Friday, May 31, 2013

Life is full of shocks, but some shocks are more shocking than others

In 1948, when I was seven, our family’s little red Dodge pickup rolled into Mansfield, Texas (Pop. 774), for the very first time. We stayed for ten years. The most prominent building in town, just past the one-block-long business district that sported a traffic signal at both ends, was a structure known as Memorial Hall. It was a six- or eight-sided auditorium whose roof rose to a single-peak, very much in the Chatauqua style of an earlier era.

As far as I knew, Memorial Hall had been there forever. Later I learned that it had replaced the original building on the site -- a three-story, steam-powered, brick grist mill that had been built around 1859 by Ralph S. Man and Julian Feild. The community that grew up around Man’s and Feild’s Mill became Mansfield (people don’t quibble about changes in spelling out where the deer and the antelope play) and the rest is, well, history. There was no Mansfield Historical Society in those days, so the mill was torn down in the name of progress without so much as a by-your-leave or a bronze marker to commemorate the town’s beginnings. The name of the new structure -- Memorial Hall -- sufficed.

Here is an old photograph of the mill the town’s founders built:



And here is the Memorial Hall that replaced it:



In 1956, when I was 15, the Memorial Hall was torn down and replaced by still another structure, the brand-new Mansfield Municipal Building. At its dedication, I played the piano and my picture appeared in the local newspaper. If that sounds vaguely familiar, the reason may be that I posted about it here.

This week, an old friend (Fred Stone, MHS class of 1959) sent me a copy of the latest issue of the Mansfield News-Mirror (Volume 127, Number 20, May 15, 2013). It contained a shocker for yours truly.

The Mansfield Municipal Building, scene of my show-biz debut in 1956, has been torn down. It’s gone, disappeared, kaput. Under a front-page photograph of a pile of rubble was this caption:
“A backhoe sorts through the rubble of the Station House on Friday morning. The former City Hall, library and police department was built in the 1950s but had not been used for several years. The city sold the building to Monty and Kim Slawson, who plan to build a Mellow Mushroom restaurant.”

The accompanying article, “Making way for change: Station House Demolition,” read as follows: “A chunk of Mansfield history quickly turned into a pile of rubble Friday morning as a backhoe demolished the Station House, which had once served as City Hall, the library, police department and jail.

“Built in 1956, the building had been vacant for several years until it was bought by Monty and Kim Slawson of Mansfield, who plan to build a Mellow Mushroom restaurant at the busy southeast corner of East Broad and Main streets. Demolition of the Station House is the first phase of construction, Kim Slawson said.”

And then, almost as an afterthought:

“The area was the original site of the Man and Feild mill, owned by Ralph Man and Julian Feild, the founders of Mansfield.”

My life has come full circle. It has lasted long enough to witness the rise and fall, the ascent and demise, the birth and death of a major public building in my home town. These days Mansfield finally has a Historical Society, but who cares about preserving history when there is money to be made from selling pizzas?

Nobody, that’s who. I do hope some sort of historical marker will eventually be erected at that corner, but I’m not holding my breath.

It’s a little sad to realize that a building for whose dedication I provided music when I was 15 years old has been torn down as old and useless in my 72nd year. The article said it “had been vacant for several years.” I’m sure some people probably think the same thing about me.

In Atlanta, where I’ve lived since the mid-1970s, people got together and raised several million dollars to save and restore the Fabulous Fox Theater. It’s too late to save the Man and Feild grist mill, the old Memorial Hall, or the Mansfield Municipal building that served as City Hall, library, police department and jail. I wonder how many years will pass before someone decides something in Mansfield (estimated 2012 population: 59,831) is important enough to save. When that happens, I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be Monty and Kim Slawson’s pizza joint.



P.S. -- I know I’m being a little rough on the people of Mansfield. After all, the one-block-long business district is still intact. One of the buildings now houses the Mansfield Historical Society. And there may actually be a bronze marker on that corner now. I'm not really sure; I haven’t been back in a long time. I was just responding with my gut reaction to the news article Fred sent. I just wish that the Man & Feild grist mill was still there, or the Memorial Hall, or even the Municipal Building. But tear them all down so that Mansfield’s teens of tomorrow (projected 2017 population: 70,019) can eat pizza at a Mellow Mushroom? In my feeble mind, it does not compute.

Of course, we all know that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.



Live long and prosper.

8 comments:

Yorkshire Pudding said...

That's a sad story. I was planning to say something vaguely amusing or annoying but I prefer to say this - I think you should have a little road trip with or without Lady Ellie and the final destination will be Mansfield. If you don't go back there soon you never will. You could stay at the La Quinta Inn and Suites at 1503 Breckenridge Rd. This is the best rated hotel in Mansfield. I suggest that you have stopovers in Tuscaloosa and Monroe along the way, returning via Little Rock, Memphis and Huntsville. It would be... an adventure!

rhymeswithplague said...

To Lord Yorkshire Pudding, Thirteenth Earl of Sheffield, Fifth Duke of Rotherham, and Viscount of Barnsley and Doncaster.

Milord:

One cannot thank one enough for the interest one has shown in one's possible travels in one's later years. One also feels that milord should forget all about teaching at home and abroad and open a travel agency.

Yr most humble and obdt svt,

Sir Robert of Canton-Etowah, thane of Allatoona

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Dear Sir Robert (former USA Ambassador to Sweden)
One fears one may have rattled one's cage and yet one looks forward to the RWP blogposts that should result from this journey. The gauntlet has been thrown down and a true gentleman would pick it up and go.
Noble regards,
Lord Yorkshire Pudding, Thirteenth Earl of Sheffield, Fifth Duke of Rotherham, and Viscount of Barnsley and Doncaster.
P.S. In Tuscaloosa you should stay at the Days Inn and Suites.

Shooting Parrots said...

I grew up up in a small Cheshire town at a time when small Cheshire town had their civic pride embodied in its town hall. Then the powers that be decreed that small Cheshire town weren't viable and we were subsumed within a larger local authority that swept up my town with seven others into a larger 'local' authority.

But each town kept its town hall, most built around the turn of the 20th century. And despite a large office block being built to house our civic workers, those town halls continue to serve a purposes. My old town, for example, is home to the registrar of births, marriages and deaths and is the venue for civil marriages.

The real reason that those town halls have survived though is that we Brits are quite clever at slapping preservation orders on buildings so even if they are sold to developers (or pizza restaurants) the original facade of the building must be retained, if not its purpose.

Perhaps it is an idea you might consider adopting in the US.

rhymeswithplague said...

Shooting Parrots (Ian), fascinating comment -- thank you! There are some places here that are strong on preservation; other places couldn't care less. Of course, we are much younger than you, our whole hemisphere having been discovered during the reign of your Henry VII. (I'm using Christopher Columbus as my reference point here, although I do acknowledge that the dear Vikings poked around in the northeast a bit earlier.)

Yorkshire Pudding said...

"Poked around"? You mean in the same manner as American GI's stationed in England during WWII?

rhymeswithplague said...

Scalawag Pudding, no, I definitely did not mean in the same manner as American GI's stationed in England during WWII, but your point is well taken nonetheless.

Snowbrush said...

It seems silly and wasteful to me, the speed with which one structure is replaced by another, with the replacement almost never being as pretty. All that lumber that someone could have used is usually bulldozed and taken to the dump, and that too is silly and wasteful.