Sunday, May 26, 2013

Changing South Fayetteville (Arkansas)

Most of my first twenty years of life, beginning in 1947, was spent in the South part of Fayetteville where I lived in rental houses on S. College Avenue, East 5th Street, and (I am told because I was too young to remember) S. Washington Ave. I also lived briefly in City Housing (Block Ave. near Archibald Yell Ave) and, for many years, starting in 1955, in a house on East 6th Street, a block down the hill from Jefferson Elementary School.  In those years, South Fayetteville (bounded by Archibald Yell Ave, S. School Ave., 15th Street, S. Wood Avenue, and Huntsville Road) was my turf. 
House on 200 Block of E. 6th St., illuminated by a gas light, 1961
South Fayetteville in the 1950's and 1960's was populated predominately by lower middle class families, most residing in modest, well-kept houses. Some streets had a sprinkling of larger, older homes. A few tracts of land contained large houses or mansions (for example, the Walker House, off S. College Avenue, near Jefferson was a big historic house surrounded by a large amount of land). Several neighborhoods had mainly tiny houses inhabited by poorer people.

The nicer part of Fayetteville, with the bigger and more expensive houses, was located to the north and northeast of the downtown. Housing for middle and upper middle class families were to be found near the University, around the City Park, and in the vicinity of the Veterans Administration hospital. The land along and north of East Dickson contained historic two-story Victorian style houses that dated to the early days of the city. The east-side mountain contained some mansions that were visible from the city’s flat lands. 

In those years, new housing developments on the edges of the core city were on their way, but had barely begun. Most of those suburban houses with big yards would be built to the northeast and northwest of the city center. And while Fayetteville was to grow in the coming years, comparatively little of the growth was to take place in South Fayetteville and the areas surrounding it.  

During my time in South Fayetteville, it was inhabited largely by families whose income came from blue collar, clerical, or service industry jobs. Also, many older people lived there. Few university faculty members or other more affluent professionals lived in South Fayetteville. (When I was attending Jefferson grade school, I heard rumors that the city had a university, but it was some years before I was first on the campus.) Also, South Fayetteville contained few black families, though Robert Wilks and his family lived on 6th Street, east of Jefferson School. Most black families lived directly east of the Square, in an area behind the County Courthouse, below – ironically – the Confederate Cemetery. 

Student Phillip Snow on the Jefferson Elementary School grounds, 1959
During the 1950s and early 1960s, much of the social life of a boy in South Fayetteville centered on Jefferson Elementary, which offered a place to play when school was not in session. On one side of the building, it had playground equipment. On the other side were basketball hoops and a large blacktopped space for other games. Its lower field was a place to play baseball. When the school’s playgrounds were full or not easily accessible, we used the numerous vacant lots located near our houses to play whatever games we wanted – touch football, whiffle ball, etc. 

Mr. Hankins, 6th Grade Teacher at Jefferson School. Judy Shofner
and Melba Adams (L to R) are standing behind him facing the camera

Playing in the Lower Field of Jefferson School, 1959.
Student Larry Stout has the football; he is stiff arming Jimmy Hawkins.
Mike Yarberry is in the background facing the camera
During those years, South Fayetteville was full of kids, the baby boomers. On my block of East 6th street alone, neighbor kids included (at different times) Bobby Carnes, Randy Allison, the Daily brothers, the Dockery brothers, Phyllis Jet, Sue Skelton, and others. Ronnie Cole and Steve Baucom lived a block to the west. Others within a short walking distance of Jefferson were the Eugene Tucker; Phillip Snow; Larry Stout; Bruce Walker; Philip Agee; the Ballard brothers; cousins Justin, Morris, and Beverly Daniel; Newt Land; Larry Schafer; and many others. 

One of the nice things about living in my part of South Fayetteville was that a couple of small neighborhood grocery stores – Hanna’s and Johnson’s Groceries -- were located by Jefferson School, selling staples such as candy, pop, and baseball cards.  Also, as we got a bit older, we could easily walk up to the Square to go the Palace or Ozark Theater to watch a movie. Or we could go there to spend our allowance at one of the five-and-dime stores.

