Bob Abbott has long been appreciated for his efforts in helping to restore and preserve historic Pine Bluff sites. After Saturday, he’ll forever be remembered for his endeavors.
Abbott — primarily recognized for having purchased and restored the 902 West Fourth Avenue birthplace of Watergate heroine Martha Beall Mitchell — received the first-ever Pine Bluff Historic District Commission Lifetime Achievement Award in a “Cotton Row” reception at 220 West Barraque Street. The glass prize is named in Abbott’s honor and features his likeness, so future Bob Abbott Award winners may be aware of the level of their achievements.
Abbott said that when he bought the two-story residence, which was built around 1887, he didn’t fully appreciate the potential of the site as a national tourist attraction. But he said he’s since realized that the house — which is on the National Register of Historic Places — probably rates as the most historically significant in the city.
HDC Chairwoman Dee Herring Gatlin’s admiration and affection for Abbott was obvious. “He’s done so many things without acknowledgement,” Gatlin said of Abbott. “I love him.”
Three other first-ever HDC awards were presented.
Billie Robinson and Ernie Wallis received the Award for Preservation Reporting in the Media on behalf of the Jefferson County Historical Society Quarterly publication, now in its 40th year. Robinson praised Wallis, the widow of former Pine Bluff mayor Dave Wallis, as “being in charge of everything” for the group and its popular publication and able to do so much at the age of 85. Wallis didn’t reveal Robinson’s age, but credited Robinson for “making sure I do things right.”
Jack Stradley and his wife, Kathy Majewska, shared the Award for Preservation Rehabilitation of a Private Residence for restoration of their two-story home at 817 West Fifth Avenue. The couple related their sometimes-humorous experiences in bringing the structure back from near-decay to its original, 1877 splendor.
Duke Fakouri represented George Makris’ MK Distributors, which received the Award for Preservation Rehabilitation for Commercial Use. Makris is underwriting the restoration of the landmark Du Bocage House at West Fourth Avenue and Linden Street. The two-story residence was constructed in 1866 and eventually became a showplace site for the Pine Bluff Optimist Club. It later fell into disrepair before Makris stepped up to revive it. The MK Distributors plant is nearby. Fakouri said Makris hopes to have an open house once renovation is complete.
Pine Bluff Planning and Zoning Department Director Robert Tucker, who consults and aids the HDC, spoke on the panel’s history and some current efforts in helping to preserve the city’s history. Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. told the audience of about 50 persons that the commission “has made great strides since its inception in 2006” and said the city is proud to have shared in the efforts to “stabilize” the old downtown Saenger Theatre “with continued repairs.”
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program Certified Local Government Coordinator Patricia Blick spoke on the importance of HDC’s works and its recognition of individuals, groups and companies that contribute to maintaining and restoring historic sites.
Gail Wade of Hot Springs discussed potential investments in historic sites here — including the century-old and long-empty Hotel Pines on Main Street — by her firm, Affordable Apartment Living. Wade said she is looking at “senior living, not assisted living” quarters at The Pines, along some “affordable living” units and businesses. She said that some hotel rooms could be made available for visitors as well,
She termed The Pines restoration as a “monstrous” project and said developers “would have to take baby steps” in their efforts. She stressed that grants and other funding, including federal housing vouchers through the city, would be a necessity for the renovation to occur.