The Grand Opera House and Mississippi State’s Riley Center

Riley Center front and side 2


The block containing the Marks, Rothenberg & Co store and their Grand Opera House was constructed 1888-1890, designed by architect Gustavus Maurice Torgerson, an immigrant from either Switzerland or Sweden (depending on which census record is used) (Mississippi Department of Archives and History;  Nomination form for National Register of Historic Places).

Marks and Rothenberg, two half-brothers of a Jewish immigrant family, constructed the huge Marks-Rothenberg department store on the corner.  It was successful, so they built the Grand Opera House next door to their business, and for a brief period, it also enjoyed success, bringing entertainment and excitement to Meridian.

next door Riley Center front elevation

Grand Opera House

Benefitting from its location on the Atlanta-New Orleans circuit, the Grand Opera House attracted vaudeville and minstrel shows as well as opera and drama, and in its relatively brief existence it became known as one of the best facilities of its type in the South. (Maddox, D. 1972. Grand Opera House. National Register of Historic Places nomination form)

The opera house operated until c. 1919 as a live entertainment venue, and then was used as a movie theater until it was closed in 1927 (MDAH), in the midst of a lawsuit involving Rothenberg and Saenger Theatres.  In a seemingly unbelievable turn of events, the grand facility sat empty other than for use as a warehouse and storage until 2006.  The block of buildings was restored and is now the Mississippi State University Riley Center for its downtown Riley Campus.

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Plaza Theater Building: Canton, TX

Plaza Theater

Canton is a short hop off Interstate 20 heading home from Texas to home in Mississippi.  I was already dragging and had stopped to take a little stretch and headed toward downtown.  The Plaza Theater caught my eye–not particularly because it was so stunning, although I do love a marquee and ticket window of any kind–but because of the building attached to it.  Turns out, trying to find out something about the building was far more time consuming than I might have anticipated, and was limited at that.

Art Moderne front  and corner elevation

Joe Hackney, theater operator, has constructed the most attractive amusement building in the county.  The architecture, the lighting effect, equipment and building arrangement has complete harmony in every detail.  In addition to the theater department the structure includes three private business offices and like the theater is air conditioned and has effective lighting equipment.  These offices will be occupied by Addis’ Beauty Shop, Emmett Sneed [sic] Real Estate and the Elliott and Waldron Abstract Co. (New Buildings Near Completion. June 27, 1946. Canton Herald, p. 1) Note: It was actually the Steed Real Estate Company.

Joe Hackney moved to Canton from Henderson in 1939, and purchased the old theater.  In 1946, he built the Plaza Theater Building, which consisted of the theater itself, and the Art Moderne offices on the side.  I was assuming that the Art Moderne structure was a separate building.  Running across a comment about the Plaza Theater Building, I found the above article indicating they were done at the same time.  Lo and behold, searching for images of the Plaza Theater Building, I located one that showed just the edge of the attached wing, and that it was originally white with maroon trim and maroon tile, just like the theater.  A later photograph showed the Art Moderne corner ell as having damage to some of the maroon tiles, so it appears they were removed entirely from the section by the far left door next to the theater, and replaced in the other areas.  The building was painted blue or gray–hard to distinguish as faded as it is, but in “person” it appeared to be a light blue.  In fact, that had me searching for Greyhound Bus Stations in Canton, just in case.

Maroon tile was a fairly common feature in theaters built around that time.  I recall the old Queen Theater in Abilene, Texas, where my mother worked while in college.  It had an abundance of maroon tile, although it was considerably more elegant than the Plaza pictured here.  It was a sad day for me (and many of us in Abilene) when they tore it down.

If there are additions or corrections to this information, I would be thrilled to hear from anyone in the know about Canton’s Plaza Theater Building, and any renovations or changes that may have been done on either of them.

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Kress Building: Downtown Meridian

Kress building block

The former Kress building is one of several Meridian buildings featuring architectural terra cotta. The S. H. Kress and Company building is a circa 1934 Art Deco building.  It seems a perfect match for Cafe du Monde’s chicory cafe au lait in a vintage coffee cup and saucer, while we take a stroll down Fifth au lait

Four story, brick commercial building with flat tar roof, stone and polychromed terra cotta frieze, stone storefront with marble faced base, two, off-center, double leaf plate glass doors, flanking display windows with rounded corners, polychromed terra cotta, Egyptian motifs, second floor with 2/2 double hung sash windows, stone surrounds, polychromed terra cotta, stone stringcourse, name plate, second and third floors with 4/4 double hung sash windows, two story, stone and terra cotta surrounds, neon signage. (L. Ford, 2004, Meridian NRHP downtown historic district nomination form)

That sentence could compete with William Faulkner, could it not?

