7257

Great news, isn’t it!?








They Call Me Machaven – Speaking Out About Old Age and Remaining Useful

6054696250_8ae0b26100_zPeople call me Machaven, but I think of myself as a Hines. It seems like yesterday (1907-1908)  that I was built for James Hines, a leading businessman, civic leader, and his wife. Of course, I credit the architect, H.P.S. Keller, for the handsome fellow that I am….a 2 1/2-story, Classical Revival style brick dwelling with a slate-covered hipped roof. I have five interior chimneys, a pedimented portico with Doric columns, and a full-width one-story porch. I stand on a half-acre plot surrounded by a 1930’s Flemish-bond wall and take up the 300 block of South Grace Street. A highlight in my long life came in 1980 when I was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I am proud of my 306 S. Grace Street address in the Villa Place Historic District and of starting my life with the outstanding Hines family.

The older I become, however, the more fearful I am that my glorious past is slipping to the edge of Rocky Mount’s consciousness. People tip-toe around me now. I think they are embarrassed because they promised to make me useful again, but I have been left on my own. I have come to understand what old people mean when they say, “I’ve been placed on the back burner.”

Stepheny has come to commiserate with me. She enjoys hearing stories about people like James Hines and she has a deep interest in historic preservation, an appreciation for the vast, beautiful inventory of architecture here in our community. I didn’t try to hide my disappointments from her. She listened and finally stamped her foot. “Well damn, this is a shame that needs to be fixed.” She did her best to make me feel optimistic about my future.

“Machaven,” she said, “Let me go and find Mr. Robbie Davis, who is in charge now. I’m sure he has your best interests in mind and I’ll do my best to sweet talk him into making you relevant again.”

I replied, “Tell him I loved my time when people thought of me as  The City Club.”

“I will indeed, but what we need here is a plan for you, Machaven, and there are outstanding people like Mr. Hines in his era, that are working hard to revitalize the downtown core. We need to get you back on the Rocky Mount radar screen and help Mr. Davis do some creative thinking.”

Before we said goodbye she told me, “Keep the faith! You are a vital historic piece of the puzzle in the revitalization of Rocky Mount. Hold that thought.” She turned to leave and said, “I’ll be back.”