I hope you have started listening to the 5-minute podcast, Talking Main Street with Stepheny. The brick of Rocky Mount is near to my heart. I would like you to appreciate the beauty of brick in the commercial architecture of Main Street and beyond. I’m learning ‘more better’ with each episode. Put brick on your radar and enjoy the scene.
HERE IS THE AUDIO FOR EPISODE 9 – “Every Brick Wants to be Something
In 1923 one of Rocky Mount’s architectural gems was moved to what became the Villa Place Historic District. This Queen Anne Victorian home holds court on 326 Howell Street. This house is known as the W.D. Cochran home. It is one of the dwindling examples of two-story Queen Anne’s that once stood near the central business district: What I call Main Street and nearby areas on this blog. Local architect, John C. Stout, designed the house that began its life in the 300 block of South Main Street. Think about how improved methods are today to accomplish this complicated feat.
In returning from The Main Street Conference, I can tell you that the word is out. When asked where I was from, I didn’t bother with the Nashville fact and said–“Rocky Mount.” Many responses acknowledged knowing about the positive things happening here. Many had been to the Mill! We’re expecting a big influx of new neighbors who are moving to Rocky Mount because of jobs coming our way and ……. because of the emerging Main Street scene. Many have arrived. If you work in real estate and aren’t telling the story and showing clients our historic district locations, you are not on the revitalization train. Encourage people to take advantage of a great price, do the HGTV-thing, save and preserve one of the many historic gems as an exciting and satisfying adventure. Start with Villa Place, Edgemont and, and, and.
I LOVE VILLA PLACE – -It is a nine-block neighborhood located three blocks west of Main Street. It is the most intact turn-of-the-century residential subdivision in the city of Rocky Mount. The densely developed neighborhood is filled with well-preserved Queen Anne, Foursquare Bungalows, Craftsman, Colonial Revival and Neoclassical Revival style houses built between 1900 and the 1940s by employees of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and other businesses in the bustling railroad and tobacco town. The West End Land Development Company laid out the east half of the district in 1891 and sold lots until 1907 when the American Suburban Corporation took over the development. In 1913 this company platted the west half of the district as Villa Place. The entire area is now known by this name. The principal district landmark is Machaven, a Neoclassical Revival style brick mansion built in the middle of the subdivision in 1908 from a design by Raleigh architect H. P. S. Keller. Thanks to investor Jesse Gerstl, Machaven is open again. The strong local significance of Villa Place in the history of Rocky Mount’s community development and architectural development is a great part of our story that all incoming folks will appreciate knowing.
Here we have photos of the 1895 historic Jones-Lee house that has been moved to 304 S. Greene St., Greenville, from Wilson, NC. Solo Farm and Food Restaurant moved and restored this beautiful house that is now open in its new location. Our Howell Street Cochran House was moved but a few blocks. Think of what this Greenville relocation was like. You know what I say…anything they can do we can do better. Here is another example that provides inspiration for what preservation and restoration can accomplish.
“We strain to listen to the ghosts and echoes of our inexpressibly wise past, and we have an obligation to maintain these places, to provide these sanctuaries, so that people may be in the presence of forces larger than those of the moment.” Ken Burns
Adrienne Copland is an active voice in the Rocky Mount preservation world and at the moment is an advocate for the house at 306 Villa. Those of you who read the new Facebook page by the same name as this blog, may recognize this photograph I wrote about a few weeks back.
This house on the demolition list was built in 1917. James W. Blackwell, a machinist, is the earliest known occupant of this house in 1930. It is a frame two-story, foursquare with hipped roof features, a hipped dormer with shingle siding, two interior brick chimneys, and a one-story hipped wraparound porch with paired battered posts on brick bases and plain railing. Fenestration consists of a glazed and paneled door, an oval leaded glass window, a two-story bay window on the left side and one-over-one-sash windows. The entire back add-on can’t be saved. If we lose this house, let it become a ‘Penn Station’ inspiration.
“The loss of Penn Station in New York sparked new vigor into the city’s emerging preservationist movement. When Grand Central Terminal was similarly put onto the chopping block in 1972, activists and city leaders rallied against the developers who wished to replace the landmark with yet another modern office block. The terminal received landmark status and is today a jewel in Midtown Manhattan’s crown. It cannot be said how many other pieces of New York’s architectural history could have met their end had the outrage at the destruction of old Penn not changed forever the way cities view their brick-and-mortar heritage. Penn Station remains one of the (if not the) most painful losses New York has suffered architecturally over the past century. But its destruction paved the way for a revolutionary new approach to architectural preservation which might not have ever come to pass had Penn not fallen the way it did.” Click here to read more about Penn Station with fantastic black and white photos to support this well written piece.
