This Old House story ends happily, and happily ends

First Posted: 2/20/2009

As I sit here at the keyboard today, it is with a heart full of gladness over the fact Brenda Cooke has been allowed to buy a small house on Cherry Street in Mount Airy.
But as happy as I am for her, Im equally elated for myself, since this development means the issue of 305 Cherry St. is not likely to ever be discussed again by the city board of commissioners.
And that ensures I will not have to write any more articles about the 1920s-era structure and the battleground it became between historic preservationists and Reeves Community Center parking-lot advocates who wanted to see it torn down.
Since the fall of 2007, I have penned more articles about this house than any other single subject that includes the economy, politics and the effort to bring a prison to Surry County.
But enough about my selfish outlook. Again, Im most happy that Brenda Cooke will get a chance to realize a dream, and in a world where dreams are being crushed daily by various forces beyond our control, they should be given a chance to grow whenever possible.
Fortunately for all concerned, the commissioners voted 3-2 Thursday night to sell the city-owned structure to Cooke, who is planning a major renovation aimed at turning it into a residential showplace.
The board also agreed to include an extra five-hundredths of an acre in the deal to clean up a situation in which the existing property line cuts through the middle of the cottages driveway. And city officials have slightly extended a six-month option on the property to allow all the pieces to fall into place.
Many observers have wondered why such a small house, tucked away behind the community center, has caused such a huge controversy in the community.
Its been amazing to me how citizens generally have seemed more interested in this issue than they have been about topics of greater relevance to them, including budgetary matters affecting their wallets such as property taxes and utility charges.
I suppose that much of the This Old House controversy has its roots in the traditional rivalry between those who like to preserve and others who prefer to tear down. Those two sides might as well be from Venus and Mars, because they have a totally different viewpoint of the world.
A preservationist, for example, might see a rust-covered 1957 Studebaker Silver Hawk sitting in a field and imagine what that vehicle could become, a vision of it all bright and shiny again while cruising the main drag of Myrtle Beach.
One who prefers to tear down, on the other hand, would see that old Studebaker as nothing but a hunk of junk that doesnt deserve to exist. These are usually the same folks who would rather live or work in a brand-new, boringly generic structure as opposed to fixing up an old one and preserving its unique character and architecture of a bygone era.
There is no question the tearer-downers have taken way more casualties in this battle over the years than the preservationists have been able to save. And many of the fine old homes and other architectural treasures around town have been lost forever as a result, usually dying a quiet death with little concern or fanfare.
Usually, what replaces the old buildings is not a new and improved structure but yet another parking lot, to accommodate more vehicles that result from people being too selfish and ignorant to carpool. And those parking lots always have to be 10 feet from the front door, because these same folks are also lazy.
To be honest, some structures are not worthy of preserving, but others are capable of a second chance and becoming a good home to a family again. Sadly, most of the time there is no one who rushes to the scene and flings his body in front of the wrecking ball to save the part of history that an older house represents.
But this time, in the case of 305 Cherry St., someone did. Brenda Cooke came forward with a vision of turning a negative into a positive. Of taking a rough canvas and turning it into beauty. Of preserving rather than destroying.
I say Bravo! to people such as Cooke who are willing to take on the Herculean effort and expense such projects require and, just as importantly, to pursue a dream. They deserve all the support in the world.
If no such person had emerged with a creative vision, if no one showed they cared, I would have probably not shed a single tear if 305 Cherry St. were reduced to rubble. Yet Brenda Cooke cares, because she identifies qualities in that house that others do not.
I have an ability to see the possibilities of how something can be used, she agreed Friday. I just love to take something old and make something beautiful out of it.
Incidentally, I do hope to write at least one more article, complete with stunning pictures, about the house at 305 Cherry St., when its restoration inside and out is complete and Brenda Cookes dream home becomes reality.
Meanwhile, Im sure that Reeves Community Center will continue to thrive in light of the sale. As Commissioner Todd Harris said Thursday night when voting in favor of it, the move wont make or break the community center. Only about 12 spaces were to have been created at the Cherry Street site anyway.
Sooner or later, RCC will find a solution to its need for parking, just as facilities in many other cities have done for ages. At least one option already has been identified to provide more spaces there. The point is that life will continue for the center and its operations with or without a small parking lot on Cherry Street.
But the life expectancy of a vision by someone such as Brenda Cooke can be much less certain; often it is no more than a tiny flame of hope flickering in the wind.
When you look at the big picture, Thursday nights vote by the majority of the city board was not an attack on the community center but the endorsement of a dream.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected]

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