Kress building front facade

According to Ford’s nomination text, the S. H. Kress and Co. 5-10-25 cent store used the same concepts of “escapism” (glamorized in the movies that showed “elegant, modern apartments with Art Deco Furnishings” and other “Deco glamour”) in the construction of its stores.  The Meridian store features some exotic details that are stunning in design, reflecting the frequently used Egyptian themes in Art Deco buildings.

Kress detail closeup

The former Kress building is now part of the Mississippi State University in Meridian, Riley Campus.  Known as the Rosenbaum Building, it has been recently renovated and houses the Kinesiology program.  It was also selected as another library location for the Meridian campus.  Using this building would certain amp up my interest in attending Mississippi State University-Meridian!

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Meridian’s Threefoot Building

Threefoot under renovation

‘Ya just cannot be from around here (and read Preservation in Mississippi) and not know about the Threefoot Building.  Meridian’s downtown 15-story skyscraper completed in 1930 earned it the title as the tallest building in Mississippi at the time.  Meridian former Mayor Smith said

Since it was built, Meridian and Jackson are the only two cities that have had a recognized skyline in Mississippi. (Paula Merritt, The Meridian Star, September 15, 2015.)

It could have been known as the Dreyfuss Building had the family not changed their name to the English form.  One has to admit that Threefoot does have a more picturesque connotation to it, although the reason was pragmatic for German Jewish immigrants in 1929.  The Art Deco building also carries a host of documented players including:

  • Principal architect Claude H. Lindsley
  • Associate architect Frank A. Fort
  • Builder/Contractor Garber and Lewis
  • Engineer Gardner and Howe
  • Mechanical contractor Paine Heating and Tile Company
  • Passenger Elevators Otis Elevator Company
  • Electrical contractor Bagby Elevator and Electric Company (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory database)

An abundance of polychromed terra cotta appears on the elaborately decorated Threefoot Building. Impressive with its exterior decoration that incorporates polychromed terra cotta sculpture, tile mosaics, and copper casement windows, the Art Deco skyscraper stands above the other commercial buildings as the defining edifice of the downtown.  An intact Art Deco interior is quite stunning with original light fixtures, wood and glass panel office doors with etched glass and hand-stenciled walls. (Linda Ford, December 14, 2004, Meridian Downtown Historic District, National Register of Historic Places nomination form.)

The building is currently undergoing renovation and, hopefully a good dose of restoration and preservation, to become the Courtyard by Marriott/Threefoot hotel.  It is also on the 101 Mississippi Places list, and now, I have seen it!

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New Deal in Mississippi: Lauderdale County Courthouse

Lauderdale County Courthouse front elevation 2

Meridian’s Lauderdale County Courthouse was substantially redesigned by a Public Works Administration funded grant.  The 1905 Beaux Arts building designed by P. J. Krouse was

transformed into an Art Deco structure. (Linda Ford, 2004, Meridian Downtown Historic District nomination form for National Register of Historic Places)

Along with architect L. L. Brasfield, Krouse replaced the traditional dome and other classic Beaux Arts elements with a 3-story setback tower, curved walls, and altered the portico.

Beaux Arts entry was visually flattened with horizontal stone bands replacing the pediment. (Ford)

The addition and renovations added a jail along with the renovations to the building itself.  A grant of $127,147 was approved June 22, 1938 toward the estimated $282,550 total cost (Report No. 5, Status of completed non-Federal allotted projects, Region No. 3, Mississippi, W 1182, Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works Projects Division, p. 105, January 3, 1940). A $140,000 bond issue went to the voters in September (Supervisors map Lauderdale bond issue of $140,000, September 10, 1938, Clarion-Ledger).  Bids were advertised in October, the $267,528 contract was awarded in November, and the project was completed December 4, 1939.


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Palace Auditorium

Palace Auditorium_

Farish Street’s Palace Auditorium was constructed c. 1911.  In 2014, the Business Journal  reported

The circa 1911 Palace Auditorium, 318 North Farish Street, is the lone building on the 300 block deemed to “contribute” to the cultural and historic value of the Farish Street Historic District. (Close to collapse: Engineers warn of dangerous structural deficiencies of Farish Buildings, November 7, 2014)

The second floor has fallen, resulting in the loss of bracing for the exterior walls, according to engineer Alfred Luckett.  Tony Dennis of Dennis Brothers Shoe Repair on the opposite side of the street from the Palace said the former nightclub was “one of the hottest spots on the block”–he ought to know as his family opened the shoe repair shop in 1938.  Palace Auditorium sign 2

According to journalist Jesse Yancy, since 1981, the Farish Street Financial Timeline reached $21,082,000 by 2011.  That figure includes the actual restorations of the Alamo Theatre, Scott Ford house, “rehab” of 37 historic houses, Farish Street revitalization, infrastructure, Farish St/Scott-Ford Museum, and the Medgar Evers House Museum.  There is no mention of specifically what was achieved in the ‘revitalization’ expenditures of $12 million.