This Villa Street house is the result of a series of ‘if only.’ An owner who bought this house for retirement had things happen along the way and became unable to keep it up, even selling the house was thwarted because of deed complications. ‘If only’ ordinances long ago had been applied to protect this house. It occurs to me that 306 Villa and others like it need an ombudsman. We are not without resources like Preservation Rocky Mount, and the Historic Preservation Commission. The city department of Development Services where Kelly Cook is charged with the administration of ordinances, when allowed to do their jobs, can help investors and private citizens traverse the complexities of buying, saving, and repurposing our architectural inventory. Ordinances need not become obstacles, or a form of control. The top priority of those involved with ordinances and related matters should be, “We will work with you until we find a ‘yes answer’ for buying property. We will guide you through the complexities of grants and preservation guidelines.” What we hear is one nightmare story after another of investors who are discouraged by a system that deliberately seems to derail a successful purchase. Everyone loses; nothing is added to the tax base and the loss of private investment is unnecessary.
It may be too late, the house may be unredeemable. It isn’t too late to apply triage and prioritize an inventory of homes that need intervention. The only consolation that could possibly help if this house is lost is to spark further determination and vigor in our preservation efforts. All hands on deck, of one accord, and to persevere.
“Preservation does not mean merely the setting aside of thousands of buildings as museum pieces. It means retaining the culturally valuable structures as useful objects: A home in which human beings live, a building in the service of some commercial or community purpose. Such preservation ensures structural integrity, relates the preserved object to the life of the people around it, and not least, it makes preservation a source of positive financial gain rather than another expense.”
Lady Bird Johnson
In Rocky Mount, NC. we’ve already lost properties that we can’t get back. Without an honest inventory of what is lived in, stands empty, is worth rescuing, can’t be saved, what is owned, rented, cared for or neglected, we’re at six and sevens in safeguarding what we’ve got. For example, do you know anything about a Lustron home? I had to do some reading, but I’m writing this post about these homes to illustrate that this is the kind of information we learn with an inventory of our historic architecture.
In January 1947, the newly formed Lustron Corporation announced that it had received a $12.5-million Reconstruction Finance Corporation loan to manufacture mass-produced prefabricated homes that featured enamel-coated steel panels. The Lustron was an all-steel house, with walls made of 2×2 20-gauge metal panels, with a porcelain enamel finish. The roof was porcelain enamel steel, and unlike traditional roofing shingles, with a lifespan of at least 60 years. Entrepreneur, Carl Strandlunds, designed these houses to help deal with the severe housing shortage after World War II. About 2,500 Lustrons were built. We have two Lustrons in Rocky Mount!
I have included two photographs of one of those houses on Sunset Ave, once in bad shape. I took a few new pictures to prove that the Sunset Street house is obviously being taken care of now. (Our second Lustron is on Eastern Ave, corner of Pineview Cemetery. I haven’t gone to see it yet.)
A small group of Lustron owners became advocates for preserving the original condition of these homes. About 2,000 Lustron homes are still in existence in 36 states. Many have been modified with additions, remodeled kitchens, vinyl windows, composite roofs, new heating systems, sheetrock interior walls, painted exteriors, and siding. Some have been dismantled, relocated and reassembled. CLICK HERE FOR PART ONE IN SERIES
Quantico, Virginia had the largest collection of Lustrons in the country, but those 60 houses are now gone. Some were moved, most were demolished.
Rocky Mount needs to keep in mind that what is gained may be viewed temporarily as an improvement, but what is lost is lost forever. These posts are not to suggest that progress is a bad thing, only that as the revitalization process continues, we must protect our valuable architecture and the stories they hold. We NEED a current inventory!
Let’s look at one way to accomplish an inventory in Part 3 of this series.
“There may have been a time when preservation was about saving an old building here and there, but those days are gone. Preservation is in the business of saving communities and the values they embody.”
Richard Moe – Retired president of National Trust for Historic Preservation
Rocky Mount, NC has not had an inventory of its historical architectural assets since the preparation of the National Register Historic District nominations. We have no formal documentation or update to help with our preservation plans. Through a series of posts, I hope to spark your interest and support for an honest, up-to-date inventory. Do you know the show on TV – The Antique Roadshow? It’s a metaphor for our predicament. We don’t know the value of what we’ve got. The painting in the attic, the quilt on the bed, the antique silver chest….we have architecture, in some cases, like the Lustrom house on Sunset Ave, one of the few remaining in the country.