Things Change

I was reminded of my days in South Fayetteville when I visited there recently, driving around the old neighborhoods. Surprisingly, it still looks much the same in many neighborhoods, with few changes on streets such as South College and South Washington. Most of the old houses are still around. Some have been refurbished and look much better than I remembered; others are more dilapidated. The area still seems to be full of modest houses for families living on a tight budget.

The area now has fewer empty lots. Most have been filled by houses, mostly modest ones that fit comfortably in the surroundings. A few lots have been used  for rental housing, much of it cheap, brick single story units with little landscaping or charm. 

The most obvious negative change is that Jefferson Elementary School is no longer a school. Young students have to leave South Fayetteville to attend elementary school. That means elementary school students in South Fayetteville can no longer walk to and from school; they no longer have the same easy ambulatory access to their friends and playgrounds after school (though Jefferson still operates as an adult and community education center and the lower field is still there). 

The most impressive positive change in South Fayetteville is the expansion of Walker Park, which is a now great asset for the area. It was a small neighborhood park in the late 1950s. At the time, it did not encompass the overgrown scrub land bounded by S. College Avenue, East 7th St. (then unpaved), the Town Branch, and East 15th St.  That land contained lots of trees, but also had a large cleared area. At the time, someone had scratched out a rough baseball diamond on a part of the cleared land and put up a crude backstop. On weekends, South Fayetteville folks would crawl through a barbed wire fence to play baseball there. Now of course, the land has eight baseball parks, soccer fields, hiking trails, and other recreation amenities. 

The New Style Housing

One major change in South Fayetteville has occurred recently – most within the last year -- and I cannot decide whether it is something to be welcomed or whether it should be considered a threat to the future of the area. I am talking about the colorful multi-story townhouses and row houses being built in several South Fayetteville locations. 

Ronnie Cole's Old House on the corner of West 6th Street and Block Avenue

Across 6th Street from Ronnie Cole's old house; These units face Block Ave.
Other units built behind them face S. East Avenue 

I could hardly believe my eyes when I first saw such a development last November. It is located on West 6th Street (now MLK Blvd) across the street from where Ronnie Cole lived, less than a block from where I resided for a decade. It is bounded by S. Block on one side and S. East St. on the other. This development, which is nearly finished, was built on a half block of land on which Ronnie’s grandparents had lived in a large country-style house. The present Google satellite photo (60 West 6th Street) still shows the old house and the large lot on which it sat.

In November, 2012, builders had completed several new, brightly painted two-story single family houses, each with a tiny yard, and were working on others. By April 2013, eight new houses had been built or were being finished. These houses have small porches, small balconies and fenced back yards. While moderately attractive, their size, colors, style and arrangement are unlike any other previously to be found in South Fayetteville.

In Spring 2012, several similar units were also completed or near completion a block away at the corner of Block Ave. and W. 7th Street (across from an entrance to Walker Park). These units have a design similar to those on West 6th Street. 

These multi-story, modern houses were recently built on S. Church Ave.

Some even more incongruous residential housing has been recently built a few blocks to the west on S. Church Ave.(see pictures above) between West 6th and West 7th Streets. These units have a more modern and striking design than the new ones a block away on West 6th and 7th streets. They come in different heights (2 and 3 stories) and colors. Their roofs have unconventional angles and window size and locations are quirky.  They are built more closely together, though each has its own small yard.  

Row Houses on West 5th Street, between Locust and School Avenues;
Four attached units have been built; a foundation exists for four more units 

These attached units are located at the corner of Locust Ave. and W. 5th St. 

A few blocks north of those houses, wrapping the intersection of West 5th Street and Locust Ave., some colorful row houses have been built (with some expressed intent to build more). Again, these designs are sleek and modern; the units are built of materials unlike those used in the traditional houses of South Fayetteville (see pictures above).

These last two developments, on Church Ave and Locust Ave., fit more easily into their environments. While the neighboring dwellings to the east are mostly older, traditional modest wood frame houses, these housing units are located near busy S. School St. and commercial development to the west. As urban-style houses, they fit fine in a multi-land use setting. 

In truth, I like the vibrant design and colors of much of this new South Fayetteville housing, especially the single family units on Church Ave. Likely, they are not attractive to families with children because they have tiny yards and are too near a four-lane road with substantial traffic. However, I can see how childless professionals who want interesting space, a non-conventional design, and convenient location would find these units enticing. Also, I would guess that the units have some price advantages because the cost of the land on which they are built is cheaper than similar land in north Fayetteville.

