Sunday, June 12, 2005

Dancing and Architecture in Augusta

We did a quick trip down to Augusta, GA this weekend for the Southern Classic Feis (beware of Irish music if you follow the link!), in which my daughters were competing. Here's a quick snap of some of the hundreds of dancers there:

Of course I couldn't resist taking a short walking tour of Augusta between the reels, jigs, and hornpipes. Augusta seems a lot like Greensboro to me; a formerly industrial southern town trying to make a way for itself in a post-industrial US. Over the past 25 years, public and private entities have invested millions in improving the waterfront on the Savannah River. Here's one entrance to the river walk area:

And the walk itself looks like this:

Historical / educational plaques are all along the walkway:

And this science museum looks really impressive, though I didn't get a chance to go in:

But most of the new development I saw was going on across the river in North Augusta, SC. These houses front not only the river, but also a golf course.

Downtown Augusta is in mixed condition. I liked the juxtaposition of this fine old Victorian house, a defunct gas station from the 50's, with a 60's/70's modern high-rise behind them.

These two really nice buildings are under renovation, though just behind me as I took the photo were mostly boarded-up storefronts. I took great pains to get the lottery sign in the photo.

Greene Street downtown has very beautiful landscaped medians with a sidewalk in the middle, as well as really wide sidewalks on both sides of the streets.

Broad Street downtown also has wide sidewalks and parking even in the middle of the boulevard.

Broad St. sidewalk:

But even with plenty of parking and sidewalks, there is still a lot of underused real estate, and Augusta's downtown is struggling. The sign says, "Downtown Augusta: A Work in Progres." Good design will only take you so far, I guess.

But this department store, Ruben's, has been in business for over 100 years, and has been open at this location for 60 years:

Walking into Ruben's was like traveling back in time to my childhood. The clerks were extremely nice and were happy to let me take photos. When was the last time you saw a store that looks like this?

The gentlemens' deparment had an impressive variety of summer hats. If I didn't look completely ridiculous in them, I would have bought one.

I liked not only the architecture of this next building, but also its current use as an art-movie theater. I wish Greensboro had one.

A few older folks were enjoying this beautiful little park right in the middle of Broad St.'s median. They turned out to be Jehovah's witnesses and gave me some literature.

Considering that they were African-Americans, I found it paradoxical that they were resting comfortably next to Augusta's memorial to Confederate soldiers, which bears the following inscription:

But the south is full of such paradoxes.

A less tragic one is the Lamar Building below. Built in the 1920s, a freewheeling Augusta businessman put the glass pyramid on top of it in the 1970s, along with, at one point, a 34-foot cross (now removed). I. M. Pei, one of the foremost architects of the 20th century, was the designer of the glass addition, but somehow I doubt that he put this creation (dubbed "the toaster" by locals) in the front of his portfolio. My wife says it looks like something from Power Rangers that's about to transform into an evil robotic villain.



The Grunkle Guru said...


My parents live across the river in Aiken, SC, and my wife and I have made a few trips to downtown Augusta. What has always surprised me in that town is the very wide economic divide. The town is known for the Masters, and I believe make a majority of their tax income with that one week.

They have some good things going for them, but I do think Greensboro is much further along with its revitalization.

If you ever go back down check out Nick's Pizza on Broad Street. Great food!

David Wharton said...

GG, it seemed that way to me, too -- Greensboro's downtown is in much better shape. It occurred to me that it might be because G'boro's downtown is so much more compact: Augusta's downtown was huge, making it harder to focus renewal efforts.

Thanks for the food tip. I'm sure we'll be back for next year's feis.

jimcaserta said...

If you're looking for an "art-movie theater", try the Stevens Center in Winston. The Films on Fourth series plays there.

Mike in DC said...

I used to live in Augusta ('95-'98). YOu did a nice job of capturing the charm & decay & slight weirdness (for lack of a better term) of the downtown area. It is sad how that city can't do better economically, given that the Master's is just up the street.

Did you know that Woodrow Wilson's boyhood home was in one of the grand old Victorians just down Greene St from downtown? It's now a rather run down Af-american neighborhood.