Because I grew up in Evanston, IL., the first suburb north of Chicago on the lake, this bit of information caught my attention. Though dated, it illustrates what I am sure has happened in our community as well. In 2003, The Chicago Tribune compared a new survey of historically significant properties within 22 of Chicago’s historic communities to a city-wide survey taken 20 years prior. The newspaper found that nearly 800 historically significant buildings had been destroyed over this 20-year period. According to the Tribune, the purpose of the original survey was to help the city protect its architectural heritage, but the new report demonstrated that the city failed to apply the knowledge obtained from the first survey by adding the necessary protections for these historic resources. The lack of legal protection enabled the rampant demolition of these buildings
When talking about architectural preservation, I want you to think beyond a workman standing on a ladder, repairing a deteriorating wall. The amazing skill-set needed to restore and preserve a building is certainly a major part of the process, but without an honest inventory of where we stand, I repeat, we don’t know what we’ve got. Click Here:
While the demolitions have razed well-known individual structures…their most devastating impact
has been on the character of the city’s neighborhoods…
— Chicago Tribune, January 13, 2003
TOMORROW- In Rocky Mount – The Lustron Home – an all-steel house, with walls made of 2×2 20-gauge metal panels, with a porcelain enamel finish.
What is deemed historic, and worth saving, often depends on whose eyes you are looking through. I like the definition “old and worth the trouble,” when applied to structures that are under consideration: should they be preserved or torn down? With each individual decision, we need to ask ourselves what part the structure has played in Rocky Mount’s story. Those buildings with a tangible past, that are preserved and restored, create opportunities for the future.
Tap @ 1918 is a fine example of the intrinsic value that old buildings have in maintaining Rocky Mount’s heritage while building a future. Originally the house, now a new restaurant, was used as a community center for Mill residents. The house became a residence for Mr. Frye, one of the Mill managers. Later the house was used as the Personnel and Purchasing offices. In the 1940’s a health clinic was added. Now the story of this Millhouse continues on.
Built 100 years ago, owners, Lou Reda and Justin Gaines, have named their new restaurant, Tap @ 1918. There is something reassuring about old buildings that hold our memories while meeting the needs of today’s community. Old buildings with materials like brick (ahh!) and heart pine, speak to tourists and longtime residents alike. Successful community revivals attract people because of their preservation efforts. The entire Mill project embraces historic preservation and has acted accordingly.
I am grateful to Lou Reda who took time from a busy day to show my friend, Polly Warner, and myself the fabulous restoration for the restaurant. My photographs don’t do the interiors justice, but the results are fabulous. There are beautiful old floors, original windows, interesting lighting, lovely paint choices and the porches are spectacular. I have yet to have a meal but am in awe of how this project turned out.
In my imagination, they are all there….the mill workers of the past, and their families, and the executives who looked out for everyone and everything. They are now joined by Capital Broadcasting and a staff of talented, creative people who will be remembered for their part in the reimagining of Rocky Mount Mills. The Mill project has fostered further investment in the community, is providing jobs and at the other Mill venues, safe and welcoming places to gather. The restored Mill Village houses offer needed up to code housing. The residents are returning to a village-way of life that foster close neighborhoods with people looking out for one another. We owe Capital Broadcasting our ‘forever-gratitude’ for believing in Rocky Mount’s revitalization efforts; I call it taking a chance on love! Congratulations to Tap @ 1918 and Rocky Mount Mills for this fantastic repurposing of an old building with a great future.
“In my opinion, cities have got to be committed to downtown if they are going to save it. If they aren’t committed, they can’t expect other people to be.” -Lynell Bynum “
On the right, you find a photograph of the Municipal Offices in downtown Rocky Mount, NC. before the city made a commitment to build a new city hall in a part of downtown that needed revitalization. Enter Lynell Bynum along with Errol Warren, a local architect, and Sandy Bulman of Bulman-Frazier Design Studio in Raleigh, who together would redevelop an entire city block across from the city hall and turn it into a modern shopping center and office space.
Mr. Bynum proposed a partnership with the City of Rocky Mount offering the city a 3-1 proposition. I don’t know the exact figures but let’s just say Mr. Bynum put up three million dollars of his own money and asked the city to provide one million to acquire property which would provide parking for the retail area. I wrote in Part 1 why Mr. Bynum would be predisposed to do such a thing. Click Here to read the ‘greatest generation’ aspect of this story.
When it was all said and done, the Station Square project, named for the railroad station next door became the gold standard for how private and public partnerships can develop projects together within the community. The significant renovation of the Douglas Block in 2010 is another prime example.
Let investment in the preservation of our commercial downtown buildings take inspiration from Mr. Bynum who took basic commercial structures, some in dreadful condition, and restored them with a sensitivity to their glory days. Other downtown buildings were then restored by following this great example of Mr. Bynum’s imagination and commitment.
In the light of today’s revitalization of historic downtown Rocky Mount and beyond, Ben Braddock, real estate investor and general contractor has stepped forward and is once again offering Station Square as a model of ‘how you do it.’ In my estimation, he has appropriated the same set of American values that underpinned Lynell Bynum’s risk. The next phase in the life of Station Square requires a strong work ethic, courage, and faith in this community. We honor Mr. Bynum, and we vigorously shake Ben Braddock’s hand for what he is doing on many fronts.
