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. 

I Brought Something Back From My Trip For You – (Main Street Readers)

You’ll do whatever it takes to get to a granddaughter’s wedding even if it is in Milwaukee in January. My fur coat that hangs out in the back of my closet was delighted to be needed again as in days of regular outings in winter weather on the North Shore just beyond Chicago. It was only after a safe trip from Raleigh to Atlanta and on to Milwaukee that a storm began making big news with a predicted snow fall  of 10.” or more. Our flight was cancelled before the festivities had hardly begun. The only answer, a flight on Monday that went from Milwaukee to Fort Lauderdale with a change over to Raleigh. (Figure that out!) Someone else would have brought you delicious Wisconsin cheese or a bag of oranges from FL.  I brought something better.

I brought a few photographs of a repurposed home/restaurant for inspiration. Our own Tap 1918 at the Mill is a perfect example of preservation at work, the beautiful saving of the house, the repurposing, and you have a restaurant that is part of a success story and source of pride at  The Rocky Mount Mill.

North of Milwaukee, we had lunch at a place called “The Cheel.” or in English, “The Eagle.” A rare 1890’s Victorian home, once a dilapidated yet charming building, a couple with entrepreneurial spirits got interested. The building’s central location and deep history invigorated their creativity and drive. Their goal was to revive this once esteemed local landmark, and celebrate with the community their unique dining traditions. The food was excellent, which is a must for success. I loved seeing the Wisconsin folks gathered at the tables with their beers, some wearing knitted stocking hats along with boots made for snow, not looks. It felt like I had stepped back into a black and white photo that could only have been taken in Wisconsin.

The Cheel is located at 105 S. Main Street in downtown Thiensville. Lovingly restored and re-imagined, the eclectic décor includes an original art deco bar, high tops and banquets, and a covered 4-season outdoor patio. Here is another example of a Main Street endeavor that makes me believe that anything they can do, we can do better.

PS: It was a beautiful wedding weekend with lots of love all around. Thankfully, the snow fall did not live up to expectations, that fact too late to save our flight. After a few special days, I am home again, home again, jiggly-jig, a bit tired around the edges, but happy for granddaughter, Sally, and her wonderful young husband, Trevor. I hope you like what I’ve brought you – inspiration to save and repurpose a dilapidated yet charming old something!




Positive Change In City Leadership Will Guarantee Main Street’s Successful Outcome – ‘Urban Infill’ For Instance

There are subtle design details that have a powerful ability to make a building look or feel “right” in a certain area. Context tells us whether a design fits in and guides our decisions. We want a city’s buildings to share some regional characteristics that make a place a place. -Joe Bucher, AIA

Urban infill is city planning lingo for development in areas that are already built up. These projects have fewer costs attached to them because of existing infrastructure and are already serviced by transit, shops, and food.

When it comes to a downtown like ours and older neighborhoods, preservation today is engaged in questions of how to respect the past while fostering development to fill in the gaps. Urban ‘infill’ is a topic we need to be smart about if we are to preserve the continuity of our Main Street buildings that are significant when telling Rocky Mount’s story; when offering people a place to live that has a sense of place. Preserving this continuity is key to this kind of development.

Again, we will turn to New Orlean’s for infill Preservation inspiration. Deftly tucked into a narrow former parking lot on a densely occupied business district street, the new Cambria Hotel represents a successful approach to urban infill in a historic district. The project transformed an empty space into a handsome and vibrant hotel building. Thoughtful design and careful planning took care to recognize the scale and context of the surrounding neighborhood, utilizing a simple palette of materials commonly found in the district that is respectful of the mix of historic buildings and converted warehouses around it. (Please reread these highlighted sentences just short of memorization.)

Infill can be added to an existing structure, become a new layer over the old,  placed on an irregular shaped site, or it can fill an abandoned lot. This infill will include mixed-use and multi-functional purpose to a site or building, promoting different uses at different times.

Compatibility of this infill with the overall design strategy should always be a strong goal focused on integration with the surrounding area. Infill should not overpower nearby buildings. Successful infill projects are those that go unnoticed; apparent only upon examination.  These simple, but vital requirements for any planned infill in the downtown historic district of Rocky Mount must include sensitive and respectful attention to the surrounding architecture.

