Heritage alive, well in Pine Bluff


I was pleased to read your recent editorial supporting historic preservation and promoting awareness of Pine Bluff’s rich architectural legacy. Heritage tourism is an important and growing segment of the tourism market, and Pine Bluff is engaged in a long-term plan to better preserve and promote its architectural and cultural assets.

Many people may not know, but Pine Bluff participates in the Certified Local Government program administered by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. To join the program, the City Council passed a preservation ordinance in 2006. This ordinance created the framework for promoting historic preservation and established the Historic District Commission to guide this effort. Our commissioners are committed citizens who care deeply about our shared architectural legacy and devote their time to its preservation.

The commission’s website at http://www.cityofpinebluff.com/historic1.htm contains information describing the commission and its activities. Maps of our two locally designated historic districts are available, along with a list of all the structures in Pine Bluff listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Fifth Avenue Historic District design guidelines are posted for the public’s reference. The Downtown Historic District guidelines will soon be posted for public review later this month.

The commission oversees development in these districts. The Fifth Avenue Historic District was designated in 2006 and is located on parts of Fourth and Fifth Avenues from Beech west to Poplar. It contains late 19th to early 20th century residential structures. Here the commission is working with the city’s Economic & Community Development department to rehabilitate the Civil War-era Boone-Murphy House. When completed, it will be headquarters for the Historic District Commission and for preservation activities in Pine Bluff. The city received a grant for a Civil War Sesquicentennial marker to place here explaining the important role this house and Pine Bluff played in the War.

The Downtown Historic District was designated in 2011. This gives the commission review authority over proposed changes to the exterior appearance of buildings in the district as well as all new construction. The goal is to ensure that rehabilitation work and new construction enhances the historic character of our downtown.

Mayor Carl Redus Jr., with the council’s cooperation, secured city and state funding and began repairs to the roof of the landmark Saenger Theater. The city has taken ownership of the theater to facilitate further grant funding. Work continues with additional state and local funding for additional roof and masonry repairs and a structural engineering assessment of the building. We anticipate additional grant funding to further secure the structure so we may continue the longer range effort to redevelop the theater and return it to use as an entertainment venue. Efforts are under way at Grider Field to have the barracks building and the three remaining hangars from WWII listed on the National Register. These efforts are part of a longer-range project to develop a museum in the former barracks building.

Preservation efforts are not limited to city government. The Arkansas Railroad Museum continues work on the rehabilitation of its facility on Port Road and the restoration of its valuable collection. Work continues on the Honnet-Barrow House at Fifth Avenue & Elm in the Fifth Avenue Historic District. George Makris and MK Distributors are putting the finishing touches on their extensive rehabilitation of the DuBocage House at Fourth Avenue & Cherry Streets.

Looking forward, the commission has several items on its agenda. It has received funding from the state for additional signage identifying the downtown historic district by placing “signtoppers” atop street signs throughout the district to raise awareness of the district. We are considering development of architectural walking tours with pamphlets describing routes and important sights to be seen. Pine Bluff’s also a member of the Arkansas Downtown Network. In October, consultants from that program will provide design assistance to building owners in the Downtown Historic District to improve the appearance of historic structures in our downtown as part of the City’s Model Block program.

Anyone may attend our meetings, which are held on the third Friday of each month at 3 p.m. in the Mayor’s Conference Room, City Hall, 200 E. 8th Avenue.

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Robert Tucker is the Historic District Commission administrator for the city of Pine Bluff.