Tell Me I’m Not Wrong About The ‘Band of Brothers’ on Main Street

I tend to romanticize things on Main Street…..I offer no apology. This tendency explains how I came to believe there is a Band of Brothers changing the scene in historic downtown. I love meeting and writing about individuals from various walks of life and backgrounds investing their time and resources. It is these people saving and repurposing Rocky Mount’s commercial architecture who provide a necessary economic driver.

When Troy White’s building came tumbling down in an 80 mile an hour wind, it felt like someone slapped me upside the head with some of the comments left on Concerned Citizens; a group of important voices who try to serve as watchmen on the tower. While reading, I thought, “Wait a minute, this isn’t right!” What happened to ’We few, we happy few, we band of brothers?’ -from a speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V.    

The King proclaims….But we in it shall be remember’d;

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother…

As fate would have it, Troy and the team arrived an hour before the storm hit. They were there to assess the next steps in bringing the building back to life. Engineers were involved with the necessary procedures to save the building. Then the wind took the structure into its own hands. Troy White, has already demonstrated how vested he is in the mission of saving downtown’s future. He could have used some support that at least said, “Your loss is our loss.” For the record, Mr. White paid for any and all clean up that was necessary. There are now design plans in the works for a new building, which will be sensitive to the continuity of the historic downtown setting. 

When we lost this building, I was certain of the downtown Band of Brothers. They would offer help. Maybe drop water bottles off because of the heat. They would bring encouragement with their ‘one for all’ attitude, perhaps bring a push broom or shovel? With little, if any, sign of these Brothers, coupled with the comments that followed, we are damn lucky Troy White didn’t give us the famous Duke basketball gesture when opponents foul out – – SEE YA 

This ‘all for one’ attitude is imperative. Everyone who is involved in creating the new emerging downtown scene deserves respect and shall have a turn leading the Main Street Parade. If you doubt the necessity of this investment money, think about the majority vote on the City Council who have served 20 years or more. Under their watch, statistics show a decline in homeownership, a loss of jobs, higher crime, and commercial and residential housing boarded up and deteriorating.  

The City Council Chambers

We need individuals who are vested in the historic collection of architecture on Main Street, and beyond. The real issue behind the smokescreen-cry of racism, is the “My Will Be Done” agenda. Anyone that does not support this agenda will have to endure intimidation, the threat of losing a job, actually losing that job, or threats concerning their businesses. People are hired and fired according to their willingness to serve this agenda. It is no longer a carefully held secret. The names of the usual suspects are spoken every day. Should you need further evidence of what this so-called leadership has accomplished, go, and look at the shameful decline in the neighborhoods. It is obvious that nothing comes from nothing. It is new investment that is saving Main Street.  

It may be a Chicago thing, but are you familiar with the expression, no tickey, no washey? There is an economic imperative at stake here. Vested individuals are essential. Those profiting from the “My Will” agenda have tried to sabotage the word investor. “These ‘carpetbaggers’ are taking away what belongs to us.” Don’t believe that for a moment. Instead, believe that all those vested in building a future for Rocky Mount deserve our thanks and prayers. 

The “My will Agenda” is the real issue. The plan we already have, bought and paid for, doesn’t support “The Agenda,” so we need a new one. The Main Street program is dismissed for the same reason. Think about The Carlton House that was sabotaged for the sake of a new hotel and parking garage. Does anyone doubt that the usual people will line their pockets with that deal?  The Band of Brothers faces this agenda every day. If these people would accept the notion that alone we can do so little, but together, accomplish so much. it is a reality that should be embraced. We need black and white-owned businesses scattered throughout the historic downtown. Together, the obstacles that the agenda mandates can be addressed.

Ben Braddock at Station Square- A Main Street Campion

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.

 

 

It’s a Lovely Day Today – A Morning With SFH on Main Street

A June 4th morning – I have taken myself off to NABS  (Never A Better Sandwich) for a fresh baked Cinnamon bun, and dare I admit, sweet (tea). I am sitting outside listening to soft jazz, the most divine breeze stirring the leaves on the trees and the American flags flapping gently on the lamp posts. The Century Link Man in his service truck waves at me as he goes by. Peace!