I hope you agree. Leave your thoughts below.




‘The Telegram E-Mail Reveal’ Supports My Position

Paul Wolf is an attorney that writes about local government. He lists seven signs that indicate when a local government is dysfunctional with polarizing leadership. Rocky Mount City Council and attending leadership tick off every sign that is listed. Until this investigation ends, we cannot go forward allowing additional opportunities for the same people to keep on doing the wrong thing. Leading that list is the Tarboro Street site for low-income housing, which is the wrong solution built on the wrong site. When the investigation proves that grants and matters with HUD  and all the other skullduggery actually happened, there will be reprisals. There is also the matter that the Council and Mayor and others have been complicit; they’ve either been a part of it or have known what has been going on. There’ll be new leadership in the fall. When those responsible for graft and mismanagement are removed we will no longer be distracted from giving our attention to the fascinating job of preserving Main Street and our neighborhoods and promoting and encouraging the economic drivers coming our way. Affordable housing can be determined when it is no longer under the guise of bait and switch with ECC and put forward by those who have ‘done us wrong.’ We are expecting new arrivals that we must get ready for and who will need welcoming. We’ll get on with the invigorated preservation of our architectural assets. It is an exciting time, let’s get back to enjoying it and celebrating all our blessings. This is one of the many thresholds moments in our lives, right now, to step across into what the future holds that can be positive and beneficial for everyone. I believe this! If you believe, you must clap your hands. (according to Peter Pan and Stepheny)

Ivory tower effect. When self-important elected officials make decisions in a vacuum or otherwise barricade themselves in their offices, that creates a nasty cultural divide between management and employees. Not enough elected officials understand or listen to employees as part of their decision making process.

Warring Factions. In some communities feuds along with the political party, lines are commonplace and accepted as just the way government works. Warring factions are dysfunctional, divisive and they foster rivalry instead of cooperation.

Strategy du jour. When dysfunctional elected officials consistently overreact to a single data point and take the entire organization in a new direction. Often the result of the hallway or ad-hoc meetings in obscure places and making decisions in the absence of those who are actually responsible for that sort of thing.

Analysis paralysis. When elected officials, especially from warring factions, chronically debate issues to death, going down one rat hole or knock-down, drag-out fight after another without actually making decisions because there’s no clear leadership to drive consensus.

Walk on water behavior. When leaders either consciously or subconsciously hoist certain groups up on pedestals while denigrating others. Besides being divisive, that also creates “walk on water” behavior where exalted groups aren’t subject to standard processes like budgeting, for example.

Silo mentality. When teams, departments or entire divisions act as if they’re independent of the rest, usually in a defensive “it’s us against them” sort of way when fighting for resources. Often the result of being denigrated by dysfunctional and divisive elected officials. A.k.a. “bunker mentality.”

Pet Project. Usually supported by an elected official — that’s immune to criticism and the government’s standard processes. In other words, it continues to be funded long after it shouldn’t.


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!  


Rocky Mount Is Being Lead Down The Yellow Brick Road Over Parking and Low-Income Housing

I have remembered the Yellow Brick Road song from the Wizard of Oz since I was a child. I used to sing it to my grandchildren when heading out in the car for an adventure. “We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.” I never dreamed I would find it applicable, transpose and lift the lyrics, to describe where Rocky Mount’s City Government is trying to lead us now.  In your imagination, you can assign any face you like to the characters, Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, The Lion, and The Wizard of Oz. The good or bad witches.


Rocky Mount’s Wizard of Oz identities under investigation.


Perhaps you remember that The Wizard, who has not fulfilled his promises, is exposed when Toto pulls back a curtain, revealing that the “Wizard” is a middle-aged man operating machinery and speaking into a microphone. Play around with this for a minute and you will agree that our Wizard of Oz, who has various identities, is not fulfilling promises to the taxpayers of Rocky Mount, NC. either.


