Architects restore S.N. Thomas’ Sons

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Published: April 23,2001

JACKSON — After searching Fondren and downtown Jackson for a historical building to renovate for the city, the architectural firm of Canizaro Cawthon Davis finally found one that fit the bill.

Located at 129 South President Street, the old S.N. Thomas’ Sons Wholesale building became home to the firm in 2000.

“The most important thing was to retain the integrity of the old building and not lose sight of the historical fabric we were all excited about,” said Steve Davis, AIA, a partner in the firm.

The firm decided to make the move after their old offices at 733 North State Street became too small. They even considered moving into the old theatre in Fondren, but it was purchased before they could get to it.

It took a lot of effort on the part of partners Bob Canizaro, FAIA, Danny Cawthon, AIA, and Davis, and the rest of the firm to restore the old Wholesale building, but, Davis said, it was all worth it in the end.

The building already has tentative approval to be on the historical registry, pending the completion of the restoration.

“What this taught us a little more strongly was that all the numbers have to work; budgets have to be met and decisions have to be made,” Davis said. “We’ve done some fairly historical renovations before. I think it was just a matter of living with it until it was complete.”

The entire renovation process began in April 2000 and by Aug. 15, 2000 the firm had already moved in.

In November, construction had almost been completed.

But a lot had to be done in the process.

“We had to redo the air conditioning, the water, put a new roof on, and new exit stairs had to be put in to meet fire codes,” Davis said. In addition, the firm also installed a fire alarm and sprinkler system.

The nice thing about it from our point of view was it was always a mercantile building so the character of the building really wasn’t harmed.”

The interior space was simple; there was no elaborate molding. This was as opposed to the renovation of the Millsaps Buie House, which Davis said was much more difficult because elements such as a sprinkler system had to be implemented while keeping the original look of the house.

A lot has changed over the 119 years since the Spengler family purchased the land at 129 S. President. Over the years the building has served as Bowers Brothers Dry Goods, General Merchants (1910), Maloney Brothers Dry Goods and Grocery Store (1910), a meeting place for members of the Masonic Lodge (1914), S.N. Thomas Department Store and Knights of Columbus Hall (1916) and Southern Business College (1917). It was also used by Jackson Dry Goods and Thomas Dry Goods Company in 1922, then by Thomas Department Store and Thomas Dry Goods Company in 1925 and finally by Smith Furniture Company in 1934.

In 1935 Smith Furniture Company closed and the entire building, with the exception of the Lodge meeting area, operated as S.N. Thomas’ Sons Wholesale. Four years later in 1939, the main floor of the building was remodeled and maple flooring was installed at a cost of $750.

Davis laughed at the cost then of the installation of the maple flooring.

“It cost us about 20 times that just to refinish it,” he said. In fact, the cost to restore the building, including purchases, was around $1.8 million.

“We learned a lot,” Davis said. “We were our own owner, developer, architects. We learned how it is to sit on the other side of the table.” And, he added, “We think it’s (the renovation of the building is) a benefit to the city.”

Through the renovation project, Canizaro Cawthon Davis has found some pretty amazing things. Old Masonic symbols were uncovered during the process, and Davis said one thing that has been fun was hanging old advertisements and posters the Thomas family gave them.

“We’re trying to incorporate some of their history into our practice,” Davis said. Men’s unitard underwear was even donated to the firm, and it now hangs under glass in the mezzanine.

Davis hopes people who attend the May 17 open house and ribbon cutting ceremony will leave with a new respect for the architecture of their own buildings.

“Maybe it will show them there are creative ways to do things that are not the usual solution,” he said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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