Spring. Yes. Sure. It snowed this morning; it snowed in the afternoon; it will snow in the evening. Right now it’s raining, which is melting the snow that fell earlier. Tomorrow morning we’re supposed to wake to total white.
“It’ll melt soon and it’ll be good for the grass and the flowers,” daughter said at dinner, echoing the cheery refrain I always say when I don’t want to admit wrist-slitting despair to everyone else. I looked at her to see if she was being serious; she was. So the lesson is taking. Or she’s learned to trundle out the cheerful lies like the rest of us.
Cold as it was, I took a melancholy prowl downtown to check out a model of a proposed redevelopment project for downtown. It’s immense, and not modest in intent: it seeks to put a roof over the highway where it slices through downtown. I like the idea. I don’t share the frowning, finger-wagging tone of the planners towards the freeway itself, and while it did sunder downtown from the easternmost portion, it’s not as if the area A) was a going concern at the time, and B) you can’t get there at all. The decline of the area was exacerbated by the freeway, and the freeway was a necessity.
The text by the model said that the freeway drained off the vitality of the city, which is like saying that tearing down the Berlin Wall had a negative effect on the population of East Berlin. The freeway allowed for fast transit through the city, yes; it did not require people to stop, but I don’t think delivery trucks would have stopped at a corner, parked, got out and enjoyed a cup of coffee in the cafe and window-shopped before moving on. If you’re coming from Eden Prairie with a load of goods bound for the north part of town, the freeway made things more efficient, and permitting people to live somewhere new and more spacious was not an act of urbanicide.
So: were people forced into cars against their will and compelled to live in the suburbs? No. So if it was a choice, would you restrict it? Yes, they would, inasmuch as they would make it more difficult. I’ve no doubt that if they tried to build the freeways through town today, they would be unsuccessful - and that the resulting lack of relatively fast access via the freeways would doom downtown entirely.
But downtown is doing well; people are moving back, cranes are rising, and the entire area where I work is being remade at a stunning pace. The building across the street from my window is slated to be brought low next week - none too soon; it’s an eyesore. But it’s one of the few downtown I remember going up. And now it falls. I remember standing upstairs with the new digital editor and having a pep-talk about where we were going and how great it was going to be and by Gum we were going to blaze trails and make history and so on. I think he left six months later for something else.
Walked into the lobby of the skyscraper we will occupy next year. It feels magnificent. It feels vital and new and grown-up and connected. As much as I love old newspaper buildings, there’s something about the genre that isolated a paper from the very thing it was supposed to inhabit, as if we were UN observers barracked on the edge of town.
So: the new proposal looks like this.
You can’t tell from the picture what the proposed buildings look like. You can hardly tell from the models:
That would be the view of the lid over the freeway.
All the product of local design schools; all safe and dull and modest without a hint of monumentality anywhere. In the old days the chance to redevelop a grand avenue would have produced soaring works of civic grandeur.
Boxes. Nothing but boxes. One building with curves; otherwise, boxes. Boxes for good citizens.
Say, as long as we're on urban design, steady yourself for soeme truly Texas-style decay.
This week I thought I might go to the motherlode of small towns with old worn Main Streets: Texas. I have no proof it has any more than it should for its size, but I had that “Last Picture Show” view of the towns that dot the long broad land, so I just punched “Texas” into Google Maps, and zoomed down to the town closest to the red pin. Couldn’t get more Texas than that, you’d think.
Mind you, I don't do this to make fun of the places. That would not be right. These are elegies and eulogies.
And so we find ourselves in . . .
Old and new: a brand new sgn on a building that looks like it was the scene of a horrible murder, and sealed up to keep out the morbid.
That poor building. Its fate seems common:
I don't know what's more unnerving: the fact that they're all abandoned, or the fact that they might actually be in use.
At the far end of the street, a ghost sign:
Not a hair stylist's; a hair gallery. "Yelpers report this location has closed." Across the street, an almost identical boarded-up structure.
Once these had glass and stores and merchants and people, you know.
Another ghost: Westex Supply.
Looks like rows of second-hand shoes in the window. The window once said RENT TO OWN, but something fell off or the window broke.
Spills was a furniture store. Established in 1905.
Looks like the facade was preserved for historical reasons:
That would be, I'll bet, Alvis T. Jobe. From a 1999 Geneology Forum:
I ran across references to Alvis T. Jobe in a book "Tales of a Catskinner: A personal Account of Building the Alcan Highway.
Alvis T. Jobe was mentioned twice in the book. The author described him as a bad welder. Later he made reference to Alvis running a recreation facility and promising to use the procedes for a reunion of the military unit that was building the roads.
Well, let's head down the street and find some people, and - oh.
This one looks as if it lost a fight:
Lest you think it's all destitute and empty, here's Heidenheimer's Department Store:
Still around. Mr. Alfred Heidenheimer opened it up in 1938; it was his second store.
This has the look of an old bank; the stone and the brick were common to such pillars and cornerstones of the community. But what the hell is the deal with 1909 stuck up by the cornice?
This comes back on the map as a museum of sorts:
Hours may be limited.
Another fine civic expression of confidence: this building shall ne'er be used for any other purpose!
Again: boarded up windows. It's as if the Texas sun became so unrelenting they had no choice but to seal up the place, lest flesh roast if you sat too long by the window.
Movie theater? Can't find one. Can't find the last picture show. There was a State and there was a Queen. No sign. There was a drive in out to the south, but it's been replaced as well. Along the way you find . .
Here's the main drag: take a look for yourself.
If this inspires you to make a first-person shooter set in a deserted Texas small-town urban center, there are many 3D models of the town's building awaiting your download instructions.
Really. I admire that fellow for memorializing the place, and suspect he might be a local.
Since the restaurants are over for a while, it's a new feature: take a click on the Seventies pane to the right. Work Blog in small portion around noon-thirty or so; Tumblr, of course, every day. See you around!