This old house is gettin' shaky, this old house is gettin' old. But not if Tommy Jameson can help it.
"It's great to save something," Jameson says.
The Little Rock architect is this year's winner of the Parker Westbrook Award for lifetime achievement in historic preservation. Jameson will receive the honor from Preserve Arkansas at the statewide organization's awards dinner on Jan. 19 in Little Rock.
Named for one of the state's best-known preservationists, the Westbrook Award has been an annual presentation since 1981. Previous winners include former Arkansas Gov. and U.S. Sen. David Pryor (1996), Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola (2007) and last year's winner, history writer and researcher Cheri Nichols.
Nichols nominated the silver-haired, trim-bearded Jameson for his work on "some of the finest preservation projects across the state." Her recommendation of Jameson for the Westbrook Award cited the Abrams House in Little Rock and the Jacob Wolf House in Norfork.
"He also has been the architect for most of the work that my husband and I have done at our house" in Little Rock's historic Quapaw Quarter, Nichols says. "From personal experience, I know that he is passionate about preservation, dedicated to doing things correctly, but also pragmatic about what is, and isn't, affordable."
The Abrams House is a 1904 residence turned run-down apartment rental by the time Jameson acquired it almost 20 years ago. Restored to a sweet yellow-with-white-trim exterior, converted to office use, it is home to Jameson's five-person firm, Jameson Architects P.A. (project architect). Otherwise, he imagines, "it would be a parking lot."
"If I have a man cave," he says, "it's my office." In charge of his own business since 1996, he has learned to think of loose time as "12 hours work a day -- but any 12 hours."
The two-story Jacob Wolf House is generally regarded the oldest public structure in Arkansas, built of logs in 1829. Its restoration called for know-how that Jameson hadn't found out as an architecture student at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.
Namely: how to fix the makings of this classic "dog trot," a two-part cabin with a breezeway in the middle for a bit of territorial-style air-conditioning.
"I didn't know logs," Jameson says. The exact way that logs were put together more than a century ago, who did?
Information on frontier log construction was so hard to find, Jameson's answer was to organize a workshop on the subject in order to have one to attend.
Wolf House received the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas' award for excellence in restoration, 2004, and stands as the state's last remaining territorial courthouse.
"I certainly was challenged by it," Jameson remembers. But it led him to several other log construction projects, including a rustic retreat of his own.
More of Jameson's projects include the 1846 Taylor House at Hollywood Plantation in Drew County, and the 1902 Henderson House Bed and Breakfast at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. He is architect-on-call for the Delta Cultural Center in Helena.
"He has worked on so many important historic preservation projects across Arkansas that it's difficult to single out just one or two, " Nichols says.
Considering, as well, Jameson's volunteer work for preservation groups including the Quapaw Quarter Association (of which she is past director) and Little Rock Historic District Commission, she considers the award "very long overdue."
Maybe so, but one thing a preservationist learns is patience.
"I do things nice and slow," Jameson says, "methodically."
HOUSE OF CHORDS
Rosemary Clooney sang "This Ole [Old] House" in 1954. The song could have wafted over Jameson's crib as it played on the radio.
This old house was home and shelter as we fought the storms of life: the lyric is likely as any explanation for where he got the idea of fixing old properties.
"I just happened into preservation," he says.
Jameson credits his high school guidance counselor in Malvern for suggesting that he take up architecture. A smart young man who liked to draw, who also liked to build things, just might have a future drawing house plans.
If only, that is, the prospective home designer could think of something besides his '67 red Camaro, gassed up thanks to an after-school job at Safeway.
"My dad was a banker, but he always had some kind of home improvement project going on," Jameson says, "and I was drafted to help." He learned the ways of the handyman from "banging away on things with my dad."
His artist mother's influence lingers in Jameson's habit of pencil-sketching ideas. Today's architect has software in place of yesterday's tilted board and eraser crumbs. But Jameson still finds that, "sometimes, I can explain things better in a sketch than with words."
Summers during college, he worked construction to gain "first-hand experience in how to put a building together. I dug ditches. Poured concrete. I was a welder's helper, a carpenter's helper."
