Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Faded commercial glory: Washington Avenue, Greenville, Mississippi

Washington Avenue, Greenville, view east from the Lake Ferguson levee.

Background

In the early 20th century, Greenville was the big, boisterous, rich, and booming commercial town of the west central Mississippi Delta.
At that time, Greenville thrived from cotton, timber, river traffic, and light manufacturing. These early-20th century post cards from the Cooper Post Card Collection at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History attest to the elegance and substantial commercial architecture of Washington Avenue. Washington Avenue was the sophisticated shopping street.
Here are two post cards showing flooding during the great 1927 flood, which caused immense damage throughout the Mississippi Delta (Barry 1998).
Washington Avenue, Greenville, mid-1950s (courtesy Preservation in Mississippi blog
Major American retail companies operated stores in Greenville. These included Sears Roebuck, Woolworth's, J.C. Penny, Montgomery Ward, and many others. The downtown was thriving at least through the 1960s, and many of these stores were located in sturdy early 20th century commercial buildings on Washington Avenue.

The Avenue Today

West end of 300 block of Washington Avenue, Greenville. 
309 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
311 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
325 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
Cast iron pillar, unknown vintage, 325 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
Washington Avenue today is a sad place. From what I could see, the shops along the west are closed. They look reasonably intact from the front, but I have no information on the condition of the roofs or the interiors.
Rear of 325 Washington Avenue.
Rear or 323 or 325 Washington Avenue.
Rear or 155 S. Poplar Avenue, Greenville.
A tunnel through the building at 323 or 325 Washington lets you walk to the parking area behind the buildings. I assume this area was reserved for delivery trucks in the old days, but possibly African American patrons had to enter the buildings this way.
Former J & B shoe store, 343 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
343 Washington Avenue, Greenville.
343 (?) Washington Avenue.
Johl & Bergman Shoes once occupied 343 Washington Avenue. They had a handsome entrance with dual doors and large plate glass windows to display their merchandise. The interior still looks remarkably mid-20th century. Does the plywood mean someone is trying to restore something? A walk up to the second floor is ominous. Daylight streams through holes in the roof. The flooring is wet in places and smells musty. As I have written before, in this wet climate, roof decay invariably means rotting joists and timbers and imminent collapse or condemnation by the city safety inspector.

What a shame. How do we let this happen in America? Our corrupt politicians in Washington (and Jackson!) claim they can spend $_billions on a boondoggle wall along the Mexican border, but it is perfectly all right to let hometown cities collapse due to poor education, infrastructure decay, and general neglect. A pox on you slimy politicians.

References

Barry, J.M., Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.  Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (April 2, 1998).

Images

The 2018 frames are from a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, most with the Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 compact lens. This is a handy and compact camera and lens package that you can take with you conveniently. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a Barnack Leica (meaning one of the compact screw-mount rangefinder cameras, like my IIIC).

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