Building gets reprieve as possible historic site

Published 8:14 pm Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The location of the Picayune Colored Gymnasium has been taken off the list for being declared a public nuisance while it is being considered for inclusion on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 2007 list of 10 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Had the old, two-story building at 420 Jackson St. been included on the list, it could have been demolished under the city’s program for dealing with rundown and shabby properties.

Councilmen Leavern Guy and Donald Parker asked that the building be removed from the list after hearing that it had been included. The two men cited its importance to black history in Picayune and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast prior to desegregation.

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Their effort was supported by a letter from the Heritage Trust stating that the building had been nominated for inclusion on the list, which will be announced on April 26. The letter, addressed to James Lap Baker in Jackson, acknowledged the property had been nominated and said that it had a good chance of inclusion on the list because it “still has historic significance and is an important part of the African American history of Picayune that should be preserved for the future. Picayune has already lost so many of its historic structures that it would be a tragedy to lose anymore (sic) especially one that is important to the African American community and has played a role in so many of their lives.”

The letter, dated Jan. 30, 2007, was signed by David Preziosi, executive director of the trust.

In the letter, he mentioned that the building was constructed in the 1930s and was the site of numerous sporting and social events for blacks in Picayune and along the Gulf Coast. He said it was “the only full sized basketball court on the Mississippi coast for African Americans in the 1940s.”

Guy and Parker said that boxer Freddie Littles, who became boxing commissioner in Las Vegas, Nev., trained and at boxed at the gymnasium. Littles was a Picayune native, they said.

Parker said that Sam Cook also performed at the building, which, besides its use as a gymnasium, was also used for social gatherings, gospel concerts by some well known groups in the 1930s and 1940s and for other social events in the black community.

Last night’s City Council meeting began with the presentation of a proclamation by the City Council to Laura Guidry for her quick action in alerting the Picayune Fire Department to the fire on Oct. 6, 2006, at the Christian Life Assembly of God church building that was under construction at the time.

The council and Fire Chief Keith Brown said that Guidry’s quick action allowed the fire department to keep the building from being completely destroyed by the fire.

The Rev. Daryl Worley, pastor of the church, added his thanks to those of the council and thanked the fire department for its action in putting out “a difficult fire.” The fire, apparently caused by an electrical problem, started in the enclosed attic of the building, making it difficult to reach and battle.

During the time set aside for citizens’ concerns, the board heard from a well-prepared Marshall Carr, a retired oceanographer and engineer from Stennis Space Center, whose home has suffered from sewage backups.

Carr said he suffered $10,000 damage the first time it occurred at the Eagle Court home he shares with his wife Gloria, a retired Picayune school teacher, in Millbrook subdivision and that he paid for a video examination of the sewage line there when the city failed to have its own such examination conducted, even after telling him that it would be done. He said biweekly flushings of the line promised by the city occurred for a short time, then were discontinued.

Carr said the video examination found a blockage in the line cause by a four-inch male adapter used for a tie-in and a dip in the line that holds about two-inches of water even when water isn’t flowing through the line.

He wants that section of line replaced.

City Manager Ed Pinero apologized for not getting back to Carr on the matter, saying he thought everything had been taken care of through his communication with Councilman Larry Watkins, with whom Carr said he had been in contact. Pinero said the city does plan to have the section of line replaced but is having to wait on dry weather because of the sandy-clay soil conditions in the area. He said when the work begins it could affect other residents in the area and he didn’t want the work to be strung out over a long period of time.

Carr said he understood that and didn’t want his neighbors inconvenienced either. He thanked the Council for hearing him and said he is still happy he moved here from Bay St. Louis a number of years ago.

In other business, the council:

— Approved the Picayune Street Fair on Saturday, March 31 and Sunday, April 1, and a number of related mattes associated with the fair.

— Approved continuing the state of emergency related to Hurricane Katrina.

— Approved waiving fees for Habitat for Humanity.

— Approved the Head Start Center’s Mardi Gras parade.

— Approved a request by H.C. Dillard to remove concrete slabs at the new city hall site at no cost to the city.

— Approved a non-interest bearing account for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and an interest bearing account for insurance and other payments.

— Approved setting Tuesday, March 6, as the date for hearings to declare several properties as nuisances.

— Approved a Capital Improvements Revolving Loan form with the Mississippi Development Authority for T-hanger construction at the airport.

— Approved having the mayor sign a contract with Kanduit Construction for the construction of Picayune Intermodal Center on U.S. 11.

— Accepted donations to the Picayune Police Dept. transit fund from United Methodist Women and the 30ers.

— Approved an agreement with the Poplarville school district to accept some Automated External Defibrillators.

— Approved a mutual aid agreement with Stennis Fire Dept.

— Went into executive session on personnel matters, on contractual matters and on a special community disaster loan.