Taking The Arm of a Gentleman on Main Street

I want to tell you one of my many Main Street experiences. It happened this past Spring with a trip downtown to photograph some commercial buildings that Mr. Knight owns. (There is one in particular that I love and keep my eye on.) I first took these photos on  July 17, 2018. Today, July 11, 2020, the building looks the same only ‘worser.’

I got out of my car that day in a state of mourning over the further deterioration of this structure.  I took new photographs to prove that if Mr. Knight truly meant the things he waxes poetic about, he would have set an example, and at least stabilized this building to save it. He would act as a responsible property owner who cares about the historical significance of our facades that make a continuous blend of excellent commercial architecture.

I’ll get no satisfaction in this matter until more of the community gets proactive and sees Main Street for what it is: a valuable asset to be protected, an economic driver, a place people believe in, our investing in, and are the wind under the sails of the revitalization that is going on. It makes no sense to me that once segregated in the Douglas Block area, there is now this call for a black business area that segregates blacks all over again. If the point to this is to segregate white people, it is a miscalculation to think I, for one, would stop getting out of my car and talking to black people on the corner or in the middle of the street. Most whites are color blind as our most blacks. It’s only those who refuse to live their lives as free men and women and realize that today it is one’s heart that defines a person, not the color of their skin.

It must be true what they say, one who is abused can become an abuser. Those who were segregated, now want to be segregated again. A successful revitalization has no color attached to it but supports and encourages come one, come all, to honor the past, and help build a future. Mr. Knight, who owns buildings on Tarboro St. and Washington St. has my vote of no confidence because he protected his cronies, letting them ignore ordinances, and stood by while their buildings continue to rot and cave in.  Those who could’a/should’a make a difference, didn’t.

The reason I tell this story: There were three men standing in front of a nearby building that same day. One of them, by himself, has renovated and repurposed a great looking barbershop on the 2nd floor of a Main Street building. I walked over to join them and we talked. Nice people who then led me to see the bar on the corner and further.

When I got ready to leave, the older of the three men said he would walk me back to my car. I took his arm. Upon reflection, I realize I do this as a sign of my affection and acknowledgment that I am in the company of a gentleman. I am grateful to these three men who included me, were willing to tour a bit with me, and showed no sign that because I am white, it made a difference to them. They being black certainly made no difference to me. We need to get a grip, as the younger folks say, and welcome any and all who believe in Main Street where ever they find a building in the downtown area.  We better start looking through a better lens to size people up. I repeat, today it is people’s hearts, not the color of their skin that matters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Black Lives Matter’ Painted On The Old Railroad Loading Dock?

‘Shown here is the structure whose roof could be painted to read ‘Black Lives Matter.’
WILLIAM F. WEST/ROCKY MOUNT TELEGRAM

William West wrote, “The City of Rocky Mount appears to be interested in having the words “Black Lives Matter” painted on the roof of an old railroad track-side loading dock on the northeastern side of downtown.” This is a perfect example of what Benjamin Franklin meant when he said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

The existing Central City Revitalization Panel (CCRP) composed of City residents, leaders of community organizations, and members of the business community, served as a steering committee for the Ratio Plan. For that trouble, it remains in a drawer. Unless the Historic Preservation Committee and the Central Revitalization  Committee have lost their minds, I guarantee neither group has been consulted about this matter. They who are charged with protecting guidelines of the downtown historic district and the Central Revitalization Committee, who are in the trenches working for the downtown businesses…… must approve!

This is another mistake for which no one on the Council or City Management will pay for.   Yet again, an arbitrary idea to take advantage of the current political unrest in the country. Seize the day, and the monument to our history is gone. Seize the day, and paint Black Lives Matter on a historic structure. The basis – a mob of haters of the United States who have been encouraged and left free to loot and destroy.

This old railroad structure is not an inconvenient obstacle! This message, seen by people who pass through Rocky Mount on the train, who now are able to see the new emerging scene downtown, is short-sighted.  I thought ‘Come let us reason together’ was the mantra to achieve harmony and move forward together. The two groups cited above better get their heads in gear in order to use their influence to save us from ourselves. I leave you with an interview with Shelby Steele of  The Hoover Institute on the matter of Black Lives Matter. Though a Fox News interview might give you pause, think of the interview happening where ever you like. Just give his insights a go. Click on Link:

FYI: In 2016, the City of Rocky Mount moved forward with the preparation of a Downtown Plan spurred on by the anticipation of development following the announcement of the Rocky Mount Event Center (RMEC) and the area’s high development potential. As the effort began, the City realized that the most effective tool to guide and incentivize future development would be specific implementation strategies. The strategies contained in the Plan have a primary focus on the vicinity of the RMEC in the Northeast Quadrant.

