Panache: a word of French origin that carries the connotation
Sunday, September 3, 2011
It may be a stretch to describe a building that is anchored to mother earth and unmoving as exuding panache in the true sense of the word — but as a comparative term, it works just fine. I'm referring to the nooks, crannies, and visual excitement of structures raised in the Victorian to early twentieth century era versus the sterile slabs of steel, glass, and concrete that pervade the corporate and government landscape of today.
My aim isn't to launch barbs of universal condemnation on contemporary buildings. My venom is directed only at those "formula" piles that deserve it.
Sandwiched between the old post office and the former home of our local Chevy dealer, Smart Chevrolet, is the now empty Post Office Lunchery, a friendly little bistro that earned a loyal following, including the "Telephone Girls" of the 40s and 50s. The Southwestern Bell office at the time was across the street from the post office. I am told the proprietor of the Lunchery produced a ham sandwich that was second to none. With the move of the post office, the Chevy dealership, and the phone company, the bistro's constituency diminished, and as would be expected, it was curtains for the Lunchery. Now its highest and best function seems to be as a trellis for poison ivy.
The old Chevy dealership next door to the post office in downtown Pine Bluff had its touches of panache, too. A surviving doorway is framed by strong molding and topped by a round window, which was (unfortunately) the exit point for the last resident's gas appliance vent. An old fire-hydrant valve in front of the door is marked 1922. Poison ivy has also taken up residence on the old dealership.
Now a shell of its former self, the old Chevy dealership still shows off with this ornate doorway. Regardless of the protruding vent, the classy look lingers, a subtle expression of architectural superiority that mocks the monotonous entryways we encounter today.
Just down the street stands the Saenger Theater, which opened its doors in 1924 and is now on life-support. A local group is raising awareness and money to save the structure. Their Facebook page boasts 1,650-plus member-friends as of this date. The old building still exudes some remaining fragments of the theatrical panache that characterized first-class movie theaters of the era. The preservation task at this point is daunting, but not impossible. See the link below to Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind for additional new pictures of the Saenger.
The exterior of the old Saenger Theater remains in relatively good condition. This is one of two identical capitals for faux-columns at the corners of the front of the building.
The probabilities of seeing new buildings blessed with the former panache we love so much are slim nowadays. In that light, taking notice of what's left of the crumbling inventory becomes more and more important. Go take a look — here and wherever else you may be.
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Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog. — J. D.