Planned Catfish Row museum up for National Register

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, April 17, 2014

The chance at public dollars for enhancements has the former Monte Carlo building in the running to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.

A March 21 letter from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to the Warren County Board of Supervisors says the Mississippi National Register of Historic Places Review Board approved a nomination for the 103-year-old building at Washington and Jackson streets.

“We’re very excited over the nomination, and we’re waiting to see if it will be added to the National Register,” building owner Linda Fondren said. “We’re also applying for (Mississippi) landmark status so we can be eligible for state grants as well.”

Nancy Bell, executive director of the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, said officials could learn this month if the building is named to the register. She said the nomination “means the state and federal governments believe the building is a historically and architecturally significant building to Vicksburg.”

She said owners of buildings on the national register can take advantage of certain tax incentives if they wish to rehabilitate their building, and can apply for grants.

Bell said the state landmark designation would allow Fondren to apply for special grants, but added owners of landmark buildings are restricted by state regulations that control changes to landmark-designated structures.

“If owners of a landmark building want to do any work in the building’s interior or exterior, they have to get permission from (state) Archives and History,” she said. “That’s done to protect the architectural and historic integrity of the building.”

A landmark designation, she said, stays with the building forever. “It cannot be torn down without permission from Archives and History,” she said.

The building was built in 1911 for Christian and Burroughs Co., which built wagons and carriages. It was later occupied by a car dealership, which stayed in the building until the late 1920s, and later became a 7-Up bottling plant until the 1960s.

It was turned into a nightclub owned jointly by Joe Farris and Jesse Smith and called the Monte Carlo, which gained notoriety as a dance hall that booked regional and national rhythm and blues acts in the 1970s and ’80s.

The building deteriorated, and in 2007 the city razed the north section of the building, which was damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Fondren, who runs Shape Up Sisters fitness center and ran for mayor last year, and her husband, James, bought it in December 2011 from Malcolm Carson for $240,000. Carson had bought the building in 2010 from Farris, a Vicksburg native who now lives in California, and owned the building for 40 years.

The Fondrens want to put a restaurant on the building’s first floor and a multicultural museum and interpretive center on the building’s second floor. Fondren has said the museum will be called the Catfish Row Museum and feature exhibits on the area’s history, culture and people.

Shape Up Mississippi, the Fondrens nonprofit charity organization, raised $500,000 for the building to pay for initial improvements. Fondren then sought help from the community, state and local governments and corporations.

In October, Fondren transferred the building’s title to Shape Up Mississippi to make the project eligible for grants.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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