It will be interesting to see if the addition of these non-conventional units, so unlike the other houses in South Fayetteville, is the start of a transformation (gentrification?) of the area, or if they are simply a one-time opportunistic exploitation of low land prices to build reasonably priced for buyers who want more space at an affordable price. Check back in a year to see what has happened.   

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Public Art Surprise at Vienna's Stadtpark: Stage Set, 1996 by Donald Judd

Vienna is full of public art, mainly grand statutes and memorials commemorating famous musicians, writers, Hapsburgs, generals, and politicians. For example, the statutes of Johann Strauss, Goethe, Franz Josef, Mozart, and Maria Theresa, among others, are located in visible locations and attract the attention of visitors in the city. They have both historic and aesthetic appeal.
Statute of Goethe in Vienna

Other public art is often more difficult to find, and I was happy to stumble on a pleasing and enjoyable art installation in Vienna's Stadtpark, the huge urban park that is bordered by Parkring. On a path in midst of the park, not far from a foot bridge crossing the paved Wienfluss -- Vienna River -- that runs through it, stands six large fabric panels mounted at different heights, each with a different vivid color.

The panels are over the walkway, and because they have different heights, the relationship of the colors -- that is, the juxtaposition and visibility of different  colors -- changes as a person walks toward them. The result is dynamic art that fetches attention from the time it is first noticed until a viewer passed under the panels.

Part of the pleasure of this art is the surprise of seeing it in an unexpected location: along a path surrounded by trees and other greenery. Another element of its attraction is the changing colors framed by the park and the classic architecture of the city that lies beyond the park boundaries. Also, the act of walking into and through the art enhances enjoyment of it.

The art installation from a distance. The bridge across the Wienfluss in the background
The picture above was taken on a cloudy, drizzly day, deepening the colors. The visible colors from this perspective were orange, yellow, blue, red, and black. One panel (green) is not visible.  A bridge across the Wienfluss can be seen in the distance. Trees stand in front of the panel; when the trees have leaves, they will add additional colors. Also, note a lamp on the path in the front of the first panel. When it is lit in the evening, its light will change the colors.

A few steps closer to the art 
Walking a few steps closer to the panels exposes more yellow, blue and orange. Each step shows the colors in a different relationship. In this picture, two people are walking through the art.

The Art Installation in Summer
Another picture -- this one downloaded from the internet -- shows the art installation in summer when it is framed by trees and more brightly lit by the sun. 

Near the panels of color is this sign identifying the title of the piece of art as "Stage Set, 1966." The artist was Donald Judd (1928-1994). The art was developed for an exhibition at the nearly Museum of Applied Arts in 1991 and it was donated to the City of Vienna in 1995.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Vacationing in Tulsa

When an early teenager, I got to go to Tulsa every year or so. It was the big family vacation trip.

Traveling to Tulsa was an exciting prospect for me. Usually we stayed two nights, so we had one full day and parts of two other days in the big city. 

I knew Tulsa and Oklahoma from television. Most of the few stations we received through our antenna originated there. Watching the advertisements and local news, I was familiar with Tulsa’s major stores, its professional baseball team, state and local politicians making news in the city, and city’s weather. I was always eager to go to the big city from which our television signal regularly came.

The trip required careful preparation. We had to schedule a time when the Tulsa Oilers would be playing baseball (preferably a double header) and when my baseball team had no game scheduled. I had to ask the coach of my baseball team to be excused from any planned practices. My dad had to schedule a day off, and we had to coordinate with my aunt Ruth – with whom we would stay in Tulsa -- so that we would come when she had a day away from work.

The entrance to Tulsa's Oiler Part from
Arrangements had to be made with a relative to take care of Candy, our dog, for the duration of the trip. The car had to be taken in for a check and an oil change and lube job. The air pressure of the tires needed to be double checked as did the oil level of the engine.

Clothes for the three-day trip were packed the night before we departed. On the day of the trip, we would get up early to prepare. Mother made sandwiches in case we got hungry while on the road. She put ice and water in a large jar to insure we would not be parched during the trip. I was warned that there would be no stops, so I should prepare for the trip accordingly.

