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Street Talk

Historic Preservation Is Key To Future

By Mickey Howley

The weekly Sunday morning call to Germany with Hans and Christel usually has this question in it, “What is happening in Water Valley?”
And the usual response is a comment on the weather or what is new at the gallery. But last weekend it was different. “There is going to be a brewery downtown.”
The conversation is in German and my pronunciation is not always “ganz genau” (entirely exact). But they heard right and were pretty amazed.  
I also told them last week Preservation Magazine was in town to write a feature article about all the historic commercial buildings saved and what that has done for the town. They understood both things conceptually well. Okay, Germans understand the small town brewery idea really well—every town has one there and the towns are proud of it.  
And, saving historic commercial buildings they know also first hand. When Hans was a boy of eight, an air raid dropped bombs on his neighborhood. His house was a three-story downtown building with a shoemaker on the ground floor and apartments above. A bomb blew most of the building out onto the street. Hans was lucky, he was in the cellar.
And, after the war, even though the building was old, like 550 years old having been built in 1392, and newer construction materials were available like steel and concrete, they fixed the structure back like it was.
They also installed new wiring and plumbing and updated the floor plan, so today the building functions like a modern one. The reason for the fix were partly economics, the most cost efficient (and greenest) construction is fixing what is there. Still is true.
But a large part was vision, and even then in their present moment of ruin, they knew the past was key to their future. And the building today is worth a fortune, it is on postcards, people take photos of themselves in front of it. It’s part of the town’s character. The ones built of steel and concrete, the post war buildings and parking garages, don’t get a second glance.
At last week’s Chamber Banquet, it was great to hear the Mayor frame the coming of the new brewery as part of WV’s creative economy trend. The groundwork for this has been steadily laid, not specifically for a brewery, no. But there has been a steady pattern in WV and there are many examples for creative economy business people.  Examples that make very clear the connection between historic commercial spaces, plain and simple value, and the cumulative benefit that historic character gives to a place.
So when I heard at the banquet and later at the Williams’ party from both young and old talk about possibly tearing down historic buildings and the need for more parking, it made me a little mental. Because the whole reason folks now want to be on WV’s Main Street is because buildings have not been torn down. None recently.
The examples are numerous: the Thompsons saving an empty nightmare and making it a healing place;  the Tatums re-vitalizing four buildings; the Epes and Sharps doing J’s on Main, a building that was a burned husk and is now a gem; and Bullock and Showah at the old Jenkins Service Station, a place no one wanted to touch, only bulldoze, for environmental issues, is now in national magazines.
Other examples include McGregor, for having faith the town would come back and saving the internally collapsing Hendricks literally pro bono; Coughlin and van Beuren bringing back the BTC as a downtown anchor, a derelict wreck once sold for salvage.
There are plenty more examples. My favorite is the Pullens and Main Attraction, a place where before you could stick your head though holes in the crumbling masonry walls and the roof was egg-shell soft is now one of the coziest places. And they did it, like all the others, for way less than half the cost of new construction. If Bill Pullen thinks historic commercial renovation is a deal—short, mid, and long term—you can believe it and you can take that to the bank.
This Saturday is the World’s Largest Crappie Festival in Railroad Park. From 10 a.m. when the Borg Warner race starts to 3 p.m. when the Magnolia Crappie Fishing Tourna-ment weigh in begins. Music, games, food, fun all in between. Bring a folding chair and enjoy it.
Info in this paper or on Facebook at World’s Largest Crappie Festival. The Crappie Fest is more than a fishing tournament; it’s a celebration of WV’s downtown, where the town has been and where it is going.

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