27 November 2011

Crappy Old Buildings or Architectural Treasures?

Are they old dilapidated buildings? Or are they architectural and historical treasures?

It really beats the hell out of me.

[For the “Where you been?” thing, see note at the end.]

The “old” Fairmont Theater is being torn down to provide a site for the new state office building. The need for the building came on rather suddenly. State offices were located in the old Hartley Department Store building, but unlivable and unrepairable structural issues forced a move.

Some fellow from Charleston wrote to the local newspaper on behalf of “the Preservation Alliance.” He touted the architectural value of the old theater and maintaining it in its rightful place as a historical landmark. The fellow strongly intimated that he had a good bit of expertise in this field and that the people in Fairmont making the decision to bulldoze the place were showing a “lack of wisdom and cultural refinement.”

I’ve never claimed wisdom and if someone attributes that to me, I’m flattered.

No one is their right mind would suggest that I have cultural refinement. If I ever suspected that I’d gotten any, I would look for a 12 step program.

The County Manager has responded somewhat angrily. He doesn’t see the architectural and historical value of the Fairmont Theater but then he may be as big a Philistine is I am. He does talk about the current commercial disinterest in a large single screen theater. He doesn’t like “out-of-towners” telling us what to do. And he points out that dumping a whole bunch of money into an old building that nobody’s going to use may not be the best use of public funds.

As far as the out-of-towner thing is concerned, we have to watch that, particularly those of us in West Virginia. We are awfully touchy sometime. People do not become elitists, idiots, snooty, or snooty elitist idiots by living somewhere else. Some snooty elitist idiots live right here! OK, lots of them live elsewhere, but that’s beside the point.

We should consider ideas from “foreigners,” applying the same criteria as those from local: What are their qualifications? (I’m talking REAL qualifications, not just the certificates framed and hung on the wall.) Do they have some unexpressed bias or interest in the outcome? Will they share in any down side or cost of their own idea? Does their idea makes sense?

And then we have to do the hardest thing of all – we balance the pluses and minuses of their schemes against the pluses and minuses of all the other competing schemes.

Once again, if you’re talking to someone who tells you “all you have to do is…,” you’re talking to a provocateur or a dumb ass. Or maybe both.

I like old buildings and I agree with the notion that many of them contain elements which you do not see in buildings today. The National Cathedral is the only place I know of the United States where actual operative freemasons are working; Those are artisans who carve building stones. Fine woodwork is almost unheard of. Decorative details, finials, gingerbread, that sort of thing are well-nigh non-existent unless it’s stuff made out of plastic.

There is a lot to be said for standing in the same place that something historic occurred, or being in a building that has memories. I like to do that, especially in the town where I live. I’d like to be able to do it a lot more.

I wish I could walk into Skinner’s Tavern. It was located on the west side of the Monongahela River at the bottom of where Madison Street now ends. It was built around 1820 and torn down sometime in the mid 20th century. A thoroughly undistinguished building for an Elks Lodge was put there and it was also torn down about a decade ago. I understand some people have found a few bricks down there from the old tavern. What a joy it would be to go there and have a quaff of whatever they were serving.

I would like to go to the house or pavilion or whatever it was where John Tyler gave a campaign speech in 1840, on the top of the hill near where Woodlawn Cemetery is now located.

I would love to see the 600-foot B&O Railroad iron bridge which was destroyed by Confederate raiders under Gen. “Grumble” Jones in April 1863. I would like to see where in Coal Run Hollow the running fight between the Confederates and the makeshift militia took place.

I’d like to go back to the Virginia Theater and the Lee Theater such as I did when I was a little kid. There are parking lots there now.

But things change. We can’t afford to decoupage everything and keep it in the same condition as it was in whatever we consider to be the “Good Old Days.”

I love history and I love to connect with history. If we start worshiping history, we may forget where the hell were going.

By the way, please God don’t name the new state office building for somebody who is currently alive. The only so-names structure I ever approved is the John Saylor Sewage Plant at Camp Mountaineer. At the time, that was a great joke, especially enjoyed by Big John himself.

I have floated my own idea to name the new building. Nobody has yet reacted with horror. Our current senator and former governor Joe Manchin doesn’t have stuff named for him, and I like that. His mother was an extremely hard-working and likable lady, and an excellent example of what women did despite their more restricted roles in society in the first half of the 20th century. So my proposed name for the new building is the “Mama Kay Manchin and West Virginia Women’s Office Building.”

You don’t like it? Suggest something better, don’t just bitch.

Where I’ve been:

I still really, really enjoy writing. Lately, I’ve been writing a lot, just not here. Much of it has been in petitions to various Courts, including two to the Tribunal in the Sky (U.S. Supreme Court). (That’s not all that impressive. They get thousands of petitions a year and grant maybe 100.)

I’ve also been working with and assisting my friend and brother Oce Smith in keeping his “Just Observin’ “ column going weekly in the Times-West Virginian. Currently, Oce is doing rehab at the Arbors in Fairmont, a nursing home/rehab place up on Watson Hill. Oce never got the hang of computers and hasn’t even used electric typewriters much. He writes on a manual typewriter, and right now doesn’t have the hand strength. So he dictates to me, I write, we both edit, and I’ve been learning stuff.

This is, to me, a graduate level writing course. Oce learned from old classic newspaper writers, and has a distinctive style. His memory of political and local events is phenomenal, and he has personal recollections of Truman, LBJ, JFK, Bobby Kennedy and lots of others. It is always good to be reminded that we can always keep learning.

And, to borrow from Oce,



Anonymous said...

This might help you to clarify what the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia is and does as a statewide, non-partisan organization working for community development through historic preservation throughout West Virginia.


Robert P. said...

Oce is a blessing. Thank you for helping him.