The travel from Fayetteville to the Arkansas-Oklahoma border was not very exciting. I had been to Siloam Springs several times to play different sports, so I was familiar with the landscape. However, I always got a thrill when I saw the “Welcome to Oklahoma” sign and started noting that most cars had Oklahoma, not Arkansas, license plates. And Oklahomans seemed to drive different kinds of cars than I saw in Arkansas.

As we rolled on the two-lane road through different cities, I carefully pronounced the unfamiliar name of each city and looked around for any distinguishing features. I would study the passing billboards, whose ads differed from those on billboards in the state from which I came

After some time intently watching the new scenery pass, I would lie down on the back seat to rest my eyes and think about what I saw.  But not for very long.  Soon, I would again be staring out the window, looking for evidence revealing the character of the place we were visiting.

The trip seemed to last almost beyond endurance, but I would calm myself by counting down the miles to Tulsa by spotting the mileage road signs. Finally, we were on the edge of the big city and faced the task of negotiating its unfamiliar streets to find the house of Ruth and her son Wayne. With some twists and turns, some wrong directions and corrections, we would find ourselves outside their house. 

Then the adventure really started. In truth, almost everything we did in Tulsa was an adventure for me. Even going to the grocery store was fun. It was much bigger than those in Fayetteville and seemed to have exotic goods (even different kinds of candy) unavailable to us at the Fayetteville Safeway or IGA. For example, one year my mother bought crackers IN A TIN CONTAINER, not the usual disposable box. We used that container to store crackers for decades and it probably can still be found in the attic.
Wayne, my Tulsa cousin, during the 1959 vacation 

Wayne and I had fun, even though he was a couple of years younger. During one of the trips, we cajoled our parents to take us to an amusement park that had rides I usually saw only in the Fall at the Washington County Fair. We rode several of them until our allotted allowance ran out.  Another time, we spent an hour or so riding the escalators in the downtown JC Penny store. That was my first ride on an escalator and I could not get enough of it. Still another time, we toured the Tulsa Zoo, my first time in a zoo. I was impressed by the peacocks.

Invariably, we went to at least one Oilers baseball game. The Oilers were the Cardinal's AA farm team in the Texas League, and we always hoped to see some future St. Louis stars at the beginning of their careers. My dad was excited, in dress pants, snapping gum, and smelling of Old Spice as we took off well before the game’s start to watch batting practice and get good seats behind the plate, protected from foul balls by screens. We would buy a program, and I would keep a scorecard of the action. Usually we would leave the game in the 8th inning to “beat the traffic,” but would listen to the final inning in the car on the ride home. The game usually ended just as we pulled in front of the house.

My dad with ducks at the Tulsa Zoo, 1959
It was at an Oiler’s game when I discovered I was nearsighted and needed glasses. My dad and Wayne could easily make out the numbers and letters on the center-field scoreboard. I couldn't  no matter how hard I squinted. Although I put it off for four or five years, I eventually yielded to the inevitable and got the glasses I needed. I think my batting average would have been higher and I would have made fewer errors in American Legion baseball if I had gotten the glasses sooner.

Ruth and Wayne, plus Crybaby, their over-sized wiener dog, were always welcoming and generous hosts. Ruth would cook what seemed like a couple dozen eggs and three dozen pieces of bacon for breakfast, then scold us for not eating it all.

Wayne was a collector and always had some exotic collection of things that I did not have, such as plastic toy soldiers. I enjoyed playing with the collections; plus we could always find an interesting game to amuse ourselves.

Time would fly when we were driving the broad, busy streets of Tulsa, and the vacation would be over much too quickly. After eating one of Ruth’s mammoth, tasty breakfasts, we would repack the car, take the sandwiches provided for a snack, and refill the jar with water and ice.  After a quick check of the oil and air pressure of the tires, and a warning to me that we would not be stopping on the drive back, we were headed to Arkansas. Usually the car trunk was a little fuller, and I had some new things to fiddle with in the back seat.  

The trip back to Fayetteville was much less interesting than the trip to Tulsa. Typically, I would lie down much of the time in the back of the car, think about what we had just done, and wait for time to pass. The vacation seemed a distant memory when, as if by instinct, I would raise my head in time to see the “Welcome to Arkansas” sign.