When The Stars Align – Whit and Robert Barnes Appear – Sons of Rocky Mount

It suits my romantic inclinations to write this Sorsby’s Tale after spending time with Whit Barnes. This tale is my favorite kind of Main Street news.I love generational novels that cover family history. In this case we have the family that founded Bullocks Furniture in 1901 unto the 5th generation that rests in a tall, dark, handsome fellow…. that would be Whit…. the nicest of young man that will one day appear on the genealogy pages of this grand family.

Whit graduated from Rocky Mount Sr. High where his mother Martha Kincheloe Barnes and father, Russ Barnes, met and started dating after graduation. Whit went on to  Wake Forest and graduated in  2013 in Business Management. His grandfather, Bill Kincheloe, who lived on Wildwood in West Haven, started making lamps in the warehouse behind his grandfathers retail furniture store, Bulluck Furniture Company in downtown Rocky Mount, the year 1969. Whit is now the Sales Manager for Wildwood. The company used to be called Wildwood Lamps and Accents, but now the name is  “Wildwood” because they make all types of home decor such as furniture, mirrors, lighting, decorative accessories, and artwork.

Whit has come home though he still has his New York apartment. He tells me he knows of at least 25-30 others moving back to Rocky Mount. This return is HOPE personified. These sons and daughters of Rocky Mount will join those already here; the future leadership providing a moral compass, and integrity we badly need. If any of them are like Whit, who is a bright, enthusiastic, and a energized, young gentleman, then hurry and get here.

Robert and Whit Barnes have bought the fabulous building on Sunset – Sorsby’s Place. The entire building may be leased or the two floors leased separately. The second floor has its own entrance. You may remember the building when it was Rocky Mount Chamber Paint, (1910.) Or, Barnes Tin Shop (no relative), or Carols Dress Shop. The restoration of this building is another preservationist dream and much more. When I visited with Whit, the joy on his face is evident over owning Sorsby Place with his brother, Robert. This joy includes home and family, taking part in the revitalization of Main Street, and putting a stake in the ground for past and future generations of their family.

I think of these young men standing quietly outside their building making room for their memories growing up here; the voices that have gone before them that they now honor. It is spectacular when one reaches the September of their life as I have, to stand beside a young man who wants to make a difference. It is my prayer that ‘all will be well, all manner of things will be well,’ when I am gone because of people like Whit and Robert. They are putting their life experience, their education, creativity, and love of place and family towards a future for themselves and others. Thankfully, they are joined by young people who are doing the same thing along Main Street and beyond. The leasing of this building will become an economic driver in the Rocky Mount Downtown Historic District.

**Wildwood Lamps & Accents Inc is a small business with 20 to 49 employees. Categorized under importers & exporters, Wildwood Lamps & Accents Inc has an annual revenue of $10 to 50 million. Wildwood Lamps & Accents Inc is a public business located in Rocky Mount, NC.

Architectural Plans for Sorsby Place
Beautiful brick walls on two sides each floor
2nd floor, beautiful floors. Window at far end faces Sunset and across to Howard St.
View of Howard Street out the second story window
The restored beams on both floors

 

CAN’T WAIT FOR THE NEW OCCUPANTS THAT WILL ADD TO THE SORSBY’S TALE FOR MORE PHOTOGRAPHS VISIT THE FACEBOOK PAGE OF MAIN STREET

John Jesso Remains Rocky Mount’s Codega

I’m thinking of John Jesso today. I first met him when I went to his office to inquire about starting the blog, Main Street Rocky Mount.  Would I be stepping on anyone’s toes? John listened to my ideas  and without hesitation,  said, “I would love your help in highlighting  the beautiful story of Rocky Mount.” 316 published posts later, John remains my cheer leader. His friendship is precious to me. When I came across the idea of a Codega, I knew immediately that this concept applied to John; then the Downtown Development Manager of Rocky Mount.

“In Venice in the Middle Ages there was a profession for a man called a codega. – a fellow you hired to walk in front of you at night with a lit lantern, showing you the way, scaring off thieves and demons, bringing you confidence and protection throughout the dark streets.”