It seemed a mere whim that made him sign up for an elective course on preservation and restoration. But the idea stuck like mortar, and the newly graduated Jameson bought his first old house to work on: a 1906 Colonial Revival on Scott Street in Little Rock.
"I worked on that place for seven years," he says. "The more I did, the more I learned."
Jameson went into business for himself with almost 20 years' general experience and a singular talent he had acquired along the way. An architect more commonly pictures something new. A preservationist looks at the wreck of an old building and imagines how to make it last.
"A preservation architect must not only correctly embrace architectural history," says Jameson's friend, Eldon Bock, principal and chief operating officer at WER Architects/Planners in Little Rock. "They must also embody the thrill of discovery and be open minded enough to allow a structure to tell its own story."
The job requires "great passion and dedication to truly listen to a structure's story," Bock says, "because often times it comes as a whisper."
Add the requirement of a mind for details, and "Tommy has all of these qualities and wears them on his sleeve. His approach to the work is infectious to those around him," Bock says, "and I venture his efforts have seeded a larger group of passionate 'historians' than this state would have had otherwise."
"Ain't a-gonna need this house no longer," the song goes, but not everybody joins the chorus.
Yes, it would be nice to see that old place restored -- that gingerbread Victorian, that hulk that used to be a busy department store, so many memories, that old vaudeville theater.
But time and money can run into years and even millions of dollars for big restorations. The result has to be more than a pretty sight to drive by.
"You've got to use a building," Jameson says, and sorts his work into three main categories -- three ways to give a building new life and purpose:
RESTORATION:THE HOUSE RULES
"Restoration" means more than spiffed up. The architect holds to a much tighter definition: to bring a place back to a specific time in the past, called the "date of interpretation."
This date "guides all the other decisions," he says. If the date is 1904, for example, then the architect becomes like a time traveler going back to that year. He must know for certain what kind of nails, what kind of paint would have been used in 1904. And more: how did the building look inside and out, perfectly to museum standards as it did when it made history.
Blueprints would tell many of the answers, but old buildings generally weren't drawn up by architects, Jameson says. They were built by somebody who had built one like that before.
The preservationist turns to old family photos and drawings that show the property, city directories, insurance maps, tax records, probate records that tell what people owned, old newspaper advertisements that depict how proudly stores and office buildings looked before time took a hammer to them.
Everything has to be right. History is watching.
REHABILITATION:MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME
Rehabilitation retains the look of an old building. But this plan updates the mechanics to modern, code-compliant standards, so people can live and work there.
Jameson's rehabilitions include the 1911 Monroe County Courthouse in Clarendon, the 1910 Dallas County Courthouse in Fordyce, and the 1935 Old Scott County Courthouse in Waldron.
ADAPTIVE REUSE:CLEAN HOUSE
"You keep the good stuff and add to it," Jameson says.
Example: the 1900 Fulk Building in downtown Little Rock. Jameson's design retained the 21,000-square-foot building's original wood ceilings, iron columns and plaster walls, while transforming its use from the open space of a military surplus store to the offices and conference rooms of an advertising agency.
FAITHFUL FACSIMILE:LIKE A HOUSE ON FIRE
Jameson coined this category to describe just one job, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock. The 1913 building's rehabilitation was underway when it caught fire in 2005.
"It was like losing family," he says. "I had worked on that building for three years, and I went through a period of mourning after the building burned."
The fire also seemed to have burned the prospect of a state museum devoted to black history in Arkansas. But the Department of Arkansas Heritage elected to rebuild, and Jameson started over with a vision "close but not exact" to the original Mosaic Templars fraternal society headquarters.
His new plans specified such details as custom-ordered bricks the same size as the originals.
HOME, SVELTE HOME
Jameson and his wife, Christy Kalder, Producers Rice Mill director of marketing, are at home in a flat-roofed, 1930s Art Moderne home in Little Rock.
Outside, the Art Deco-inspired residence looks transposed to Arkansas from a setting of California palms; and inside, it's easy to imagine Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall descending the stairway in stylish silhouette against sunlight through glass blocks.