The Douglas Block now and then: I can imagine the folks from years ago as if they are all still here. They appear like a ghost who steps through a wall or perhaps walking out of the cornfield as in the movie, Field of Dreams. Here they continue to shop, meet and greet, visiting the drug store, going to the movies, families with children in tow who have come to town. Once segregated, could they possibly imagine me sitting at the sidewalk cafe table listening for them, watching them from afar. I think about Ed Riley and Yalem, owners of the now-famous Smokehouse and this new coffee sandwich shop. If you know Ed, he is a great big bear of a man who gives hugs that rub the fur-fabric right off the proverbial Velveteen Rabbit. The sidewalk concrete space at the end of the building is waiting to be transformed into more outdoor seating.  With Yalem’s eye and creativity, I know it is going to be a destination.

I hope for a train to come by and am not disappointed.   I think too late to count the cars as we did when kids. There is no caboose at the end coming around the track, track, track. The long mile of cars heads south. After some photographs, I returned to the little table to further enjoy this scene, to honor The Douglas Block Story. This pleasant morning seems important to celebrate, to hope for all good things to come.

Take a minute and listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing It’s A Lovely Day Today…                           she got the whole scene just right.

 

Don’t Lose Sight Of The Issues At Hand With The Rocky Mount City Council

An Editorial on Main Street Rocky Mount – SFH

Who Stayed Up All Night and Thought of This?

That was my original reaction to the announcement of a new city manager. She came with a dark cloud over her head and plenty of past mismanagement stories to warrant concern. We have an essential question when it comes to all that is happening with our city government: who gains from hiring a flawed candidate, who gains from the further deterioration of our Main Street architecture, from ignoring the enforcement of ordinances already on the books,  from  running off our outstanding talent, councilmen meddling with city inspectors with their presence of intimidation? Who is profiting from this?

My answer to why this particular new manager was hired with such baggage was that she was now beholding to the Council for her job and like it or not, she would have no choice but to do their bidding. Her hiring had nothing to do with the long dark night of the soul, wrestling to find the best candidate for Rocky Mount, but finding a candidate with a scenario that fit their needs. Not knowing Mrs. Small-Toney at that time, I sailed on believing I had my answer to ‘why in the world?’  Things have unraveled, to say the least, and into the light of day has emerged complicit members of the  City Council, mismanagement, graft, and a word I like to use –  skulduggery!

A beautiful commercial building on Main Street

It is true that if you begin to know someone, take notice of their tasteful appearance and kindness and beautiful smile, and sing hymns together at church, kneel in prayer, begin the quick shake of the hand, the exchange of greetings, your perspective begins to shift about them.  This was certainly true in my case of a lovely woman I began to call Rochelle. I like her and was conflicted because of things I knew and my personal experience with her. The ‘worser’ things have become, the bigger my disappointment – ‘say it isn’t so.’

This conflict made me remember that life is filled with second chances, redemption, that people can be knocked off their donkey on the road to Damascus and have their lives turned around.  Here was my answer for Mrs. Toney-Small to redeem her reputation and leave here a hero when ready. The answer revolved around, SAVING MAINSTREET. If she would put her leadership and will behind this priority, she and the others involved in this saving business would forever be remembered for a great outcome. This past week Council’s retreat brought good news that some attention will now be paid to Main Street.

What I haven’t been able to reconcile in this concept of redemption is why the city council or the mayor, the city manager, where ever the wrongdoing falls, should escape the consequences of their actions. Without restored trust, resolution, wrongs being righted, a clean slate, talk of moving on as if nothing has happened isn’t realistic. I am sympathetic to the story of personal injustices Mr. Neheniah Smith talks about when using his 3 minutes at the council meeting but I fail to connect what he is saying to the City Managers and Councils problems.  To my knowledge, Mr.Smith isn’t under investigation or implicated in the list of concerns being looked into. I can only look at these kinds of charges of racism as an attempt to speechify: diverting the relevant matters at hand of mismanagement which are specific and particular to the manager, her staff, the mayor and council, their choices and decision making in the here and now. Nothing more, nothing less.

Trying to divert attention from wrongdoing clothed in a Harry Potter invisibility cloak of accusations of racism is extraneous to the matters at hand. The taxpayers deserve and expect good governance, a righting of the wrongs and new leadership. If redemption is possible for any or all involved after completing the investigations, I’ll welcome it. Especially in Mrs. Toney-Smalls case. Only when trust in our leadership is possible again can we turn our full attention to getting on with building a future for Rocky Mount.