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Crystal Palace, Farish Street Historic District

Front and side elevation

My current research on the Green Book Travel Guide took me to Jackson for the weekend.  Though my primary purpose was photographing extant sites from listings for Jackson, I can never pass up the opportunity for any interesting or unique piece of history.  Last time I was on Farish Street, the Crystal Palace was a mess, so it was stand out to see the building has been revitalized and is now a restaurant and club.  The first thing that caught my eye was the window-sized portraits of entertainers.  Among the entertainers who played the Crystal Palace were Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Count Basie.

The Crystal Palace was constructed c. 1935 in an Art Deco style, and originally featured

…Art Deco concrete enrichment in an arrow motif. (Adele Cramer, 1979, nomination form for the Farish Street Historic District, NRHP)

and a stepped parapet.  The first floor was store space, which housed Harmon’s Drug Store in 1951.  It was also home to the Mississippi Free Press.  Following the renovations, the first floor is now home to Johnny T’s Bistro, while the second floor–the original dance hall–houses the Club 540 Ultra Lounge.  Johnny T is John Tierre Miller, and assisted by Chef Brian Myrick, is investing in Farish Street through the “most celebrated club on Farish Street in the 1930s and 1940s.”  Jackson was the Crossroads of the South, and a stopping point for musicians traveling between Memphis and New Orleans, and on the east-west circuit in the south.


Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory.

Adele Cramer, 1979 nomination form for the Jackson Historic District.

Donna Ladd, February 26, 2004, Farish Street Blues: Rebuilding a ‘Music Town” by Scott Barretta, Jackson Free Press.

E. Waibel, September 14, 2011, The Past Lives On, Jackson Free Press.

R. James-Terry, July 26, 2015, Johnny T’s Brings Life to Farish Street, The Clarion-Ledger.

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“Life is a parable about life” (Anna Blake)

Network 3

Sometimes, I wonder how things would turn out if all of us who want peace and justice and relationship with others where we share and nurture and create a wholesome space got to have one side of the world.  All of those who want war, and battle, and killing and blowing things up and in general ruining the earth and our opportunity to live meaningful lives together get the other side.

Anna wrote about dog rescue today, and like many of her posts, it resonated with me because of where we were in the class–looking at how to create healthier communities.  One of the students said “It is complex, but then, it is so simple.”  It is simple; the complexity comes in due to the need for consistent, patient, nurturing carrying out of the principles that are what make it work.


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Harrisonburg, VA: Main Street

Exchange 2

One of my characteristics is I tend to underestimate how long a given task will take.  On our travel from Knoxville to Harrisonburg, we had three stops to make, and thus, arrived later than intended.  By the time we were able to get to dinner, it was late.  We were just driving down the street and spotted what looked promising, but the dining room would close shortly so they did not seat after 8:30.  However, we were welcomed at the adjoining bar for full menu service.  Good choice!  The Local Chop House is located in the other end of the former exchange building, and this section has been renovated to urban flats.

The following morning on our way out of town, we drove down Main Street to reach the Exchange building.  I was fascinated by the streetscape, and wished for the time to stroll a few blocks, but we had to be in Mount Laurel, New Jersey that evening, and quite the distance to cover across Pennsylvania.  The Ruddle building (above photo with canted corner wall and entrance) was the Rockingham National Bank, opened 1900.  The Masonic Temple occupied the upper floors of the Keezell Building, constructed in 1907, and housed the News Register.

City Produce Exchange Building’s construction began in 1911, and housed an ice-making and cold storage plant for the egg and poultry industry.  The building is alongside the Southern and Chesapeake-Wester railway, and the business operated until 1948.  Wetsel Seed Company was also located in the building after the exchange ceased operations, and was used for cleaning seeds and a laboratory to test seeds and grains.  Luxury condos were developed in the building in 2006.  The Local Chop House and Grill offers locally produced fruits, vegetables, and meat, and also served regional brewery selections.


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Cargill Grain Elevator, Harrisonburg VA


William Wallace Cargill began the business in 1865 in Conover, Iowa.  The Cargill grain elevator in Harrisonburg, Virginia is now one of many aspects of the international corporation for agriculture-related industries.  In the 1950s, Cargill emerged as a major international merchandizer and processor for agricultural and related commodities.  The company

…developed a transportation and grain elevator system that enabled it to respond to worldwide demand…(Kingsley Smith, 2010, “The History of Shaver Breeding Farms,” p. 32.)

The Harrisonburg facility produces turkey feed.  The single elevator tower located across the street is the tallest structure in downtown Harrisonburg.

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