"When we first got here," Jameson says, " I thought, this is a place I could stay for the rest of my life."
It has been 32 years so far, half his age -- long enough to be empty-nested. Son Kalder ("Kauley"), 24, is an industrial engineer, and daughter Alycia Clare, 19, a college sophomore.
He remembers the house "in a sort of decayed elegance" when they found it. "There hadn't been a lot done with it since the 1960s. There were multiple layers of wallpaper."
And now -- is that a tiny spot on the ceiling? Bogie wouldn't notice, but Jameson is on it.
BRING IT ON HOME
Preserve Arkansas Executive Director Rachel Patton rates Jameson a prize-winner as "a talented architect, and he is really good with people. He is straightforward, fair, and has a good sense of humor -- that's why everybody likes him."
"Tommy's meticulous work on the restoration of antebellum log structures is extremely significant," she says, citing also the 1828 Rice-Upshaw House, from the stone foundation to the chimney top; and 1832 Looney-French Tavern in Randolph County.
Besides, he is the go-to guy for asking, "How much will it cost to fix X-Y-Z on this building?," she says. "And he is always willing to take a look."
Jameson looks back on dozens of news-making preservation projects around the state, but finds himself stumped like a log to pick a favorite.
"They're like kids. You love 'em all," he says, "especially when people appreciate your work. And I have multiples like that."
The 2017 Arkansas Preservation Awards dinner will start with a 5:30 p.m. reception on Jan. 19 at Albert Pike Memorial Temple in Little Rock. The Parker Westbrook Award is one of 20 history-related awards to be presented during the event. Tickets are $128.60 general admission, $256.93 single patron. More information is available at preservearkansas.org, or by calling (501) 372-4757.
• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: Dec. 3, 1953, in Searcy -- because Bald Knob didn't have a hospital.
• THE HOUSE I LIVE IN IS: Art Moderne (an architectural style related to 1930s Art Deco era). It's unique. There are very few like it in Little Rock.
• SOMETHING THAT NEEDS FIXING IN MY HOUSE RIGHT NOW IS: The floors need refinishing.
• IF I HADN'T BEEN AN ARCHITECT, I WOULD HAVE BECOME: I think a commercial artist.
• I WOULD LIKE TO GO DOWN IS HISTORY AS: Someone who has contributed to Arkansas' architectural legacy.
• THE HARDEST KIND OF OLD BUILDING TO RESTORE IS: Tall.
• SOMETIMES, I SEE A PLACE THAT JUST NEEDS TO BE TORN DOWN: Yeah, but it's usually a newer place, rather than historical.
• TRUE OR FALSE, THEY DON'T MAKE 'EM LIKE THEY USED TO: True. Absolutely.
• IF I COULD LIVE AT ANY TIME IN THE PAST, IT WOULD BE: It would have been fun to live in the 1920s, that was such a rollicking time.
• I SEE GHOSTS IN OLD BUILDINGS (A) NEVER, (B) SOMETIMES OR (C) ALWAYS: Never. I don't have a strong belief in the supernatural. I'm a little too much bricks and mortar.
• MY FAVORITE COLOR OF WALL PAINT IS: Sherwin-Williams Urban Putty. It's very neutral. It goes with just about any other color.
• THE PERSON WHO TAUGHT ME THE MOST WAS: Charles Witsell (founder of WER Architects/Planners in Little Rock, and one of Jameson's first employers). I spent 15 years working under him.
• MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY IN A RESTORED DINING ROOM WOULD BE: Not Frank Lloyd Wright, not any other famous architects -- it would be my family and my mother and father. I think how neat it would be to have Mom and Dad back.
• WHAT THE PARKER WESTBROOK AWARD MEANS TO ME IS: It's the icing on the cake of my career.
• ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE ME: Blessed.
High Profile on 12/17/2017
Print Headline: Thomas Ladd Jameson Jr.; Architect Tommy Jameson lives his passion for award-winning historic preservation: Use the building after you’ve saved it from demolition.