‘Planting Your Flag in the Ground’ – Another City Council Meeting

“If you have eyes to see past the broken glass and boarded facades, if you look up as I do, you will see what I see. Commercial architecture holding the heartbeat and stories of Rocky Mount.” -Stepheny Houghtlin

This quote of mine is one approach to preservation. There are many avenues to pursue when considering what you are interested in.  PRM had a meeting this past Wednesday, Feb 13th, which I led. No preservation was done! It was more like giving a sales pitch (for Saving Main Street) to a group of enthusiastic salesmen hoping to ignite their excitement and have them want to sell my product. Wonderful people were there; the best and the brightest as a matter of fact.  We’ll talk more another time about connecting the dots from A– an interest to B – a plan to D- something gets done.

Wednesday night I was reminded of an AA story that says when someone gets up to give a talk at a meeting, they give three speeches…the one they prepared, the one they give, the one they revise on the way home. I was so busy with the sales pitch that there was no time to talk about the real matter at hand that not only effects Saving Main Street, but supports continued revitalization. This takes strong, honest city government that equates to good practices, a city government that does their job with competence and for the good of the taxpayers. There is no saving anything without that.

For the last three weeks, I have been involved with hundreds of others in what is called civic engagement. As hard as the Council has tried to deflect the issues at hand by bringing up extraneous topics, or pinning the public concerns on what was called a dark shadow, no one is having this kind of diversion anymore.  Whether at home or from a seat at City Hall, we are now focused on what is germane, expecting good governance and an end to the long list of what has gone wrong. The plan the Mayor spelled out last week is not good enough. It is more messing about with a myriad of issues that must be taken care of to the satisfaction of the community.

Two doors down from Davis furniture on Main Street we have this!

Why fire hasn’t struck or the facade come down on Main Street, is a mystery.

The flag that I have planted says we need leadership that will provide the will, enforce the ordinances we have on the books, stabilize the facades, put first things first before expecting me to celebrate a new motel that has obviously taken precedence over  Main Street – again. Why would we put another large project like this in the hands of the current Council and Management until complete order has been restored? Still, I believe we are closer to righting wrongs than before because of this groundswell of public engagement, and talk of new leadership running for seats on the Council. We need policies and procedures that safeguard us from any further graft and corruption and then Preservation will go forward. Plant your flag in the ground beside mine asking for a resolution so we can get on with getting on.

“You must learn how to extract things of value out of things that seem totally worthless.” Pastor Sunday

Where Are We Today? Grab Your Coat and Get Your Hat – Take My Hand

Paul Harvey -WGN Radio
The Rest of the Story

I grew up listening to Paul Harvey and the rest of the story on WGN radio. The program was followed by Orion Samuelson, who was the “Voice of American Agriculture.” Corn was up soybeans down. Iowa farmer  (somebody) lost his crop or a cow was struck by lightning.   I understood next to nothing about the soybean market, but listening to Samuelson made me feel like an American grounded in the mid-west. The voices of these two men could make everything seem certain in my expanding world.

Orion Samuelson -WGN
The Agriculture Program

It is important that I, after long city council meetings and waiting for the next revelation in the paper, direct my feet back across to the sunny side of the street. Click Here: I love Willie Nelson!  The first blog post of this new year was a movie clip from Pollyanna where the children are hanging glass prisms in the window. (Click Here: I hope you will take the time to read the post if you missed it.) This morning, once again, I have taken a soft cloth and am starting in on polishing our glass prisms. Like Harvey and Samuelson, I see this as my job; to use my voice to say with Julian of Norwich – – all manner of things shall be well.

I want to tell you that on Monday while waiting for the council to come back, I stood on the wall talking to Jesse Gersitl, not about the proceedings, but about MacHaven. His investment group now owns the property. I saw wonderful photographs on his phone of the work that is going on inside. After the council meeting, I needed to be in Whitakers by 7:00pm to speak to a new preservation group that has formed to try and save their Main Street. In a few days, several board members from Preservation Rocky Mount are headed to lunch and tour/meeting with Wilson’s preservation group. I can’t wait. Preservation of our architectural assets is my part in the chorus to sing. The way I see it, we all have our parts and this is the time to pull the choir together. We must have an independent conductor take the performance in hand.