PARKING: Let us not lose sight of the February 14, 2019 Telegram article by Lindell Kay on the Downtown Parking Study. The goal of the study is to determine how best to use parking in support of downtown development, redevelopment, and revitalization. People have been in a dither about parking for The Event Center all along. How was the project allowed to be built in the first place without adequate parking in the plan? Parking on Tarboro Street became part of the answer, sited on property deemed a state environmental brownfield not safe for housing given that it was the site of a dry cleaner and was investigated by state environmental officials. The site has been reviewed and determined to be OK, but wells would not be allowed. Environmentalists question the safety of former industrial sites in connection with housing. On the Yellow Brick Road, we now find out that low-income housing would replace the Tarboro Street parking plan.

“Plans Change,” is what we’ve been told. “Parking on Tarboro was never set in concrete.” but it was the intent sold to ECC for the use of this property. Now we’ve got a proposed project map that includes two large parking garages. Titled the Douglas Entertainment and Business District, the maps show plans by Tennessee-based developer David Hunt to construct two parking decks, two hotels, a retail area, condos, a splash pad and a pedestrian bridge over busy train tracks. A five-level, 500-space parking deck is planned for behind the Event Center along Atlantic Avenue where St. John’s A.M.E. Zion Church is now. A second parking garage with 450 spaces is planned behind a retail and residential area where Tri-Faith now sits.

This is what we are being told. There is no more merrily, merrily on the yellow brick road until the investigation into the corruption and mismanagement is complete. First things first!

These new projects set off alarm bells. The current trend of graft and corruption by our own version of ‘the Wizard of Oz’ highlights new possibilities for further skullduggery. That is why nothing can go forward until the investigation of malfeasance is concluded. We must resolve the identities of those involved, and the extent of corruption by the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain.

UNDERSTAND: no one is against low-income housing! We agree on the need for parking. (Who isn’t for minimizing housing costs.) But cluster housing built on Tarboro street is the wrong solution.  More on housing tomorrow – because, because, because.




Rocky Mount Revitalization – Seeing Beyond The Ordinary With Kenton Nelson


I discovered the California artist, Kenton Nelson after I began writing Main Street. Though he paints figures and landscape, it is his architecture bathed in light that calls to me.  Often when I wander around downtown Rocky Mount, I think of his beautiful work and know he would see what I see. Nelson traces his interest in painting back to his great uncle, Roberto Montenegro, renowned Mexican muralist and Modernist. The style of Nelson’s paintings has their origins in American Scene painting, Regionalism, and the work of the WPA artists of the 1930′s.

e6eef393d274efd04d645dbd7a056b62The moment I read…..the objective in his paintings is to idealize the ordinary,  I knew he was for me.  I understand that my romantic notions about the buildings along Main Street, the historic districts filled with significant architecture,  my dream of a boutique hotel in the Masonic Building on Church Street, Machaven with its doors open to the community again, Stonewall Manor with a new roof and a full-time Director…..I know I’m missing lots and lots of money and the practicalities of preservation, but like Kenton Nelson, it can’t hurt to idealize the ordinary. Those of you who keep me company on Main Street are believers too. You love driving through the Mill Village checking on the progress of things. Love the American flags, the rocking chairs, having a great meal at The Prime Smokehouse, you even love arguing about the Community Center and the politics of it all, because that’s what people do when they care about a place and want what’s best. Let the paintings of Kenton Nelson ignite your imagination about what seems ordinary, but in fact, here in Rocky Mount, is extraordinary.





Preservation – Rocky Mount’s Historic Downtown Area Part 1 -May and Gorham Building

Be sure to look up
SFH Photograph – May Gorham Building

 “We want cities to understand that historic buildings are a resource…. figure out how to restore and reuse them and keep them in active service for their community.”

National Trust president – Stephanie K. Meeks

        Preservation Rocky Mount Organization Visits the May Gorham Building

Steve Bullock Photograph
A Steve Bullock Photograph

Steve Bullock Photograph
A Steve Bullock Photograph

A new generation is embracing the diversity, historic character, and less car-centric lifestyle that a city provides. By turning old buildings into new places to live, preservation encourages healthier, more sustainable lifestyles, where people can walk or bike to stores, restaurants, and work. Using existing structures to house new businesses helps create jobs and spurs economic growth. The Revitalization taking place in our community embraces these concepts.

