Look around Fondren: midcentury modern architecture is everywhere.
From Fondren Corner (the 1956 Dale Building) to retired physician Dr. Isaac Aultman’s office (next to Cups), examples of the style are pervasive and influential in this neighborhood’s iconic charm.
Lead by AIA Mississippi architects, the tour begins at the former Kolb’s Cleaners at Mitchell and State Street, a 1950’s Robert Overstreet design. Then it’s on to architectural firm Duvall Decker next door, the firm who will utilize the Kolb’s building as part of an upcoming hotel build.
Architectural firm CDFL will be the second stop, with a special recognition of the historically significant works of firm principal, Rob Farr.
Tour participants will get a “walk and talk” along the way before heading to the 1946 Brent’s Drugs for mini milkshakes, with a final stop at Wier Boerner Allin Architecture to tour their repurposed mid-mod Jones-Haas office building on Old Canton Road. The night ends there with a 1950’s inspired rooftop cocktail reception.
“We’re pointing out elements of modernist architecture along the way,” says Lolly Rash, Mississippi Heritage Trust’s Executive director since 2013. “Each guide will have points to illustrate so that someone not very knowledgeable of mid-century modern will with leave with the grounding principals of modernist architecture.”
Rash says she gained a special appreciation for mid-mod after a tour of local landmarks in 2014.
“We had the opportunity to visit the 1959 Faulk House in Eastover, the 1948 Frank Lloyd Wright “Fountainhead” in Woodland Hills and had lunch at Brent’s,” she says. “It was an eye-opening experience to appreciate modern architecture like I hadn’t before.”
Rash’s enlightenment inspired Mississippi Heritage Trust’s Mad Mod Eastover and Mad Mod Delta in following years. She says these tours, along with the upcoming Fondren tour are to raise awareness and understanding.
“These are buildings that have wonderful value, details and styling that future generations will appreciate, so we want to make sure this generation protects them.”
Erica Speed, a longtime Fondren resident and community advocate, is special projects coordinator for Mississippi Heritage Trust. She says Fondren is the perfect example of how awareness can build a place.
“Think about Fondren, the genesis of it – how it was always around,” she says. “[The 1940’s] Woodland Hills Shopping Center, this building we are sitting in (Fondren Corner): it was empty for a long time, and it was like, ‘What are we going to do with it?’ There was no appreciation for what it was. But by advocating for change – saving and repurposing – that had a lot to do with the movement here to keep this neighborhood going. People started looking around at an area that had a vibe, and, right or wrong, picked up on the groove of it. It became this great appreciation for mid century modern.”
Speed points to what she calls “the heart of Fondren’s historic business district,” dubbed “The Strip,” on North State Street between Mitchell and just north of Duling Avenue. [It was endangered] but has been saved out of neighborhood advocacy,” she explains. “Roy Decker is saving Kolb’s as part of their hotel project and other developments are closely working with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to be sensitive to the neighborhood aesthetic.”
Rash confirms, “new alongside the old can foster and help the neighborhood grow, as long as you are making sure change builds community.”
“Sometimes a modernist building doesn’t have a large following yet,” Rash adds. “But the job of this program is to say, ‘Let’s look at the building’s materials, let’s learn more about the architect, let’s see how it fits into the urban fabric and raise awareness. Hopefully then the building will be valued and appreciated.”
Tickets, $25 for Heritage Trust members and $35 for non-members, are available for The Mad Mod Affair in Fondren at lovemsmod.com. The tour will encourage participants to explore Arts, Eats & Beats on their own before or after, from the Plein Air Wet Canvas Show at Browns to the Hinds Community College Jazz Band on Duling Avenue.
Mississippi Heritage Trust’s signature “10 Most Endangered” Gala will be held in October. The biennial awareness campaign at one time listed one of Fondren’s now beloved treasures, The Cedars.