Why Historical Accuracy Matters

If you read the newspaper, you probably came across Midtown Montgomery resident Jim Yeaman’s letter to the editor in a recent Montgomery Independent in which he decried the renovation taking place at 78 Dexter Ave. His issues were two: the obvious ADA issues (a column planted smack dab in the midst of a handicapped-access curb cut!) and the appearance of the thing. You can read his letter in the image here, or download it as a PDF here.

No one is more eager than I to see the Dexter Avenue restoration succeed. When I moved here in 1964 as a youngster, Dexter was the commercial hub of the city and it throbbed with activity. To see it alive with people and businesses again is a fond hope of mine.

And that’s why I’m hoping beyond hope that the “City Fathers” and the preservation community can get together and make the 78 Dexter project “right.” Because “rightness” is what has made so many Southern cities extremely desirable tourist destinations.

Savannah, Charleston, and New Orleans all number among their treasured sources of revenue hundreds of thousands (millions?) of dollars in taxes charged to folks who don’t even live there but come to see things as they really once were. Heritage tourism is BIG BUSINESS and given her history with the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery stands poised to profit big-time. But we’ve got to get it right.

Preservation and history-minded tourists are a picky bunch. We want authenticity, not a Disney-esque interpretation of history. Restore your historic areas accurately and we will come and leave lots of money behind. According to the U.S. Travel Association, heritage tourism contributed $7.9 BILLION to the U.S. economy in 2010 alone! (read the PDF fact sheet here)

Get it wrong and we’ll pass you by, simple as that. I, for one, would rather see no “restoration” at all than see something that doesn’t work. Bad restorations “make my teeth hurt.”

So I’m imploring all the parties — the building owner, the contractor, the tenant-to-be and all the folks at City Hall to set aside their differences. This is not about one person’s impression of beauty. It’s about being true to the past so that we can all benefit in the future.

At the onset of the project, there was a rendering showing 78 Dexter with a fabulous redo. Please folks, please please take that as the guide and make 78 Dexter the inspiration for all that will follow not a bitter disappointment.

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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There Are 2 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Jay Croft says:

    Amen, Sister Sandra!

    I’m a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Improved Accessibility. This topic was brought up at its recent meeting. I could not believe that the city officials could make such a blunder, so after the meeting I went to check it out.

    Indeed it’s a blunder in the most insensitive and ignorant way. It’s an affront not only architecturally but to anyone who has or will have a disability. That means all of us!

    What is wrong with the people who approved this project and then arrogantly defended their decision in the newspaper? Should they even be on the city payroll?

  2. Jim Yeaman says:

    Thank you, Sandra. I sense that no one is listening at City Hall. Such a shame.

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