Stepping through the door of May & Gorham Drug Store, I gasped, followed by a “Wow!” It was my first time to view the interior of the building that D. J. Rose constructed; a two-story brick commercial building for Reading D. Bullock and John D. Bullock in 1904 and enlarged in 1906 in the same style. The building was originally known as “Five Points Drug Store” due to its location at the intersection of Tarboro, Washington, and Rose Streets. Architects, doctors, dentists, and other professionals rented second-floor office space in the Bullock Building. With its intact interior it is one of eastern North Carolina’s best examples of a turn-of-the-century drugstore. These are the facts of the matter, but listening to people as they talked about their memories when they visited the store, sitting at the soda fountain, this is the magic of the place.

                              Join me next time for Preservation Part 2 – The People’s Bank

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Are You Using Your Imagination When It Comes To Rocky Mount?

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You might say it is my age, but I have always looked at the world through an emotional blur. I count this as a gift that includes observation, memory, and a propensity for nostalgia. It makes me do things like hastily pull to the curb, a quick glance in the rearview mirror hoping that an outraged driver is not about to plow into the rear of my car. This was the rash move I made the other day. I caught sight of a bungalow that caught my imagination. Blinker on, I left the car running while I took the photographs of the house you find here. The Waterlogue app on my phone helps cover up the work this house needs, and also helps us imagine the American story we connect with bungalow architecture. It occurred to me that parts of the post I was writing for my Stephenyhoughtlin.com blog…. a series I’ve been publishing….A Passion for Architecture, would also be appropriate for Main Street Rocky Mount. IF ONLY….. I could apply the app I used on these photographs to the imaginations of people, who are late to the party of BELIEVING in Rocky Mount’s revitalization, no one would miss the positive things that are happening all around.

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There are bungalows throughout the Rocky Mount area. With its special features – style, convenience, simplicity, sound construction, the bungalow filled more than the need for shelter. It provided fulfillment of the American dream. I hope you will use your imagination when casting your eye over things that are waiting their turn to have a new life, like the buildings on either side of Main Street and beyond. Think of the Waterlogue app on my I-Phone and let your imaginations sore when it comes to reimagining the Rocky Mount area. Looking at life through an emotional blur allows me to see things others might miss.  I’ve always believed in possibilities. Today, I wish for you an ‘imagination app’ that will help you SEE what I see.

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Today’s Concept: Walkable Neighborhoods

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Vann Joines is our Resident Downtown Prophet; he always explains things in the language of possibilities. Don’t be surprised if the revitalization folks in town follow him off the end of a bridge because he has bewitched everyone with his expertise and vision for the future. I am one of his pupils learning the vocabulary of urban renewal. Understanding the need for Beal Street Square, and how it fits into the puzzle, is so COOL, as my generation once mouthed; I can’t imagine you won’t find it COOL too.

13659174_657105694451339_4601412636759221156_nVann explains, “Strong housing investments are what make downtown redevelopment sustainable long term because if more people live in walking distance to downtown, businesses will follow those people, and downtown will thrive again.” We know that Capital Broadcasting Company is redeveloping the Mill accordingly. The Mill Village revival is fantastic.

The concept referred to as ‘walkable neighborhoods’ is much more than the availability of sidewalks. It is an understanding of pathways for creating safe places to live, providing and revitalizing workforce housing, and protecting the environment. Renewal experts have determined that the revival of surrounding neighborhoods to downtown core areas are essential to any revitalization process. Hence Beal Street Square in the Happy Hill Neighborhood. Read this earlier post about the ground breaking. 


One unique neighborhood at a time, a puzzle piece at a time, we have the planning and implementation of comprehensive projects like Beal Street Square, an integrated approach to revitalization that includes commercial, retail/institutional, residential/mixed use, streets, and parks development. Part of the plan is to provide places where employees want to live who come here to work. Building strong neighborhoods walkable to downtown is another banner to lift on high. As we grow a population in walking distance to downtown, businesses will benefit from daily dollars being spent during the workday and afterwork. Strong housing investments are what make downtown redevelopment sustainable long term.

Walkable neighborhoods are sparking the revival of communities as great places to live, work and play — walkable, energy-efficient, culturally dynamic and integrated in race and class. You know what I have said in the past….in the words of Tinker Bell, clap your hands and BELIEVE.