Why would Mr. Lynell Bynum, (1924-2002) decide in the early 1970’s to buy up an entire block of buildings in downtown Rocky Mount NC? How is this connected to real estate investor and general contractor, Ben Braddock, and his business partner, who have purchased from Chambliss and Rabil Commercial Reality, Station Square, a 65,000 square foot facility.
We have before us men whose names are now allied: Lynell Bynum, the creator of Station Square and Ben Braddock, who like a long-distance runner in a relay race has already taken off down the track, the baton firmly in his grasp. He has turned towards the new possibilities of Station Square. I hope you will help line the sidewalks to cheer him on in his endeavors.
Go and see for yourself the new opportunities there are to shop, soon to eat, and where there is impressive space for your business. On the right: Station Square freshly painted. It’s fabulous. We will have the opportunity to talk further with Ben, but what about Mr. Bynum?
Knowing Mr. Bynum could have spent his considerable dollars on anything, why on a bunch of old buildings he restored and connected, giving them a new purpose in downtown Rocky Mount? I’m certain Mr. Bynum would be leading the charge for the revitalization of downtown Rocky Mount today. Ahead of his time, he believed in the preservation and the restoration of commercial architecture for new purposes.
To understand Mr. Bynum, we need a context in which to place him and we can find answers amongst The Greatest Generation at the end of WWII. Lynell belonged to the Army Air Corp and flew B24’s. He was 18 years old in 1942 having experienced the great depression. (1929-1941) This becomes significant to our story in remembering that there is a common theme for the great generation which was self-sacrifice.
They’d experienced the harsh economic realities of the depression, seen the worst there was to see during the war and came home having developed values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith. Tom Brokaw writes that these characteristics helped them to defeat Hitler, build the American economy, give succeeding generations the opportunity to accumulate great economic wealth, political power, and the freedom from foreign oppression to make whatever choices they liked.
When we speak of Lynell Bynum, there is a litany of American values that explain why he would invest in a place called home that subsequently benefited from his leadership, values and his determination to make a contribution in Rocky Mount. Mr. Bynum reminds us of what we must not forget, which seem under threat…..words to live by….. personal responsibility, accountability, a strong work ethic, the ability to be self-sufficient/reliant, the capacity for loyalty, courage, honor, a sense of duty and unabashed patriotism along with a strong sense of gratitude, pride in accomplishments, all with quiet humility. We thank Mr. Bynum for reminding us of the under-pinning of his life and for his contributions.
Next time: Mr. Bynum’s partners with the City of Rocky Mount.
There is nothing better than watching an old Cary Grant movie, and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a 1948 comedy, is no exception. The film is based on the novel Eric Hodgins published in 1946, a fictionalized account of a house Hodgins built in New Milford, Connecticut.
Movie mogul David O. Selznick and his publicity man, Paul Macnamara, a former editor of Cosmopolitan, came up with an idea to promote their new film. They would build replicas of the Dream Home and raffle them the night of the premiere in each city. They planned to build 100 houses. RKO’s publicity department sent blueprints of a four bedroom colonial to contractors across the country. 73 ‘dream houses’ were built, two in North Carolina; one in Greensboro and one in Rocky Mount. (I must add that one home was built in Evanston, IL. where I grew up, which I never knew about until researching this story.) If you’re interested, the original plans are still available on the internet. Selznick involved General Electric in this promotion who showcased their appliances in the dream home kitchens. A fine advertising opportunity, local businesses contributed their products to the building of these houses. Upon completion, the houses were open to the public to tour, the price of admission given to local charities. The dream homes were sold by raffle or lottery.
As a party game, I know you’ve been asked what famous people you would like to sit next to at a dinner party or marooned with on an island. In connection with this Mr. Blandings Dream House story, I have invited a short, but meaningful list of wonderful people to spend time with.
We will begin with James and Kate Farris Tharin, along with their daughters, Mari Robin and Frances who are the current owners and caretakers of the Rocky Mount Dream House built in Historic West Haven on Lafayette Road. Here is a wonderful, talented couple that grew up in Rocky Mount, NC and after college returned to nourish the deep roots they have here. They are perfect stewards of the house, committed to preserving the architectural integrity of the original home while slowly making changes that suit their family’s dreams. Take a moment and CLICK HERE to watch a short PBS Video on The Dream Houses.
Here is Mr. Blandings Dream House as you will find it today. The front porch roof and pillars were added by Marianne & David Farris when they bought the house in 1988 from Sam Arrington’s estate. Sam and his wife were the 1st occupants.
JOIN ME TOMORROW FOR PART TWO
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