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Hattiesburg's architectural treasure.

Everyone in Hattiesburg knows the place where an art deco arch opens to a grid of tree-lined streets dabbled with terra cotta tile roofs on stucco cottages. Many of these homes have architectural details popular in Hollywood homes built in the 1920s. A breeze wafting through the azaleas and dogwoods, carrying laughter from children on a school playground reminds passersby that it may look like California, but this unusual neighborhood is Parkhaven, Hattiesburg's oldest subdivision.

"Not a day goes by that my wife and I don't talk about Parkhaven," said Gene Ford, a historical consultant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Gene and Linda Ford extensively surveyed the district to assess its historical and architectural significance. Ford marveled about the district, summing up his impressions in one word.


Parkhaven, Hattiesburg's first planned subdivision begun in 1922, consists of more than 44 residences that contribute to the character of the historic district. Ford said there is nothing else like it in Mississippi or Alabama. The unusual collection of Spanish Mediterranean, Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival, and Native American influenced architecture is "very exceptional," Ford said, not just because it is the only subdivision of its type in Mississippi, but also because the homes and wide lawns are well preserved. The structures maintain historical integrity and the landscape matured ideally, Ford said.

"The survey report done by consultants Gene and Linda Ford put down in print what many of us had already observed--that Parkhaven and its collection of distinctive and eclectic style cottages is unique in Hattiesburg," said Linda McMurtrey, historic preservation planner for the city of Hattiesburg.

"In fact, it's unique in the state and perhaps in Southeastern United States. Parkhaven isn't just about architecture, however, it's about planning--a planned community with big lots, deep setbacks, large garden areas, distinctive plantings--all of which are essentially intact after all these years," McMurtrey said.

"All the appealing elements--the architectural variations still in their original forms, the red tile roofs, the broad expanses of lawns and gardens--make up an almost irresistible package, a neighborhood that has the same powerful draw to the homeowner in 2002 as it did in the 1920s when it was developed by M.M. Simmons. The fact that the entry to the neighborhood is marked by a one-of-a-kind lighted, stucco archway is just one of those delightful bonuses that come along so rarely," McMurtrey said.

The district is being considered for National Historic Landmark status. "This nomination came about as a result of an architectural-historic survey, funded in part by a grant from the state Department of Archives and History and conducted in the spring of 2001. Survey results and recommendations went to the Archives and History for review and have been sent to the department Board of Trustees. That body will review the nomination at their May meeting and make a recommendation to the National Park Service, U.S. Department of Interior. Normally, the National Park Service follows the recommendation of the state office," said McMurtrey.

Parkhaven was built west of Hattiesburg and east of the University of Southern Mississippi. In the 1920s, that was the edge of town. The growth of the past century has now placed Parkhaven in the middle of the city along with Kamper Park Zoo and USM. City directories list the earliest Parkhaven residents as upper middle-income professionals. That demographic remains pretty true, with many university professors, lawyers, and upper level managers owning these homes now.

M.M. "Punch" Simmons began his subdivision in 1922 and built his own home circa 1925 where Roger and Lida McDowell now live. The two-story brick home is Spanish Eclectic with Tudor Revival characteristics. A round tower with a tent roof forms one corner of the house. The asphalt tiles might be mistaken for slate at first glance.

"Punch Simmons just did what he wanted to do," said Lida McDowell. The man loved courtyards so much, he put a tiled fountain in the front foyer, iron gates to the living room entrance, and an inside balcony where musicians played during parties. Trees even grew through columns in the round foyer, as Simmons intended.

Another contributing resource to the district is the home of David Ott, also built around 1925. One of the most notable features of this one and one-half story, stucco clad Spanish Eclectic home is the terra cotta roof. Wide, handcrafted windows on the northwest corner of the house are another distinctive detail.

"The living room and dining room are the focal point for entertaining," said Nancy Ferguson Van Temple, Hattiesburg interior decorator. "It's a great house. It makes a circle."

Van Temple, who decorated the home to reflect Ott's personality, said the original formal mantel in the living room and the hardwood floors were elements to accentuate. While the home has been remodeled, Van Temple kept the unusual architectural motifs, highlighting them by using gold tones and silk drapery. The furniture is contemporary and functional, while reflecting the arches and curves of the architecture. One of the homeowner's favorite places in the house is in one corner of the living room where a grand piano sits underneath a painting by Hattiesburg artist Amy Giust, titled Evening Concerto.

Parkhaven is very popular with its residents, especially Anita Stamper. "I wouldn't want to live anywhere else," said Stamper, who lives in one of the original Parkhaven homes, the J.F. Brown House. Like many of the homes in Parkhaven, the residence has stucco walls, a multiple gable roof, and a porch with arches.

"When I first started walking in the neighborhood, from somewhere I could smell sweet olives. It was the most wonderful aroma. It burned into my memory," said Stamper.

A woman dedicated to the practice of consciously formulating memories, Stamper has created a well-loved corner garden in Parkhaven that carries the sweet olive scent and a plethora of others to neighbors walking by. She plants narcissus along the sidewalk bordering her property for the schoolchildren to pick on their way home from school. It is possible that children on the playground at Woodley Elementary School have smelled the columbine and other year-round scents that float in from Stamper's garden without realizing where they came from. Years from now, those children may be somewhere else and catch a whiff of sweet olive and not be able to remember why the smell reminds them of school days.

Greg and Leigh Ann Underwood are among Parkhaven's newest homeowners. "We live on the prettiest avenue of the avenues, said Leigh Ann. "It has a unique style of homes and so many unique people who care. We wanted to live in town and we wanted to live somewhere with sidewalks. We wanted a home we could grow into."

While some friends advised the Underwoods to be cautious before buying an older home, the young couple has been pleased with their remodeled, three-bedroom home. "We walked in and it was ready. The kitchen and bathroom were redone. I have a garden bathroom just like my friends west of town," Leigh Ann said.

"Parkhaven is one of those rare gems that makes the city special," said Thomas Hardy, president of the Parkhaven Neighborhood Association. Thanks to the homeowners in this rare segment of town, it isn't likely that Parkhaven's endearing character will change any time soon.
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Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:art deco cottages in Mississippi city
Author:Wells, Valerie
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Geographic Code:1U6MS
Date:May 1, 2002
Previous Article:Where in Mississippi is... Rosedale? (Small-Town Spotlight).
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