John remains Rocky Mount’s tireless codega. He continues to hold his lantern high, showing all who come our way the possibilities that Rocky Mount offers. He has always had great confidence in the future  of Rocky Mount. In the next chapter of his life he brings his expertise to Chambliss Rabil Commercial Reality. John and his partner Lee Mears, have in recent months effected the sale, lease or have under management in downtown alone over 165,000 square feet of space.  One of my Main Street heroes, is Troy White, with all the saving and repurposing of buildings on Main and Howard Street that he is working on. We have not met although I feel I know Troy through John Jesso.

I asked Troy for a quote I could use to illustrate John’s continual pursuit of  investors who are central to the “repairing of the breach.” Here is the lovely answer I received. It proves my point that John remains the Codega of Main Street who brings a man like Troy White to the community. Thank You, John! Thank you Troy for this comment and sweet thoughts, which I did not include but appreciate!

John and I met through a mutual friend that I was doing a favor for.  The friend asked me to assist him in looking over a building he was interested in purchasing in Rocky Mount.  We were both living in Durham and he knew John and scheduled a meeting to view the building and brought me along for my professional opinion.   We met John in front of 202 Main st.  That was where and how I was introduced to and  met John.  He and I would hit it off and he would invite me back to Rockymount to take a look at some of the other buildings in the downtown area.   I fell hard for the two sister buildings on Howard St. They were in horrible shape but I could see the potential. I would later talk to some clients of mine about 202 Howard St. and they purchased that building as well.   Since that time I have periodically come to Rockymount and my relationship with John grew stronger every trip. Now I consider him a true friend and I am overwhelmed with all of the possibilities for the future of Rockymount.   Since then, many other friends of mine have purchased property in Rockymount and plan to either develop or move to Rockymount as I do.

Well Stepheny, thats the short but complete version.  I look forward to meeting you and I want to thank you for all of  the support you have given me and my team. I look forward to meeting you soon.  You are so beautiful to me as well.  Smile.

Look For This Signage Along Main Street Area

Main Street Exhibit – Remembrance of Things Past

       “Look at the places where no one looks, so you can see the things no one sees!”

Mehmet Murat ildan

Those who follow Main Street know the words to its theme song about preservation, restoration, and repurposing the commercial buildings in historic downtown. One of the verses is about finding a heartbeat and pulse in each building and then setting about to save its life. In the world of preservation, there is great beauty in simple things of the past. I think of the stories behind all the doors we have passed through in our lives and hope there will always be someone to preserve the places where those stories took place.

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FYI: Every house has doors, and every door has hardware that enables the user to open or secure it. The device seen on most new houses is the doorknob, but in old houses that date back to the 18th century, latches or lever hardware were more common. Understanding about types of hardware and where they come from historically can help explain what you might expect to find or use in a pre-1940s house in our historic districts.

(Images from my Pinterest boards on architecture)

 

Stepheny Sings A Joe Cocker Song to Troy White – A New Face on Howard Street

I often sing a few lines from a Joe Cocker song when I think of those I am grateful for, love, and admire.  I haven’t met Mr. White, so it is unusual to connect a song with a stranger. There are exceptions. Mr. White is another ‘angel unaware’ that has come to Main Street. You will understand when you see the evidence provided below that what we have hoped for and needed, Mr. White is providing.  Listen to these lyrics: You are so beautiful to me…….

Looking at the saved facade on Howard Street

Two buildings on Howard Street needed Mr. White. He is exactly what we hoped for. Troy White is from Durham but is moving to Rocky Mount. He has eyes to see and bought two neglected and deteriorating buildings that were being ignored locally. He has saved the historic facades and is repurposing these buildings in this wonderful location.

When history is written about this chapter of the revitalization of Rocky Mount it will have a list of the ‘Repairers of the Breach’ who believed in the future of Rocky Mount. The list will have Troy White’s name as part of those ‘angels unaware’ that showed up and preserved, restored and repurposed Main Street. They join those born and raised here that have stepped to the sunny side of the street and will no longer be run off regardless of obstacles. Main Street, in the throes of revitalization, has a cast of characters who will be remembered for saving downtown. It is the larger story that takes us beyond those who contributed to the deterioration of our beautiful commercial architecture through a lack of leadership, by neglect, lack of enforcing the ordinance, and codes. For Mr. White and the growing list of new entrepreneurs, new businesses, and those who have been pioneers downtown: You Are So Beautiful to Me! You are everything I hoped for, and you’re everything Rocky Mount needs. You Are So Beautiful To Me.

