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Water Valley’s Curtis E. Pass Post # 37 was constructed c. 1935 of field stone and brick. It is part of the Water Valley Main Street Historic District (David Preziosi, 2012(?) nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places).
Yesterday being another surprisingly pleasant day with sunshine and a high of 48 (I will take 48 over below freezing any day), I went in search of a National Youth Administration school building in Yalobusha County. On the way home through Taylor, I decided to try to find the abandoned African American school my friend told me about last week when we were discussing segregation, integration, and consolidation of schools in Mississippi. It took a while, and I finally spotted it, but it was too late to turn off. I rounded the curve and continued a bit, seeking a place to turn around, when suddenly, around another curve, a fortress leapt out at me.
I pulled off in the waning light, mesmerized by the simple yet imposing structure. Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of the building perched there on the hillside, the startling size and elegance of a rural church in an impoverished area, or just that I had been longing for a day of sunshine and fresh air and solitude in pursuing my favorite activity, but I felt compelled to pull over and stop. (And of course, it did make for a perfect place to turn around without having to drive into someone’s driveway, which in general, I prefer not to do.)
Now that I have been in Mississippi for a few years (Is 11 a few? I think not, but it has gone by pretty quickly.) I have seen and photographed a lot of rural churches, but I cannot recollect seeing one quite like this. I was excited to see they have a website, although it appears to be in development, so the history section was empty. They are in the process of designing and preparing to build a new building, so I certainly hope they are planning to retain this one as well. So you can have a better visual regarding the architecture, I have included a photo with increased exposure and shadow reduction below.
…a gable flanked at each corner by towers….entrance can be centered or in one or both towers.
El Dorado’s Rialto Theatre in its second reincarnation was designed by the local firm of Kolben, Hunter, and Boyd (arkansas.com). This Classical Revival style, red brick and decorative stone theatre was constructed to provide “expanded cultural opportunities” for El Dorado after oil was discovered and the population mushroomed.
The original Rialto was built in 1921 on the same location, remodeled shortly afterwards, and then demolished in 1928 in order to build a “larger and finer” movie theatre which opened in 1929 with seating for 1400 (cinema treasures; R. H. Mason, 2002, Movie theaters in El Dorado, South Arkansas Historical Journal, 2.). The street level facade was “modernized” with carerra glass panels and ceramic tiles at some point (arkansas.com).
The theatre was closed in 1980, and restored and reopened in 1987 as part of the downtown revival. It is used as a live music venue.
Yes, that’s right, we are still in El Dorado, Arkansas, where I plan to spend my next 4-day weekend. Not only is there a lot to see there (and I confess, I am more into seeing than doing at the moment), El Dorado has a great “come-back” story.Overlooking the fact that it was Christmas season, thus accounting for all that tinsel and lights hanging all over the beautiful front facade of the courthouse, there is something else unique about this courthouse square. Unique, that is, unless you are from Tupelo, but I will get back to that.
The 1928 4-story Classical Revival, cut limestone block courthouse was designed by Petersen and Mann and Stearn and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That’s Mann as in George R. Mann of “Mississippi and Arkansas capitol fame” as Thomas Rosell pointed out earlier in the week. While the Union County courthouse was not one of the New Deal courthouses, it has its role in the architectural history of the Depression-era buildings, in Arkansas as elsewhere.
The courthouses built in Arkansas during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) reflect shifting styles and attitudes in American society. The courthouses constructed before the New Deal were showplaces meant to convey a sense of grandeur and to evoke the Founding Fathers through the Colonial Revival style or the ancient Greeks through the Classical Revival style.
The Union County Courthouse in El Dorado (NR listed June 30, 1983) is a good example of such efforts. Built in 1927-28, the structure features Greek Ionic columns, recalling the greatness of the ancient Greek philosophers and builders that many Americans so greatly admired.” (Latimer, F. A. 2001. Arkansas listings in the National Register of Historic Places: The influence of the New Deal on Arkansas Courthouse Design. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. pp. 420-424.)
Like many other small towns in America, hard times fell on El Dorado both in the Great Depression years, and again in the 1960s and 1970s when shopping tended to move to the outskirts of town for better parking and malls and strip centers. The downtown was depleted by 1979, with only 35% occupancy (mainstreeteldorado.org). The revitalizing effort began in 1987. They now produce several annual events that attract tourists, have gained jobs, and new buildings, and have rehabilitated 134 buildings, with a 0% downtown vacancy rate (mainstreet.org).
John Henry said,
…its downtown is full of unique retail shops, restaurants, pubs–and, well, life. (arkansasbusiness.com, 02/21/2005)
El Dorado’s downtown claims over 65 unique retail businesses, 10 restaurants, pubs, some with live music, banks, and headquarters of several major corporations. They were listed in America’s best small town comebacks on CNN.com on March 12, 2013.
Come on ya’ll–go take a look. And what is unique on that sqaure? If you have been to downtown Tupelo, you’ve seen it there:
I chanced on this “Classical Revival/Modern Movement” (National Register of Historic Places) Art Deco style building (Arkansas Historic Preservation Program) building in the El Dorado Commercial Historic District quite by accident, even though I was driving directly to the street address. I was just on the wrong end of the street. I had forgotten what building I was seeking and when I saw this baby looming up on the corner, I pulled into the parking lot across the street.
I surmised from the design that it was a New Deal building, but I surmised incorrectly. The building was constructed in 1927, by architects George R. Mann and Eugene John Stearn, and formally opened February 17, 1928.
And the building I was actually seeking? Well, I discovered when looking at my notes after arriving home that it was on the South end of the street…and was the 1940 gym built by the Works Progress Administration. It is still in existence, and still in use by the South Arkansas Community College.
In June 1996, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP) initiated a context-driven survey of the United States Post Offices with artwork installed through the United States Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. It was felt that these properties were in danger of insensitive rehabilitation, deterioration or abandonment for new locations on the outskirts of the small towns in which they were located. It was hoped that by emphasizing the importance of these properties to the understanding and appreciation of Arkansas history during the Great Depression, the AHPP could encourage their continued preservation, protection, use, and adaptive re-use as well as the conservation and preservation of the murals and sculptures that each building contains. (Smith, S. T., & Christ, M. K. Arkansas Post Offices and the Treasury Department’s Section Art Program, 1938-1942. Little Rock, AR: Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, p. 11)
Unfortunately, that effort came to late to save the Magnolia post office from “insensitive rehabilitation.” The former post office building was “converted into a modern library facility” (Cleveland & Thornton, 2013, p. 105) for use as the Columbia County Public Library in 1968 and served in that role until April of 2009. (The History of Columbia County Library) It is currently in use by the Farmer’s Bank and Trust as its Operations Center.
A postcard photograph dated in the 1930s or 40s (based on the cars in the photo) illustrate the building as constructed. The building was buff-colored brick, with wooden double entry doors and 6 over 6 double hung windows on the outer corners. A three-lite transom was located above the door. The windows to either side of the double doors were an intriguing design of a center divided pane flanked by narrow 5-lite panels. The cast-concrete airplane propeller designs remain above the windows. The building was similar in design to the Van Buren, Arkansas post office.
The post office contained a mural by Joe Jones, Threshing, which was installed in 1938, and according to John P. Gill (Post Office Art, Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture), remains in the building.
Cleveland, L. J. & Thornton, D. (2013). Images of America: Columbia County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.