300 Grace St. -Machaven

300 Grace St. Machaven

 

Concerned, frustrated, anxious about any delay in saving ‘Main Street’ is not a good default position for me. Stepheny is not Stepheny. (Click Here for a past post about MacHaven)   I can rally by thinking of MacHaven as one of our crystal prisms, and investors like Jesse Gersetl who have come to help us save our architecture and story. Get out your sheet music, be of good influence where you can, help with a political solution this fall with the election of city council members. Go downtown to eat, shop, attend events at the Community Center– Believe!

“The Most Beautiful ‘Main Street’ in the Entire World”

A Pollyanna image for ‘MAIN STREET’ in the New Year

This blog post and others I am writing will make more sense if you

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THIS CHARMING SHORT CLIP FROM THE MOVIE – POLLYANNA 

One of my favorite movies is Pollyanna (1960), starring Haley Mills with an outstanding supporting cast. Pollyanna offers us a new image in 2019 when thinking about the theme of this blog: honoring the past and building a future. A scene in the movie illustrates why glass prisms are applicable to Rocky Mount. The children are hanging in a window the crystals prisms they removed from chandeliers and lamps. The refracted light appears as rainbows on the walls. We have many people who have been like crystal prisms in the story of Rocky Mount.

In case you have forgotten – Pollyanna, is a 12-year-old, who arrives in the small town of Harrington. Google research reminds us she is a cheerful, talkative and radically optimistic youngster who focuses on the goodness of life. She finds something to be glad about, no matter the situation. In doing so, Pollyanna’s positive outlook on everything helps her make a wide variety of friends in the community, including the hypochondriac and grouchy Mrs. Snow and the acidic recluse Mr. Pendergast. Pollyanna is not easily discouraged in trying to win them over, a trait we must all cultivate while helping with the revitalization of Rocky Mount. I especially like the part in this video clip where Mr. Pendergast explains how the prism works. However, he does so with a long and tedious explanation (much like the excuses given when it comes to saving Main Street.) Saving Main Street isn’t complicated. I believe we will stand along Main Street one day soon and marvel at the restoration and repurposing of the architecture there. We’ll be saying, “This is the most beautiful ‘room’ in the entire world.”

We already have prisms of light strung in the window of Rocky Mount. I love writing about them and there are others to add. These lights will be forever linked and honored for their contribution to Rocky Mount. We must have leadership, however, that will help hang prisms of light in this New Year. If not, there should be a casting call for new actors to take their place. I hope you agree?

Read about another prism of light tomorrow. Can you guess who it is?

HIT THE FOLLOW BUTTON ABOVE AND MEET ME ON MAIN STREET THIS YEAR

Main Street Christmas Reflection with Love from Stepheny

The year is winding down and within all of us remain the children we once were who still anticipate Christmas. Based on comments you have left on this blog, Christmas memories are some of your favorite when remembering Main Street Rocky Mount;  a downtown where everyone enjoyed the decorations, the shopping, and greeted each other with a heartfelt Merry Christmas.

Christmas is surely one of the most nostalgic times of the year.  I can close my eyes and return to my room in the house on the corner of  Asbury Avenue and Lyons street in Evanston, IL.  There I sit on the radiator cover my father built looking out the large double-hung windows at the snow that flutters down, the streetlamps casting a magical glow.  One side of the elm trees that cascade over Asbury Ave is dark and wet, the other white with snow sticking to the bark. The snow that is slowly piling on a branch finally tumbles to the ground with one flake too many, leaving holes in the crusted snow. Whether it really snowed every Christmas Eve, I can’t be sure, but in remembering, why not?

When it comes time to think of the year ahead, having counted our blessings, and recognized anew our loved ones, let’s do something significant that influences the preservation and restoration of Main Street.  Breaking the task further down, if you live in one of our historic neighborhoods, here is what I suggest. Concentrate on your neighborhood organization.  You may have given up on the group, feel irritated because it became nothing more than a gripe session; please talk to your neighbors and take it on. Help reorganize it so it becomes a proactive voice for your neighborhood’s needs. Walk the neighborhood and take some notes. What’s sitting empty, what may be unsavable, what complaints need to be lodged with landlords that aren’t caring for their properties. Just taking this on for one another, is a huge step. We can no longer sit on our hands waiting for promises to come true that don’t. We all want the same thing – safe and sound places to live. These associations are in place and can be renewed and revitalized: a large voice for preservation, restoration, and pride.