Approved brick for rebuilding the back of the buildings. I put my hand on it…wonderful!
The restoration of a Howard Street building

 

Look closely at the treatment of brick between the two buildings
The removal of the interior fallen to the ground
An Amazing Sight
These great guys are a hoot. When I asked to photograph them they said, “Okay guys, look busy!”

142 Howard St Facade Rendering

CLICK ABOVE FOR A LOVELY OUTCOME

170/174 Howard is the grey bldg
Once was home to Kellibrew photography
164/168 is the red brick

a-lt-men-taire – The French Bakery on Main Street – IMAGINE!

In the Chicago area, you will find bakeries throughout this city of neighborhoods…Greek Town, Little Italy…In Evanston where I grew up, there was a bakery on Davis Street where my mother took me. Inside the door of the bakery, delectable smells filled the shop. The glass front display cases were filled with trays of impossible choices. I usually asked for a chocolate eclair, which I would then eat on the walk home. Two blocks west to Asbury Avene, turn right, and two blocks North home. We would pass the bowling alley, the drug store, the amazing Federal Post office with its memorable architecture. All of us can still walk blindfolded these walks of our childhoods.  Main Street Rocky Mount is going to have the fragrances of a bakery escaping onto the street each time the door opens to Altmentaire. (AH-LEE-MON-TAIR) A French word for food and nourishment that describes their traditional bread and bake goods made of 100% real ingredients, many locally sourced. Perhaps you already know of this bakery at 600 Trade Street in Tarboro, NC  owned by Steve and Franca Gilbert. They are coming to Main Street Rocky Mount.

 Here we are looking at 132 SW Main. This commercial building is 6000 square feet. 3000 feet for the bakery…kitchen sales area, etc. AND a 3000 loft apartment above where the Gilberts are going to live. Having just seen two lofts this size in New Bern at the Main Street Conference, I was beside myself because I wasn’t in Elizabeth City or Wilson or New Bern but on MAIN STREET ROCKY MOUNT. (CLICK HERE TO SEE THE NEW BERN LOFTS.)

There is much more to this space with bedrooms, bathrooms, closet space. 3000!!! feet. This is but a glimpse of what is happening in the downtown historic district. The restoration and repurposing of this building is part of the new scene emerging around the businesses that have held down the fort waiting for support, vision, a will of the leadership. Welcome Steve & Franca Gilbert, we can’t wait for you to get here.

The living room space that looks out on Main Street and raised kitchen
Climbing the steps past the beautiful brick wall to the 2nd level
The three windows looking out on Main Street

 

The View from the second level

 

Checking On Main Street – It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day, A New Life For Us

“A city is not an accident but the result of coherent visions and aims.”
Leon Krier, The Architecture of Community

Like you, I have been at home practicing patience. I haven’t checked on things downtown for awhile. Since a grocery run was in order, while I was out, I drove downtown around 4:30. There was no traffic, which meant I could jump out of my car and leave it running to take photographs of the projects I’d come to see. Maybe it is the strange state of suspension I find myself in, but I was susceptible to the shadows, and the beauty in the architectural details I’d never seen before. Even the railroad tracks that carry a portion of Rocky Mount’s story were magnified in orderliness and significance.

 

The streetscape has given the old commercial buildings that line both sides of the tracks a setting, a grounding if you like, which was evident in the late afternoon light. Each facade along the street is unique. The architect, the builders, and crews didn’t throw up any old building but left a legacy of craftsmanship and style we are building a future upon. It will forever be on the heads of those who have been involved with the disgrace of neglect and shenanigans surrounding Main Street. But, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day it’s a new life for us.

If only my photos did these storefronts justice because each one is a little jewel box. You see the address of 114 on the lavender building. The details on these facades are worth a trip downtown to see. If you’re following Main Street on Facebook you have seen the drawings on the various types of window/entries in order to recognize and identify what our Main Street facades have. We are fortunate to have this incredible architectural inventory and the emerging new Main Street symphony of pounding hammers, the crash of deterioration coming down, the chatter of men putting in new windows: I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Don’t you either. SFH

 

  

I have many favorite buildings along Main, but this one is ‘way special.’

Rendering of Restored Facade 

Coming Soon: I left out one building in this original post that belongs in this series. Here is the commercial building as it appears today (on the right) and a rendering of how it is going to look  (on the left). Cause for celebration with another Main Street architectural commercial building being saved.

