Look closely and you will see not a damaged and decrepit Mississippi River town, but the anguish and despair of inner-city neighborhoods across the United States. — Steve Goldstein for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 19, 1992.
Helena, Arkansas, in the 1980s was a struggling Mississippi River port town when city leaders embarked on an ambitious economic turnaround using blues music and history as its foundation. I first visited Helena in the early stages of this “revitalization” during the spring of 1988 while working as a folklorist for the State of Arkansas. Results of some of my research there were published in a 1992 Southern Folklore article, “The Helena Blues: Cultural Tourism and African-American Folk Music.”
Ethnomusicology was the basis for my work in Helena and the subsequent article. Concepts like displacement and gentrification weren’t on my radar screen as I turned ethnographic experiences into written accounts. More than 25 years later I look back on Helena’s efforts to jumpstart its economy and the social engineering that went into turning the city away from its industrial past and towards its tourism-based future and I see the forces reshaping cities around the world in play in the Mississippi Delta. Continue reading
Update: Read the Fall 2014 Society for Industrial Archeology Newsletter article on the effort to save the Trio building: Social Media and Shoe Leather Save Historic Dry Cleaning Plant.
Trio Steam Laundry dry cleaning building shortly after its construction. Credit: The Atlanta Georgian Sept. 26, 1910.
The two-story brick former Trio Laundry Dry Cleaning Building is located in Atlanta, Georgia’s gentrifying Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. It was constructed in 1910 in a light industrial district that included a shoe factory, mattress manufacturers, and machine works.
The Trio Steam Laundry Company was was Atlanta’s first large-scale commercial laundry business. In the summer of 2014 city contractors began demolishing Trio’s dry-cleaning building and community activists organized and mobilized to save the historic building. Read about their efforts in my new History@Work piece, “New Tools, Old Tactics Deployed to Save a Historic Atlanta Building.”
North facade with “Save Me” written across it, Aug. 2014.
Original Trio Steam Laundry Company building (built 1905) at 19 Hilliard Street across from the dry cleaning building. The building was sold in 1945 to the Atlanta Brush Company and in the 1990s it was converted into lofts. Photo Aug. 2014.
A construction worker loads part of the building’s crumbled cornice into a front end loader Aug. 29, 2014.
Affordable housing was one person’s wish for the former Trio building’s adaptive use.
© 2014 D.S. Rotenstein