As Advent continues, we recognize that we are the innkeepers who must make room in our hearts and minds for this Christ child who is born anew within us. The blessings of the Season to you and yours. I thank you for keeping me company on Main Street. Consider yourselves hugged and appreciated. Think of Stepheny as I sit on a bench downtown clapping my hands because I do believe in possibilities. I believe that we can have a beautiful Main Street anew and safe neighborhoods shining with Christmas lights.

Wishing you a heartfelt Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Partnering With Stepheny – Beginning February 2019

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Preservation of our architectural assets needs a critical mass of people who are interested in having a voice in the matter. As a board member, I’m heading up a new Advocacy committee for Preservation Rocky Mount. I know many of you who read this blog have a great interest in the continuing revitalization efforts of Rocky Mount. You carry pictures in your mind’s eye of Main Street, which you think of as once upon a time.

Let’s do something important together. I have recently changed the gallery photographs on the sidebar of this blog. The gallery has featured our Shot Gun houses, our Sears Catalogue Houses, Villa Place Homes when the tour was taking place a year ago.  The photos this time are not pretty. Unfortunately, there are many more just like them. We all remember the children’s book, The Little Engine That CouldI think I can, I think I can. 

I definitely THINK WE CAN! when it comes to finding a new will to carry on the great efforts of the Peter Varney years of preservation efforts at the Train Station, Bus Station, Imperial Center, Douglas Block, StreetScape and more. We need to unite behind the enforcement of ordinances already on the books that would go a long way to jump-starting a new determination to Save Mainstreet and all that encompasses.

You don’t have to join Preservation Rocky Mount, though I wish you would. For now, make a mental note that in February, (date/time/location to be announced.) there will be a meeting I want you to come to. Instead of sitting on one of the benches along Main Street to talk as we often do, we will gather and do some thinking together. Preservation groups in other cities have worked hard and become an influential voice. I would love to be remembered as someone who helped ensure our architectural inventory, our sense of place, recognized and embraced preservation as an economic engine. Wouldn’t you like that too?

Click on each image in the photo gallery and you will get a full view rather than the little thumbnails pictures. Get your brain in gear and repeat after me — Yes, we can, yes we can.

Main Street Is In Need of a Jewish Grandmother

For years my daughter, Claire, and I have enjoyed a little in-house ‘Jewish Mother’ humor, a response when she tells me that she is headed off on an adventure lasting a few days, be it work or fun. I have been known to respond in my best ‘Jewish Mother’ voice…..”Go, I don’t want you should worry about me, here, all by myself.” When a conversation like this took place the other day, it got me thinking……

What Main Street Rocky Mount needs is a real Jewish Grandmother who can worry about six things at a time, and more than that, give us the benefit of her wisdom. If only grandmother, LaVerta, were still alive and available to us. I am coming to know this particular Jewish grandmother through the loving stories told by her grandson who is a dear friend of mine. I imagine her as a cross between Auntie Mame and a wisdom figure with ties to the Desert Fathers. LaVerta exposed her grandson to some of the finer things in life instilling in him an appreciation for couture clothes and a good martini and everything in-between. She encouraged this bright and articulate boy, who grew up with a passion for many things, to have the courage of his convictions.

Once she told her grandson when he was involved in a controversial political campaign, “Roddy sometimes you just have to put your stake in the ground.” Which brings me to the point of my musings today. I think we must embrace LaVerta’s admonition and be willing to put our stakes in the ground when it comes to saving Main Street.

It’s complicated when one is raised with southern sensibilities. The thought process goes like this – If I speak up, I could offend friends or business associates, all the interrelated connections like — my grandmother dated your grandfather back in college or our families who went to the beach together every summer; a myriad of concerns that give one pause before deciding whether to get involved or not. This is why I think Main Street needs a Jewish grandmother. Besides loving and worrying over us, she would admonish us to have the courage of our convictions; telling us, “Sometimes you just have to put your stake in the ground before it’s too late, and that time is now.”

Watercolor credits:

Picture #1 -Small Town Illinois by Timothy Arties, Picture #2 -Alex S. Kosich, Jr. AIA Architectural Renderings, Design Consultant,  Picture #3 Rosie Philips Fine Art