 

 

URGENT ATTENTION – PLAN B – Low Income Housing Development Partners – Woda Cooper

Columbus, OH. The 54 unit affordable seniors community was named Overall and Green winner for Affordable Housing Finance Readers Choice.

Woda Cooper has experienced developers, general contractors, and property managers specializing in design, construction, and management. If you google them you will find an impressive mass of work. Their online presence leaves a favorable impression of the company. Here is an example of one of the low-income housing projects they use on their Facebook header.

The City Council – #Item 14 – saw the approval of “development partner”, Woda Cooper Companies, for the construction of the “workforce housing” (low income) units on Tarboro Street, across from Edgecombe Community College. I have written, most recently on Concerned Citizens, how opposed I am to the location, not the type housing. Now PLAN B is another story. I found two projects that Woda Cooper has designed that I would hold the ladder for, bring donuts and sing.  This company REPURPOSES OLD BUILDINGS!!!  for low-income housing. What a great idea. We have a few of those. PLAN B accomplishes the same outcome for housing but keeps the integrity of our historic facades intact, saves a building, adds seamlessly to the historic downtown. PLAN B is a better solution.

 Then and now. The top photo on the right was taken in 1932 when the now Cavalier Greene was a thriving high school in Corunna, MI. The classic 1908 school building was adapted a few years ago to become a 40-unit affordable community. With the addition of a new 22,000 sq. ft. section designed to mesh well with the original architecture, Cavalier Greene offers one- and two-bedroom affordable apartments for seniors and workforce families/singles who earn 30 to 60% of area median income (AMI).

 

In order to create affordable places to live in downtown Cleveland,  Woda Cooper bought
the old Stuyvesant Motor Company Building at 1937 Prospect Avenue and built the Prospect Yard apartments. The building was built in 1917 and a stone in the brick at the top of the building still reads “Stuyvesant” after more than a century.  The building has 42 apartments, with rent starting at $330 and topping out at $1,247 depending on how large the apartment is.

When Woda Cooper first bought the building, this is what the inside looked like after years of neglect.

‘The project used many layers of historic tax credits. Woda Cooper went the extra step to also get affordable housing credits,  making it possible to keep rents low. The goal: to house people with working-class incomes and people needed in the downtown service industry. I don’t know if PLAN B will line pockets as easily as the cluster housing but I sure as heck know that to ‘restore and repurpose’ is a better answer for this project the wizards behind the curtain insist we must have. It becomes a piece of the Rocky Mount puzzle that fits. Don’t you agree?

 

 

 

 

If Responsible City Leadership Welcomes Private Development – You’ve Got A Hit Song On Your Hands

Above The Store in New Bern, NC

Where responsible city leadership welcomes private development, the results have been fantastic. By working together for ‘a yes solution’ in their dealings with private investors, downtowns are saved and economic growth is stimulated.  Elizabeth City and New Bern are examples of this kind of success; revitalization at its finest. Here in Rocky Mount, it cannot be denied that the Wizards behind the curtain can still foot-drag, dilly-dallying, and make things difficult in an attempt to retain control over the downtown outcomes. A larger story has happened in spite of this.   Determined locals and an influx of creative, hard-working people will not be deterred. They are saving our commercial architecture one building at a time by repurposing them. Living Above The Store is under construction, a vital piece of the revitalization puzzle.

We’ve learned a great deal since the 1980 Urban Renewal period when terrible mistakes were made. Enough time has gone by to access what worked and didn’t. Tearing down paradise and putting up a parking lot was not the answer. A big piece of the answer is preserving a strong sense of place that is vital to the health and prosperity of a downtown. The Rocky Mount story creates a particular richness that is attracting new people while honoring the place others have always called home. 

“Research has proven that a successful revitalization must include a pedestrian-friendly, connected location with a lively environment that encourages visitors to linger and support the local economy.” Living Above The Store broadens the success of a downtown community. “A downtown with a critical mass encourages a connection to the local community because they don’t leave the area at the end of the day. They shop local, eat local and drink local—inherently helping spur the economy and foster the hip-factor of the district.”  Living downtown: a mix of people who can live nearer their jobs, are singles, married,  retired people who are sizing down and want to walk to nearby amenities. The emerging scene on Main Street Rocky Mount will include Living Above The Store. Way Cool, friends, Way Cool!

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
– Christopher Reeve  

In 2017, Scott Baldwin wrote an article called, Live-Work Units: Reasons to Include Them in Your Next Project. (Fisher, Ind.) I have quoted from his article in support of this post.